Schlumberger Limited Earnings Arent as Awful as Expected

Schlumberger Limited reported its second-quarter results after the markets closed on Thursday. While the oilfield service giant did experience notable declines in both revenue and earnings, its results beat analysts' estimates. Because of that, the clear theme running through the report is that, while the downturn is having a negative impact on Schlumberger, that impact isn't as bad as it could have been.

A look at the numbersSchlumberger's second-quarter revenue was $9 billion, which was down 12% over last quarter, and 25% lower year over year. Even so, the company managed to beat analyst estimates by roughly $40 million.

Driving the overall weakness was Schlumberger's North American segment, which saw its revenue plunge 27% sequentially, whereas International revenue only slipped 5%. In fact, Schlumberger's revenue likely would have fallen even more if it wasn't for the fact that its North American segment only accounts for about a third of its revenue.

The weakness in revenue unsurprisingly had an impact on the company's bottom line, as its income from continuing operations fell 38% year over year, to $1.1 billion, or $0.88 per share. This was down from $1.8 billion, or $1.37 per share, in the year-ago quarter.

Earnings weren't as weak as analysts feared, as the company beat estimates by $0.08 per share. In addition to weaker revenue, the other driver of the weaker earnings was operating margin in North America, which fell from 18% in last year's second quarter to just 10.2% this quarter. This was in stark contrast to the company's international operating margin, which surprisingly improved from 24% to 24.5% year over year.

While North American margins were weak, they could have been much worse. Schlumberger CEO Paal Kibsgaard pointed this out in the earnings by comparing the company's results in this downturn to 2009. Kibsgaard pointed out that:

While the quarter wasn't stellar by any means, it wasn't anywhere near as bad as it could have been given what happened the last time oil prices plunged.

A look at outlookKibsgaard isn't yet ready to call a bottom, as he said that second-half visibility "still remains limited." This is because the supply-and-demand picture in the global oil market is still being sorted out.

On the supply side, U.S. oil production is beginning to flatten, while other big-producing nations are actually seeing declining production, especially from Brazil and Mexico. However, this weakness is being partially offset by OPEC, which is actually pushing its production higher to continue putting pressure on rivals.

Meanwhile, on the demand side, the outlook still remains strong, which points to tightening supplies. Overall, this points to an eventual supply-demand balance at some point; however, the market isn't there just yet.

With the overall market still challenged, Schlumberger expects to weather the current downturn better than its peers, and better than it has in past downturns. Its plan to control its costs and its resources is having a noticeable impact, especially internationally, where its margins actually improved despite the fact that revenue weakened. Because of this, it expects to outperform its peers during this downturn, even though it's not immune from its impacts.

Investor takeawayWhile Schlumberger's results were clearly affected by the downturn in the oil market, its report could have been much worse. This is because the company is doing an admirable job managing its costs, which is why its margins aren't falling off of a cliff. While the company doesn't see a rebound in the oil market on the horizon, it doesn't necessarily need one to improve results going forward.

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