Schlumberger says oil demand likely to rise in 2010, 4th-qtr profit suffers from price slump

By Chris Kahn, AP
Friday, January 22, 2010

Schlumberger 4Q profits fall 31 percent

NEW YORK — Schlumberger Ltd. said Friday oil drilling has started to recover after a plunge in crude prices last year helped cut the company’s fourth-quarter profit by 31 percent.

The Houston oil services company struggled last year as the global recession sapped energy demand and discouraged drilling operations around the world. But prices have since rebounded, and Schlumberger said its business will benefit as countries burn more fuel.

“Oil prices are likely to be sustained at current levels,” Schlumberger Chairman and CEO Andrew Gould said in a conference call with analysts. And “as our customers’ confidence grows, their exploration and production budgets will increase.”

The number of rigs actively searching for oil and natural gas in the U.S. grew by 36 percent in the second half of 2009 as crude prices increased from $68 to $80 a barrel.

Schlumberger said it earned $795 million, or 65 cents per share, for the three months ended Dec. 31. That’s down from $1.15 billion, or 95 cents a share, a year ago. Excluding discontinued operations, profit was 67 cents per share.

Revenue fell 16.4 percent to $5.74 billion from $6.87 billion a year ago. Revenue decreased by 44 percent in North America, 13 percent in Europe and Africa, and 10 percent in the Middle East and Asia. It increased slightly in Latin America.

Analysts expected earnings per share of 64 cents and revenue of $5.44 billion.

For the full year, the company earned $3.13 billion, or $2.59 per share. That compares with earnings of $5.44 billion, or $4.45 per share, in 2008. Revenue fell 16 percent to $22.7 billion in 2009.

Gould said oil exploration and production operations probably will grow in 2010, especially in Russia, Iraq and with offshore drilling projects. The company expects capital spending for oil services to increase 24 percent to $2.4 billion in 2010.

Iraq, which has been soliciting bids to develop its oil fields, seems to be fostering “a huge amount” of production during the next few years, Gould said, and Schlumberger expects to be there.

“It would seem that there’s going to be a considerable increase of activity in Iraq,” he said. “We may well see a ramp up of activity in the second half of the year.”

The natural gas drilling business will continue to suffer because of excess supplies already in storage, Gould said.

Schlumberger shares gave up $1.78, or 2.6 percent, at $66.54 in Friday afternoon trading.

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