Oil and natural gas industry equipment maker Cameron International Corporation's (NYSE:CAM) third-quarter earnings per share of $1.17 -- adjusted for one-time items -- came in near the high end of its guidance, exceeding analyst estimates, while total revenues of $2.68 billion were a bit below the $2.71 billion consensus estimates.
Revenue and earnings don't tell the whole story. Let's take a closer look at some key parts of Cameron International's business results, and see what we can learn about the company's performance, and what it could mean going forward.
Highest ever earnings per share a product of business and buybacks
The adjusted EPS of $1.17 is the highest in the company's history. However, it's important to note that this is a product not just of profits, but also of the company's efforts to buy back shares. Factoring in the shares repurchased this past quarter, the company has bought back more than 51 million shares since 2013, decreasing the share count by 20% over that time frame. This year, the company has bought back 24.6 million shares, at an average price of about $65 per share -- about a 9% premium to the market price as of this writing.
However, it's too early to call it overpaying, as the stock price -- like that of many companies in the oil and gas industry -- has fallen sharply with oil prices over the past several months. The company has another $665 million approved to spend on share buybacks, and it's likely that it will spend it quickly if the share price remains depressed.
Strong results in DPS unit
Cameron's Drilling & Production Systems business group continues to perform well, with revenues in this segment up 21% last quarter to $1.98 billion. This was driven by two key parts: The Surface business grew orders 35% in the quarter, while OneSubsea -- Cameron's joint venture with oilfield services expert Schlumberger Limited (NYSE:SLB) -- had its best quarter in terms of booked business this year.
Both OneSubsea and the Surface business are central to the company's success, and seeing strong performance in a falling oil price environment is reassuring to some degree.
Oil prices, OPEC, and future business prospects
I won't beat around the bush: Falling oil prices are of some concern for Cameron International. The strong growth of its Surface business is largely tied to the continued expansion of production in North American shale. If commodity prices continue to fall, Cameron risks having its producer customers slow -- or even halt -- the pace of well development, and this could impact the company's business in the interim.
Furthermore, OneSubsea is a critical venture for both Cameron and Schlumberger, operating in some of the toughest offshore environments there are. While the partnership offers significant value to its partners, low oil costs will reduce the rate of offshore development, impacting OneSubsea.
However, both Brent and WTI Crude -- the two standards for global and U.S. oil prices -- seem to have stabilized somewhat, and could begin increasing depending on what OPEC -- or more specifically Saudi Arabia -- decides to do with production levels at its November meeting, based on the slowing pace of global demand as Europe continues to struggle and Asian growth slows.
The worst case is OPEC choosing to keep overproducing in an effort to force U.S. shale producers to reduce domestic output. This would require significant overproduction for an extended period, and frankly, there's a lot of evidence that OPEC producers like Iran, Syria, and Venezuela can't afford to suppress oil prices for an extended period themselves, largely due to the massive social programs that oil revenues pay for.
Looking forward: Buy, sell, or hold?
The good thing about Cameron International is that it's a great business to start with, and one that is very integrated into the oil and gas industry. And while it does carry $3.3 billion in debt, it has $1.5 billion in cash, a strong cushion against a prolonged slowdown in production that could hinder its business results.
For long-term investors with a time horizon that's more than three years, today's price is probably a relative bargain. Eventually, Europe will make it through its prolonged economic woes, and demand for oil will start to grow a little more. Furthermore, with many OPEC producers having massive social commitments at home, oil prices are more likely than not to rebound, if slowly.
All combined, it's hard to see a valid reason to sell right now, at least based on the business performance and prospects over the long term. However, I'd probably start small and build out a position over the next year as the oil price and demand picture becomes clearer.
Jason Hall has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.