Schlumberger Earnings Call Insights: International Performance, Revenue Growth

On Friday, Schlumberger NV (NYSE:SLB) reported its third quarter earnings and discussed the following topics in its earnings conference call. Take a look.

International Performance

J. David Anderson – JPMorgan: International performance particularly out of Eastern Hemisphere is very impressive this quarter particularly how it was progressing last year so. So, if you could talk a little bit about the drivers behind that. How much of this would you attribute to say execution, activity levels, pricing and I guess what I’m really trying to understand is how much of this momentum do you see continuing to 2013, is that level sustainable now and we continue to build from here?

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Paal Kibsgaard – CEO: So, if I started with the Q3 performance, I would just say I’m overall pleased with the progress. We are keeping very strong focus on execution as we have been talking about in earlier quarters and we also are doing quite well when it comes to cost and resource management. We also continue to work on our internal improvement programs which by the way is included in our normal operating cost. So, in terms of margins, we saw further progression in Q3 and we had very good incrementals, and as I stated in my prepared remarks, our international margins is now at a three year high. Some of the drivers behind this is slow but steady pricing increase driven by new technology sales as well as strong operational performance, but I would also say that the quality of service is still the market share driver for us. The D&M Q3 replacement ratio was again 34 to 3, so we’re maintaining this 10 to 1 ratio and this is actually starting to become meaningful for D&M now which has showed significant improvement in financial performance during this year. So, if you then take that performance and try to look forward, we maintain our positive view on the international market and also our performance there, right. We have a very strong international contracts portfolio and this portfolio has solid upside when it comes to both technology and performance and the other thing I would like to highlight as well is that we continue to expand the international presence of our smaller product lines. If you look at our operations internationally today, we operate in over 80 countries and we have 17 product lines but in 50% of these countries we only have 50% of our product lines present. So I would say that we still have a lot of runway in terms of growth as per market penetration. So in terms of margins going forward I will just say that we will continue to leverage the size and the infrastructure and the execution capabilities to drive both the top line and through the margin expansion. So overall I mean our view on the international market remains positive and I’m pleased with the progress in terms of how we were executing and I would expect us to continue to improve going forward.

J. David Anderson – JPMorgan: A more specific question to Saudi if you don’t mind, how do you see Saudi market developing over the next several years and how much of that growth is going to come from gas? I mean I know we are not going to see a huge massive ramp up we saw last cycle, but we are hearing more and more talk about gas being one of their focus up there. So I’m just curious, how much of gas do you see there as a contributor there and can you give us a sense as to how much that gas market in Saudi has grown over the last year?

Paal Kibsgaard – CEO: I don’t have the breakdown of the rig increases that we have seen over the past year but Saudi today is on track to reach the 134 rigs by year end which they more or less indicated. In terms of the outlook beyond year end we don’t expect a dramatic increase in rig count, I would say in the first half of next year but rigless activity remains strong and is also a key growth driver for us in Saudi. But like you said gas is important as Saudi Aramco recently announced a gas discovery in the Red Sea which there is no firm facts beyond this, but with the gas discovery I think it’s reasonable to assume that it will be more exploration activity around that and there is also a lot of gas related activity in the Northwest linked to both tight gas and shale. So you are right to point out that gas is very important and I would say that gas in terms of future growth in Saudi is probably going to be one of the key drivers.

Revenue Growth

Kurt Hallead – RBC Capital Markets: Hey, Paal, I just wondered if you might be able to provide us some perspective on you guys put out some very strong performance here relative to your peer group over the last couple of quarters maybe you can provide some perspective on how you plan on maintaining that performance differential going forward and then in addition some commentary we’ve recently heard from some land drillers and from some of your competitors are calling for an uptick in activity in the U.S. market, in U.S. land drilling market going out into 2013. If you can give us some perspective on the outlook there, that would be helpful?

Paal Kibsgaard – CEO: The first part of your question was related to North America as well?

Kurt Hallead – RBC Capital Markets: Just globally. Really, it looks like your performance overall for revenue growth, margin performance, et cetera, has been exceeding your peers over the last couple of quarters.

Paal Kibsgaard – CEO: If you go back to the first question, I answered I think a lot of the elements of our international performance, I cover there. So, maybe I just focus in a little bit more on North America. So, if you look at Q3, overall again solid performance for us in Q3. I am pleased with the progress since we restructured our business about two years ago. We now have a very lean and focused North American organization. We have invested quite strongly in infrastructure over the past couple of years. So, we are now able to leverage that and we also after the Smith merger, we now have a very broad technology and workflow offering in the North America land marketplace, which we’re also able to leverage. Finally what I would say on the means we have to succeed, we probably have one of the best supply chain organizations in the North American market as well. They have done a really great job in particular together with our pressure pumping organization this year. So, further on performance in North America, if you look at how we have been addressing the fracturing market, more or less from the beginning of this year, we have kept focus on what we call minimum effective margin. This is basically the product of our bid price time still the utilization. So, if these effective margins were below a certain level, we are prepared to lay down crews. So, we laid down crews in Q2, we also laid down crews in Q3 and this is how we are able to protect better, I would say the margins in our pressure pumping business. Now in terms of the other product lines on land, we continue to have solid performance both from Drilling and Wireline. Obviously if we go to Mexico, it remained strong for us and was in Q3 highly accretive again with the Hurricane Issac impact and this is with flat seismic sales quarter-on-quarter. Now, if you look at the North America market going forward, from our standpoint, on the plus side, we expect to see continued strong performance in the Gulf of Mexico from us both when it comes to drilling activities as well as seismic and we also see Canada having a positive impact for us in Q4 and Q1 although not to the same level it had in the previous year. Now on the negative side, fracturing margins are going to come down further in Q4 and likely also in Q1 as the new pricing levels work its way through our contract volume, but and also – as I also mentioned we also see some margin pressure in coiled tubing. Now, what’s going to happen beyond Q4 or Q1, I would say they are three main questions in my mind. Firstly, will there be a Q1 recovery in liquids rig count and after Q4. This is key to maintain the current land pricing overall both for fracing as well as for the other product lines. The second question is will there be a share place in the frac markets and a new pricing floor given the fact that there are significant excess capacity in the market and also when the guar leaf comes, is this going to be another source of market share place. Then the third question in my mind is in terms of how North America overall is going to perform, what are really the normalized frac margins. The way I see it or we see it, the frac market in North America today is largely a commodity market with a very low barrier to entry where capacity is really driving the pricing and we peaked at around 30% margins and the trough is now in low single digits. I would say in my mind that the normalized margins are more in the middle of this. They are certainly not towards the upside. So I think these three elements obviously are going to be important to sort of guide us in how the North America market is going to continue to evolve. But I would say on (barrier) domestic though in terms of our ability to outperform on a relative basis in North America.

A Closer Look: Schlumberger Earnings Cheat Sheet>>