This column was originally published on RealMoney on Jan. 20 at 3:00 p.m. EST. It's being republished as a bonus for TheStreet.com readers.
earnings may well trump any concerns over the implications of unseasonably warm weather for oil field stocks.
Schlumberger reported fourth-quarter earnings of $1.05 a share Friday morning, soundly beating analyst expectations of 96 cents. While the strong results and Thursday's announcement of a 2-for-1 stock split and a dividend boost should get the stock moving again, it's Schlumberger's outlook for 2006 that gets my attention. Its bullish outlook suggests a very strong earnings season is ahead for oil field service stocks.
A Very Good Year
For the quarter, Schlumberger posted operating revenues of $4.02 billion, up 9% sequentially and 31% year over year. For 2005, Schlumberger posted operating revenue of $14.31 billion, an increase of nearly 25% from 2004. Not only is that impressive growth, Schlumberger believes it can repeat the trick this year.
"Overall, we expect our top line growth in 2006 to be similar to that experienced in 2005," Schlumberger CEO Andrew Gould said in the company's earnings press release.
Margins should expand as oil field activity accelerates, meaning more demand for Schlumberger's services and even more significant earnings growth. According to the company, earnings growth will come from a double-digit increase in land rig activity, stimulation services in mature producing basins and price hikes.
Part of the pricing increase will offset cost inflation for labor and raw materials. Still, the tight supply of oil field equipment and services, combined with accelerating demand, should lead to better margins in the coming months.
Even better, the company is beginning to develop demand visibility beyond 2006, suggesting the oil field cycle will last well beyond the next year. "Exploration activity, where Schlumberger has an unmatched portfolio of services, will show a large increase in 2006, and this will continue for a number of years," Gould noted.
Trends to Watch
Schlumberger's bullish outlook is very encouraging. Moreover, based on the trends it outlined in its report, we can identify other companies that are likely to see gains.
Schlumberger's blowout quarter was driven by growth in the Eastern Hemisphere, an area in which
has concentrated in recent years. While Weatherford shares have been strong the last few weeks, it lagged peers like Schlumberger in 2005. Given Weatherford's commitment to new technologies and this growth, its quarter should be solid.
Gould said the vast majority of rig activity growth in the year ahead would be on land. This, along with the growth it is seeing abroad, should benefit rig contractors like
that have international land rig fleets. While the international rig market can be a bit unpredictable (which could be reflected in Nabors' fourth-quarter numbers), the trend should be a friend of those with a strong overseas presence.
Labor is becoming a significant issue in many parts of the world as rig and service utilization grows. Companies with labor-saving products and services should benefit, such as
National Oilwell Varco
, which sells rig automation products like the iron roughneck, top drives and hex pumps.
sells automated pipe-running tools that increase efficiency and safety as well as reduce labor costs.
Schlumberger's seismic survey business, WesternGeco, posted solid results and demand for new seismic shoots -- the process of underground mapping to identify exploration sites -- should accelerate in the coming year in Russia, Libya and other parts of North and West Africa. A number of seismic companies will benefit, such as
The need for equipment to record seismic shoots may lead to more business for seismic rental companies like
. Mitcham has recently entered the Russian market, where rental equipment has never been available. With additional geographic expansion, Mitcham may well see a meaningful increase in revenue and earnings in the coming year.
Schlumberger's Hot, but So's the Weather
If Schlumberger is a precursor of things to come, earnings from oil field service companies are likely to be hot. Companies will roll out results in droves beginning next week -- if they're good, it should provide support for share prices. While oil service stocks made double-digit moves in the first three weeks of the year, they're still not expensive.
That said, a little chill in the air wouldn't hurt. With natural gas inventories running at the high end of recent season averages, continued warm weather could put a damper on the current enthusiasm for energy stocks. Forecasts say it will get colder by the end of January, and there is a good possibility that winter will extend into early April. If that happens, I believe the rally will be sustainable and the stocks could work higher.
If it's 60 degrees in New York in the middle of February, energy stocks are likely to temporarily fall out of favor. If that happens, you will have another buying opportunity.
For now, traders are focused on solid earnings numbers and hoping for snow.
Please note that due to factors including low market capitalization and/or insufficient public float, we consider Mitcham to be a small-cap stock. You should be aware that such stocks are subject to more risk than stocks of larger companies, including greater volatility, lower liquidity and less publicly available information, and that postings such as this one can have an effect on their stock prices.
Christopher S. Edmonds is a partner and managing director of research at Pritchard Capital Partners, a New Orleans energy investment firm. He is based in Atlanta. At time of publication, neither Edmonds nor his firm held positions in any securities mentioned in this column, although holdings can change at any time. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. While Edmonds cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, he appreciates your feedback;
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