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Oilfield service majors to limp into 2019 as North America land market struggles

Diversification helped oilfield service majors navigate through a difficult third quarter in North America land markets, but analysts see more downside risk for the sector in the last quarter and persistent challenges into 2019.

Bottlenecks in the Permian basin limited exploration and production in the prolific basin, impacting third-quarter earnings across the oilfield services sector.

Customer activity weakened during the third quarter as takeaway constraints in the Permian limited production growth, Schlumberger Ltd. CEO Paal Kibsgaard said during the company's Oct. 19 earnings call.

Halliburton Co. CEO Jeffrey Miller said Oct. 22 that the North America land market presented challenges in the third quarter amid a combination of off-take capacity constraints and customer budget exhaustion that led to less demand for its completion services.

Analysts said that the diversification of services offered by the two leading oilfield services companies sheltered them from larger negative impacts to quarterly earnings.

Schlumberger and Halliburton's international businesses performed well in the third quarter but could face challenges early in 2019.

Kibsgaard said Schlumberger's revenue from its international business, excluding Cameron, was up 4% sequentially to $4.6 billion in the third quarter. The strength of international markets, where the company expects "flattish" revenues in the fourth quarter, should outweigh any further challenges in the North America land market, the CEO said.

Halliburton saw international revenue in the third quarter climb 5% sequentially to $2.4 billion, and Miller said he is excited about the international markets in 2019. "It's a bit of a mixed bag in the sense that there are going to be markets like Asia-Pacific and Europe, Africa, Eurasia, that, in my view, may recover more so, pretty strongly on a percentage basis, just given where they started," Miller said. "But there's other parts of the market, all in Middle East, that have been fairly resilient throughout the downturn."

On its third-quarter call, Halliburton guided fourth-quarter earnings per share to a range of 37 cents to 40 cents, "well below consensus of 48 cents," analysts with B. Riley FBR said in an Oct 24 note. The company based its outlook on the collective impact of bottlenecks and budget exhaustion not only in the Permian, but also the Marcellus/Utica and DJ Basin. Schlumberger's Kibsgaard said its North America land revenue and earnings per share will be down in the fourth quarter, and the level of the decline will be a function of how severe the shutdowns are going to be in November and December.

The reasons for the headwinds in North America around takeaway issues and budget constraints were well understood by the market, but the pace of declines implied by the guidance from the two industry leaders likely caught some by surprise, said West Carlyle, an analyst with Evercore ISI. "The fact that the industry will see extended breaks with some starting before Thanksgiving mean that customer activity levels will decline for the last six weeks of the year and makes visibility challenging with pricing and utilization falling in the spot market," he said in an Oct. 22 note.

Halliburton expects these challenges to ease through 2019. In addition to a Permian re-acceleration, Halliburton expects to see bullish budgets for the Eagle Ford, Bakken, Marcellus/Utica and DJ Basin. FBR agrees with Hallburton management's view "of the transient nature of and resolution timing of the challenges," analyst Thomas Curran said Oct. 24.

FBR revised Halliburton EBITDA and earnings per share outlooks for 2018 and 2019 from $4.4 billion, or $1.98, and $5.3 billion, or $2.65, respectively, to $4.3 billion, or $1.86, and $4.8 billion, or $2.27, and set their 2020 outlook at $5.9 billion, or $3.32. Evercore analysts lowered Halliburton 2019 earnings per share estimate to $2.00, while CitiGroup analyst Andrew Scott said the bank lowered first-quarter 2019 earnings per share estimate for Halliburton to 39 cents and fiscal year 2019 to $2.04. A double-digit decline in fracking activity drove the bank to "take a hatchet" to its fourth-quarter earnings per share outlook to 37 cents to 40 cents, while the international business should be up modestly, Scott said.

Schlumberger said the company's international businesses would see 10% top-line growth in 2019 with national oil companies leading the charge on spending and the fastest growth rates for Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. It also expects a continued climb in deepwater drilling activity, following an expected 8% rise this year, as well as help from pricing improvements.

FBR lowered its 2018 and 2019 EBITDA and EPS outlooks for Schlumberger from $7.53 billion, or $1.73, and $9.3 billion, or $2.55, to $7.22 billion, or $1.72, and $9.30 billion, or $2.45, on the net costs and disruptive impact of the company's broad, rapid rig mobilization internationally. For 2020 EBITDA is forecast at $10.60 billion, or $3.32 per share.

Curran said Schlumberger's third-quarter earnings call and annual sell-side roundtable reinforced the firm's thesis that outside of North America, the company is pivoting from a focus on investing and mobilizing to executing and harvesting. This "rest of the world," or non-North America land market, makes up 70% of Schlumberger's revenue. FBR expect Schlumberger to generate "a robust 2018-20 [free cash flow] trajectory and to return meaningful portions of it to shareholders."

Baker Hughes a GE company made strides developing its international presence to compete with the larger names in the international markets and said in its Oct. 30 earnings call that its smaller exposure to North America land fracking helped shield its earnings in the third quarter.

Jefferies analysts said Oct. 9 that Baker Hughes has plausibly gained a little share in oilfield services with non-North American market revenues flat in the first half compared to the second half of 2017, when compared with Halliburton and Schlumberger. "We don't doubt that [Baker Hughes] is pricing aggressively as it explicitly targets market share, although it feels far more consistent with peers' behavior through cycles than not," Jefferies said.

Jefferies lowered its 2019 earnings per share outlook for Baker Hughes to $1.45 from $1.65, and trimmed its 2020 estimate to $2.15 from $2.65. "That said, we model just under $4 per share in 2022 with the assumed later cycle contribution and assuming about 40% incrementals," the analyst said. Guggenheim Securities analysts said they expect all four of Baker's segments to contribute to growth in 2019 that should drive 11% and 29% growth in revenue and EBITDA, respectively.

For National Oilwell Varco Inc., its rig systems business suffered third-quarter losses as customers limited spending to only the most essential items in the third quarter, as a shrinking commodity price and subsequent activity decline led customers to limit capital spending.

Analysts with Tudor, Pickering Holt & Co. said Nov. 7 that during National Oilwell Varco's analyst day on Nov. 6 the company offered "some quantitative color" on its 2019 and three-year outlook. Amid "lots of assumptions," fiscal-year 2019 EBITDA was bracketed in $1.0 billion to $1.3 billion range, while Tudor Pickering Holt & Co. said its range was already around the midpoint, "which could be more like $1.8 billion to $2.5 billion a few years down road."

Barclays analyst David Anderson maintained National Oilwell Varco with an Equal-Weight and lowered the price target from $44 to $40. Raymond James analyst Praveen Narra maintained the company with an Outperform and lowered the price target from $55 to $45, and CitiGroup analyst Scott Gruber maintained National Oilwell Varco with a Neutral and lowered the price target from $48 to $40.

While the market remains challenging right now, the underlying trends still look positive for 2019, the Evercore analysts said. "Customer budgets will reset in 2019 with a backdrop of stronger commodity prices especially compared to where they entered 2018. The DUC count continues to rise which provides a backlog for demand when it gets worked down. Lastly takeaway capacity will expand and customer urgency will come back. Also the international recovery continues to emerge," the analysts said.