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Schlumberger on Track

The oil giant hits targets and buys out a joint venture with Baker Hughes.
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Schlumberger (SLB) beat first-quarter earnings targets and bought partner Baker Hughes (BHI) out of their WesternGeco seismic exploration joint venture for $2.4 billion.

New York-based Schlumberger made $722.5 million, or 59 cents a share, for the quarter ended March 31, up from the year-ago $523.4 million, or 43 cents a share. Revenue rose to $4.24 billion from $3.16 billion a year earlier. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial were looking for a 55-cent profit on sales of $4.15 billion.

Oilfield services revenue rose 4% sequentially and 34% from a year ago to $3.71 billion. WesternGeco revenue rose 14% sequentially and 40% from a year ago to $530 million.

"Activity increases and strong pricing momentum, particularly in North America, drove first-quarter results despite the severe curtailment of activity in Russia early in the year," said CEO Andrew Gould. "Internationally by geographical area, Saudi Arabia, North Africa and the North Sea strengthened significantly as new projects and additional rigs were mobilized. Demand for new technology continued to increase with Drilling & Measurements and Well Services Technologies showing double-digit sequential growth."

Schlumberger said the decision to buy Baker Hughes out of WesternGeco "reflects our confidence in the seismic market and our belief that greater reservoir complexity will require more accurate reservoir characterization. A closer integration between surface seismic and other Schlumberger measurement technologies will lead to substantial progress in eliminating reservoir uncertainties."

Baker Hughes said it would take a pretax gain of $1.74 billion on the sale of its 30% stake in WesternGeco. Baker Hughes said it would use proceeds to buy back stock and upped its buyback plan by $1.8 billion.

"We have been pleased with the results from WesternGeco over the last several quarters and with the performance of the WesternGeco management team," said CEO Chad Deaton. "However, the $2.4 billion sales price provides us with an excellent point to exit our minority ownership position. We remain excited about the growth in the global market for our products and services that we see continuing for the next several years. Baker Hughes will continue investing in people and technology to further our penetration of key global markets, and we maintain our intention to return cash in excess of our needs to our stockholders through our stock repurchase program."

For its part, Schlumberger said it too would buy back more stock. The company said it would buy back 40 million shares over the next four years.