(Reuters) - Oilfield services provider Schlumberger NV (SLB.N) said on Friday it would spend less in 2019 and forecast single-digit growth in international markets this year, sending its shares as much as 5 percent higher.
With the sharp drop in oil prices since 2014 many producers have evaluated spending budgets for 2019, stoking concerns that a slowdown in activity would hurt oilfield service companies, which have struggled to boost their prices.
Schlumberger, a bellwether for the oilfield services sector, expects full-year 2019 capital expenditure of between $1.5 billion and $1.7 billion, versus $2.2 billion in 2018, driven by lower spending in North America, Chief Executive Officer Paal Kibsgaard said on an earnings call.
Shares of Schlumberger rose more than 5 percent to $43.60 in early trading.
“The downward guidance for 2019 capital expenditures helped solidify the dividend is safe,” said Brian Youngberg, a senior energy analyst for Edward Jones.
Schlumberger said recent volatility in crude prices has led to even more uncertainty in the spending outlook for oil and gas producers. Crude prices have tumbled roughly 30 percent since October.
“Future investments will likely be much closer to a level that can be covered by free cash flow,” Kibsgaard said about its U.S. operator customers.
But he said that even as operators tighten their purse strings, the company had built “significant flexibility” into its 2019 operating plan. He also said supply cuts by OPEC and Russia could lead to a gradual recovery in oil prices in 2019.
And after several years of underinvestment, the company anticipates growth in international markets, driven by higher activity in regions including Latin America, Africa and Asia.
Revenue from Schlumberger’s North America business rose 0.3 percent year over year to $2.82 billion, while international revenue rose nearly 1 percent to $5.28 billion.
Schlumberger warned in early December that fourth-quarter North America revenue would take a hit due to steeper-than-anticipated declines in the hydraulic fracturing market.
Revenue from its OneStim hydraulic fracturing businesses slid 25 percent sequentially in the fourth quarter, prompting the company to idle some of its fleets late in the fourth quarter, it said.
While analysts called Schlumberger’s results neutral to positive, investment firm Tudor Pickering Holt & Co noted they would not “do much to make investors feel a sense of urgency to dive headlong into OFS (oilfield service) stocks.”
Fourth-quarter net income was $538 million, or 39 cents per share, compared with a loss of $2.26 billion, or $1.63 per share, a year earlier when it took $2.7 billion in charges, including a $938 million write-down on its Venezuelan holdings and unpaid bills there.
Excluding one-time items, the company earned 36 cents per share, in line with analysts’ estimates, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.
Revenue was flat at $8.18 billion, compared with a year earlier, but beat the average analyst estimate of $8.04 billion.
Reporting by John Benny in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur, Jeffrey Benkoe and Susan Thomas