Management of the Houston-based oil services giant made it clear on its second quarter conference with analysts and investors Friday that it will resist further price cuts and roll back concessions by being selective with customers and high-grading contracts now that the oil and gas industry appears to be improving.
"Market conditions worsened further in the second quarter and we have now reached the bottom of the cycle," CEO Paal Kibsgaard said. "We are shifting our focus away from decremental margins. We will renegotiate contracts that aren't commercially viable."
The executive said the company has set a goal to deliver higher than 65% margins, versus 30% to 32% currently. "2014 earnings ... is the place we want to be as quickly as possible," he said.
Kibsgaard said he doesn't expect a v-shaped recovery, but rather a "slow and steady" one to meet the supply deficit, led by drilling and completion services and later in exploration and production as commodity prices improve. He said some counties will snap back more quickly (the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, is a bright spot currently) while some will stay flat longer and others will go down further (North American is still a sore spot with a lot of spare capacity and a low barrier to entry, he says). "At some stage the industry will have to begin exploring again, with levels at unprecedented lows," he said.
Kibsgaard also expects Schlumberger to increasingly provide fully integrated offerings with the best technologies to oil and gas producers so they can improve efficiencies and lower costs.
"We believe that the current shortfall of cash flow in the value chain can only be addressed by dramatic step change in performance," he said. "We think the future industry winners will be the companies that can more effectively integrate the value chain."
Jefferies LLC analyst Brad Handler said Schlumberger's tone suggests a shift in strategy from managing decremental margins to expanding market share "as confidence in cyclical trough strengthens." RBC Capital Markets analyst Kurt Hallead - who originated the Dee Snider reference -- said the move to better pricing could come at the expense of revenue "but should benefit margins."
Action Alerts PLUS co-manager Jack Mohr said in an email he couldn't be more impressed with a company, energy notwithstanding. "Its annual R&D budget is literally larger than the aggregate market cap of its oilfield services competitors (ex HAL/BHI), which is why their technology is superior to the point where they can go back and tell customers that they are recouping price conciliations."
Schlumberger reported after the markets closed Thursday that it had a $2.16 billion net loss in the quarter, or $1.56 per share. However, on an operating basis, it earned 23 cents per share, 1 cent over expectations due to better margins at Cameron International, which it acquired last year for $14.8 billion.
The company said its sales amounted to $7.16 billion, slightly higher than analysts' forecast of $7.13 billion but 20.5% lower than the same period last year. Cameron's sales came in as expected at $1.5 billion.
Seaport Global Securities analyst Mark Brown said the company's net earnings were slightly better than his estimates but its Ebitda was slightly lower and its performance lagged competitor Halliburton (HAL - Get Report) , with its international revenues decreasing 9% over the last quarter versus only 4% for Halliburton. Its North American sales also dropped by 20% versus 15% for its competitor.
Schlumberger's earnings-before-interest margins in its segments fell less than Halliburton, Brown noted, although he said Halliburton was hurt by its greater exposure to North America (40% of sales versus 24% for Schlumberger). "The company is shifting back to recovering price concessions rather than strengthening market share, which we believe helps explain the greater revenue decline vs. HAL," he said. Brown has a buy rating on the stock with an $85 per share price target.
Bill Herbert, a longtime follower of Schlumberger at Piper Jaffray's Simmons & Co. International, said it was a "respectable" quarter for the oil services giant, with a lower than expected tax rate helping but plenty of moving parts, including $646 million for workforce reductions (it laid off 16,000 personnel in the first half) and a $1.9 billion impairment charge for fixed assets, inventory and multi-client data. He noted the company's "decent" free cash flow of $885 million before $626 million in dividends. "It appears that SLB is transitioning from playing defense to now playing offense," he said.
Analysts Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. said in a note they wouldn't sell Schlumberger now at a cyclical trough but think Wall Street doesn't fully appreciate the company's heavy international/offshore exposure likely results in its earnings recovery lagging that of its peers over next 12-plus months. They have a buy rating on the stock.
The company ended the quarter with $11.6 billion on the balance sheet but did slow its share buyback program. When asked by analyst, CFO Simon Ayat said it was because of expenses related to the Cameron acquisition, including cash to its shareholders and buying back some of Cameron's debt, but the company will go back into the market. "It will not be evenly spread going forward, [but] a buyback will always be part of the plan," he said.