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Halliburton's Lesar Feels 'Turn Happening' in North America Onshore

Halliburton Co. CEO Dave Lesar said Monday he was starting to feel a turn in the North American oilfield services market and is more excited about the United States and Canada than he has been since late 2011.

"I may be off a quarter or so, but I'm not wrong about a turn happening," the CEO said during a conference call to discuss 1Q2014 earnings. The optimism is "the sense of confidence that I get from customers on their business prospects, the commodity prices translating into operating capital..."

Halliburton, like other oilfield service operators, suffered along with producers during the severe winter weather into the first two months of this year. However, during March, the company had record levels of revenues on the backs of extended laterals, increased hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and improved efficiencies in the onshore, Lesar said.

"I see no problem for the frack calendar for the rest of the year," he told analysts. The increased incremental revenues have come from increased job sizes, and the Houston operator has derived efficiency leverage from its low-cost operating model.

"We do see a tightening supply of equipment" in the United States, which may allow Halliburton to increase its costs toward the second half of the year. "All of this comes from not any help from the natural gas market."

Before the end of the year, North American margins should "approach 20%," based on continued gains in the onshore.

Halliburton beat Wall Street's expectations in the quarter, posting profits of $623 million (73 cents/share) versus a consensus estimate of 72 cents. A year ago earnings were $13 million (1 cent/share) including a charge of $637 million (68 cents) related to the Macondo well blowout. Excluding Macondo, Halliburton earned $624 million (67 cents/share) a year earlier.

Revenue jumped 5.5% from the year-ago quarter to $7.35 billion from $7 billion. By itself, North America -- Halliburton's largest segment -- rose 5% from 1Q2013, although operating income was flat on lower pressure pumping pricing, higher logistics costs and poor weather. Operating income was $970 million, versus $902 million.

North America appears to be getting stronger, but Halliburton's biggest gains in the latest period came from its Eastern Hemisphere business, where revenue jumped 11% and operating income rose by 16%.

Halliburton's CEO is optimistic about North America's potential for increased activity levels in the second half of 2014.

"Service intensity levels are expanding across the United States, where we continue to see a trend to longer laterals, increased stage density, and rising volumes per stage. Our strategy is working well and we intend to stay the course."

Completion and production revenue in 1Q2014 was $4.4 billion, an increase year/year of $320 million (8%), primarily driven by "stronger stimulation activity in the United States land market," and higher completion tool sales in all regions. North America drilling and evaluation operating income decreased $17 million, or 10%, from a year earlier on decreased activity in Canada and decreased logging services in the U.S. land market, partially offset by increased testing services in the Gulf of Mexico.

In the first three months of the year, Halliburton invested $15 million in projects to strengthen, among other things, North America service delivery model and repositioning technology, Lesar said. New technology introduced between January and March included a RezConnect Well Testing System for wireless control of downhole drill stem test tools, and expanding the DrillDOC optimization tool line with the launch of 4.75-inch and 9.5-inch collars.

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