Schlumberger More Dour on Oil and Gas Recovery

When oilfield services giant Schlumberger (SLB) talks, the industry generally listens, and analysts are buzzing about the company's more cautious view on the oil and gas recovery.

At a conference Tuesday hosted by Piper Jaffray's energy unit Simmons & Co. International at Scotland's Gleneagles Hotel, Patrick Schorn, Schlumberger's president of operations, acknowledged that drilling and completion work on land is picking up. But he noted that international and offshore activity continues to lag, primarily driven by declines in deepwater activity in West Africa, Brazil and Asia and lower stimulation vessel activity in Mexico despite increased work in certain regions such as the Middle East and Russia.

"International activity is not yet recovering, creating a headwind for the third quarter," he said.

Seaport Global Securities analyst Mark Brown thought the language Schorn used was more cautious than management's previous comments and that the company's international exposure would make it more vulnerable than its peers Halliburton (HAL) , Baker Hughes (BHI) and Weatherford (WFT) . Brown said he thought other companies with international and offshore exposure but in other sectors of the industry could be hurt if Schlumberger's outlook proves right, including Frank's International (FI) , National Oilwell Varco (NOV) and Oceaneering International (OII) .

As a result, Seaport lowered its earnings expectations for the company to 20 cents per share in the third quarter versus its previous estimate of 23 cents and to 23 cents in the fourth quarter versus its previous estimate of 27 cents. The firm also reduced its earnings per share estimates for 2017 to $1.61 from $1.73 and for 2018 to $3.55 from $3.65. It lowered its price target to $93 per share versus a previous $95 but still rates the stock as a buy.

RBC Capital Markets analyst Kurt Hallead also cut his third quarter earnings expectations by three cents to 20 cents per share given the company's more "tepid" outlook for its drilling and reservoir segment. The firm now expects the company to earn $1.04 this year, $2.89 next year and $4.43 in 2018 versus its previous estimates of $1.18, $2.99 and $4.55, respectively. He kept his buy rating on the stock, however, with an unchanged price target of $95 per share.

Analysts at Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. acknowledged Schlumberger's near-term outlook that a recovery in pricing for oilfield services isn't happening yet. But they think investors should still buy the company's stock, as it has the best portfolio of oilfield technologies "on the planet" and "prodigious" through-cycle free cash flow generation.

Jefferies, meanwhile, has Schlumberger at a hold with a price target of $81.33, saying its top picks in the sector include Halliburton, Hi-Crush Partners (HCLP) , Patterson-UTI Energy (PTEN) , Superior Energy Services (SPN) and U.S. Silica Holdings (SLCA) .

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