Schlumberger: A Hard Habit to Break

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Friday saw a kickoff in quarterly reporting from the oilfield services group, as both Schlumberger (NYSE: SLB  ) and Baker Hughes (NYSE: BHI  ) topped analysts' estimates in the process of chalking up relatively solid quarters.

Schlumberger's results were especially sound, with its adjusted earnings coming in at $1.01, two pennies higher than the analysts' consensus. Its income from continuing operations were up 4% to $1.35 billion, while its revenues grew nearly 8% to $10.7 billion, compared with $9.9 billion a year ago. International revenues climbed by 13% year on year, while contributions from North America slipped by approximately 4%. Among the one-time items during the quarter was a total of $0.07 in charges related to currency devaluations in Venezuela.

Sequential slippage
Sequentially, Schlumberger's results sagged somewhat, on the basis of the round of multiclient and software sales that typically pump up the fourth quarter of each year. in addition, the company experienced seasonal slowdowns in the North Sea, Russia, and China. It was further affected by weather delays in markets in and around the South China Sea.

On a segment basis, Schlumberger's Reservoir Characterization Group saw its revenue rise by 9% to $2.8 billion. The drilling group's revenues of $4.1 billion were also 9% higher year over year, while the $3.6 billion generated by the production group represented a 7% increase year over year.

Specific international projects
Schlumberger is unusually adept at detailing specific tasks performed for its individual customers, thereby providing customers with a more accurate picture of the company's full role in the worldwide quest for oil and gas:

  • Offshore Angola, its WesternGeco (seismic) unit completed a major monitor survey over four fields operated by France's Total (NYSE: TOT  ) . During just the past year, the already productive African country has become especially hot with the discovery of pre-salt characteristics similar to those that are propelling Brazil's Santos Basin activity. On that basis, seismic surveys to determine the full extent of the appropriate formations become especially important.
  • In Australia, the company's magnetic resonance service was significant to fluid identification in Apache's (NYSE: APA  ) Stag field.
  • In China, Schlumberger's first use of its PowerDrive Archer rotary steerable system broke two field records while drilling for PetroChina (NYSE: PTR  ) .

Looking at North America, which CEO Paal Kibsgaard called "the main concern" during his company's post-release call, based on "downward trends in drilling, wireline, and coiled tubing," which continued from the December quarter into the most recent period. In this context, North America should be distinguished from the Gulf of Mexico, where activity was strong.

A trio of strengths
Kibsgaard also pointed to the company's ability to integrate its various capabilities "and the growing value it brings to our business." He continued by noting, "As our customers continue to look for ways to reduce finding, development, and lifting costs, a number of them are now seeking much closer and broader partnerships with us to add up more value from the E&P value chain."

He also enumerated three keys for the company's success:

  • "[O]ur international leadership position in terms of operating margins and shareholder income is as strong as ever, and our international leverage in terms of operating income is approximately 70% of the total."
  • "[F]ollowing the restructuring of our land business, we have recently taken the lead in terms of operating margins, also in North America."
  • "[W]e have, on average, delivered double-digit growth in earnings per share over the past few years, and we are ... looking to extend this trend in 2013."

The Foolish takeaway
The obvious query for Fools, then, is the extent to which Schlumberger should be tucked into each of our investment portfolios. It seems clear to me that the items I've mentioned, coupled with the company's uninterrupted determination to maintain its technological leadership, along with its size and international spread, renders Schlumberger shares ideal for participating in the all-important energy sector.

Another optimum way to play oil-field services is through shares of National Oilwell Varco. NOV is also among the safest investment in the energy sector because of its industry-dominating market share. This company is poised to profit in a big way; its customers are both increasing the number of new drilling rigs and updating aging fleets of offshore rigs. To help determine whether it could be a good fit for your portfolio, you're invited to check out The Motley Fool's premium research report featuring in-depth analysis on whether NOV is a buy today. For instant access to this valuable investor's resource, simply click here now to claim your copy.

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