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Halliburton's Lesar Says 2016 'One Tough Slog Through the Mud'

Industry bellwether Halliburton Co., the largest pressure pumper in North America, reported revenue in its combined U.S.-Canadian operations slumped 54% in the final three months of 2015, and it has little visibility from customers that it's going to be any better going forward.

Management for the No. 2 oilfield services provider offered few encouraging words on Monday during a conference call to discuss fourth quarter and full-year 2015 results. Revenue in North America skidded by more than a half from a year ago to $2.16 billion as activity among exploration and production (E&P) customers disappeared, and continued pricing concessions sliced into the bottom line.

"2016 is shaping up to be one tough slog through the mud, and the industry is going to have to take it a quarter at a time," CEO Dave Lesar told analysts during the conference call.

Halliburton laid off another 4,000 people in the final three months of last year, which means its workforce has fallen by about 22,000 people since the 2014 peak -- a 25% reduction (see Shale DailySept. 24, 2015April 20, 2015. More jobs are on the line if crude oil prices continue to stall, the CEO said.

Several surveys have indicated that U.S. E&Ps may trim their capital spending this year by 30-50%, although some estimates have put it as high as a 70% decline. However, E&P spend last year fell 40% year/year, so the forecast is dire, said Lesar.

Because of "macro-uncertainties," said Lesar, the reality is "many of our customers are managing their businesses in real-time, rig by rig. Accordingly, we are going to take this market week-by-week, and in some cases, crew by crew. This is unlikely to change until our customers have confidence in a sustainable and economical oil price."

No. 1 Schlumberger last Friday reported its revenues slipped 39% during 4Q2015, and it had trimmed the workforce by another 10,000 (see Shale DailyJan. 22). Halliburton is following much the same path, attempting to make up costs and improve efficiencies by reducing where it can.

This year "is expected to be another challenging year for the industry," Lesar said. "We believe our customers will remain focused on cost per boe optimization and gaining higher levels of efficiency, both of which bode very well for Halliburton. Ultimately, when this market recovers we believe North America will respond the quickest and offer the greatest upside, and that Halliburton will be positioned to outperform."

By trimming where it could, Halliburton managed to keep its revenue from continuing operations almost flat from the third quarter at $270 million (31 cents/share). Total quarterly revenue fell slightly to $5.1 billion from $5.6 billion in 3Q2015.

The Houston operator recorded after-tax charges related primarily to asset writeoffs and severance costs that totaled $192 million (22 cents/share) for 4Q2015, versus $257 million (minus 30 cents) in 3Q2015. Baker Hughes acquisition-related costs totaled $79 million (9 cents/share), versus sequential costs of $62 million (7 cents).

Losses from continuing operations in 4Q2015 totaled $28 million (minus 3 cents/share), versus a loss of $54 million (minus 6 cents) in 3Q2015. Reported operating income was $86 million, compared to $43 million sequentially.

Total revenue in 2015 was $23.6 billion, a decrease from 2014 of $9.2 billion, or 28%. Reported operating losses in 2015 totaled $165 million, compared with 2014 profits of $5.1 billion.

In North America, revenue declined 13% from the third quarter and 39% year/year. However, as costs were trimmed and people laid off, operating margins improved by 160 basis points, driven by cost reduction efforts, and year-end completion tool sales in the Gulf of Mexico.

"Our strategy remains unchanged," President Jeff Miller said. "We are looking through this cycle, drawing upon our management's deep experience and preparing the business for growth when the industry recovers."

Margins are going to continue to include an elevated cost structure in North America in anticipation of the pending Baker Hughes Inc. acquisition. The contentious merger with the No. 3 OFS operator was first announced in late 2014, and it still remains a top priority, Lesar said. The deal has faced growing antitrust concerns from the U.S. Department of Justice and other authorities. Lesar offered no timetable on when the merger may be completed, but he insisted Halliburton would do what it takes.

"We remain fully committed to closing the pending acquisition of Baker Hughes," Lesar said. "We are continuing our discussions with competition authorities, and recently offered an enhanced set of divestitures in an effort to resolve competition-related concerns as soon as possible. We are diligently focused on pending regulatory reviews, the divestiture process, and planning for integration activities after the closing of the deal."

Completion and production revenue in 4Q2015 was $2.8 billion, a decrease of 12% sequentially "primarily driven by activity and pricing headwinds in all regions," management said. Sequentially, North America revenue declined as a result of seasonal activity reductions for pressure pumping as well as customer budget constraints, partially offset by higher year-end sales in the Gulf of Mexico. Drilling and evaluation (D&E) revenue fell 5% from the third quarter to $2.3 billion mostly because of the downturn in the United States, which was offset partially by increased fluid services and software sales in Mexico. North America D&E operating income increased $18 million, or 32%, sequentially, as a result of increased offshore activity and software sales in the United States.

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