Oil and gas prices have plummeted since last year, but the price is still right for large oil-field services providers.
That was the message from industry giants Halliburton and Baker Hughes, both of which reported their latest results on Wednesday. Counterintuitively, slightly less-exuberant conditions favor consolidation and growth by major oil and gas producers—their core customers—while weeding out smaller drillers less likely to use their services.
Halliburton said its revenue grew 14% in the second quarter compared with a year earlier, slightly below analyst expectations of 15%. Net income—excluding a currency-transaction-related loss in Argentina—was $691 million, a 56% increase from a year earlier. Baker Hughes reported that its revenue rose 25% over the same period, which was slightly better than the 24% increase that Wall Street was penciling in. Net income of $410 million handily beat expectations.
Both companies have been generating free cash flow well above analyst expectations, with Halliburton producing 3.7 times what it managed a year earlier. It expects to return at least half of that to shareholders this year through share repurchases and dividends. Baker Hughes' free cash flow was about 3.8 times what it reported a year earlier and management raised its low end of revenue outlook.
Lower oil and gas prices have dented U.S. activity, but the pullback has been limited to private operators , and particularly those focused on natural gas, Baker Hughes Chief Executive Lorenzo Simonelli said on the call Wednesday morning. Private drillers now account for just 52% of U.S. rigs, down from 62% at the peak last year, according to a recent Goldman Sachs report citing data from Enverus.
Oil prices are down by roughly 25% compared with a year earlier, but U.S. crude benchmark futures stand at $76.17 a barrel, well above the $63 a barrel that U.S. oil producers said they needed on average for drilling to be profitable, according to a second-quarter survey from the Kansas City Fed. This might help explain why a basket of oil-field services providers are up 8.5% year to date while a basket of producers is down 1.3%.
Meanwhile, demand from international markets and offshore work remains strong. Halliburton said on Wednesday that while some customers started requesting discounts in North America, it still has pricing power in international markets and that the market remains tight. Halliburton Chief Executive Jeff Miller said the company expects to see its customers' spending grow by a high-teens percentage for the international market and around 10% for North America this year.
It will take a drastic, long-term commodity price decline to change the picture for the oil-field services titans.