Last month, Halliburton (NYSE:HAL) CFO Mark McCollum noted that the oil-field services giant was buying Baker Hughes (NYSE:BHI) for a very specific reason. It saw the deal as being the key in closing the gap with rival Schlumberger (NYSE:SLB). However, the gap wasn't so much in size as it was in valuation premium, as Schlumberger has always traded at a premium to Halliburton.
Schlumberger is equally excited for this deal to close, because it sees a big opportunity to grow market share now that it must battle one large rival instead of two.
Opportunity with a capital "O"
Schlumberger CEO Paal Kibsgaard addressed the merger in comments to analysts during the company's fourth-quarter conference call:
If I was going to comment on the transaction, firstly at a high level I would say that the pending transaction first validates what we have been saying all along and that is at scale it is essential to drive performance in the business that we are in. Now from our experience making a large transaction to build and leverage scale, it has a series of challenges and in general everything takes much longer than you initially think.
Kibsgaard said his company's rivals are doing the right thing by merging, given the importance of scale for driving performance in the oil-field services industry. However, he added that the move is an opportunity for Schlumberger rather than a threat, as Halliburton could struggle for a while as it integrates Baker Hughes.
In addition to this, all the extra work that is involved with making such a transaction easily distracts you from running the base business. So as I've been saying we look at this transaction as an opportunity with a capital O for us and we do intend to capitalize on it. This is again linked to the gaining of market share.
Breaking through the glass ceiling
Kibsgaard said the reduction of the number of major oil-field service companies could eliminate what he called the "glass ceiling" to global market share.
In the international market I would say in many countries our market share has been limited by a glass ceiling. And this glass ceiling has been put in place by our customers to make sure that there is enough work to make a third player viable. Now if the other two players were to combine into one then I think this glass ceiling can easily be broken. And that is why we are -- we have basically gone through pretty much all our contracts in all the international countries we operate in to make sure we have targeted plans for how we would look to capitalize on this market share opportunity if and when the transaction closes.
Specifically, Schlumberger stands to take some of the market share that had been split between Halliburton and Baker Hughes, according to Kibsgaard. For example, an analyst on the call noted that Halliburton and Baker Hughes currently control 70% of the Brazilian market; however, after the deal closes, Schlumberger could break through its 30% market share ceiling and possibly take up to 50% of the market.
Schlumberger isn't worried that its two largest rivals are combining. Instead, it sees consolidation in the oil-field services industry as an opportunity to take market share in some of its international markets.