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EARNINGS PREVIEW:US Oil-Services Cos May See Boost From Low Capacity

By Melodie Warner Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES TAKING THE PULSE: Oil-services companies' results should benefit from a lack of capacity in the sector as major U.S. oil companies are set to invest record amounts in exploration and development. Some equipment suppliers are already reporting order backlogs of years rather than months and Michele della Vigna, managing director for energy at Goldman Sachs, estimates the oil-services industry will be running at full capacity by 2012-13, based on the projects planned for this year. Morningstar analyst Mark Hanson estimates the price for land drilling rigs could rise as much as 15% this year in oil-rich regions such as the Eagle Ford shale formation in Texas and the Bakken shale in North Dakota. Last quarter's oil production in U.S. and Canadian shale basins increased to the point where Schlumberger Ltd. (SLB) moved to 24-hour operations from 12-hour operations, which helped double its North American revenue from a year earlier. Activity is also increasing in Latin America and in the Gulf of Mexico, where the U.S. government recently unsealed more than $330 million in winning bids for drilling leases, the first offered since the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. COMPANIES TO WATCH: Schlumberger Ltd. (SLB) - reports Jan. 20 Wall Street Expectations: Analysts forecast a profit of $1.09 a share on $10.8 billion in revenue, compared with 85 cents a share and $9.07 billion, respectively, a year earlier. Key Issues: The world's largest oilfield-services company has said international demand for its services would continue to grow as Latin America and Libyan oil production increases. The company planned to resume drilling activity in Libya during the fourth quarter, since the country's civil war succeeded in toppling former leader Moammar Gadhafi. Schlumberger had estimated the interruption in Libya cut its third-quarter earnings by 1 cent a share. The company also continues to send offshore rigs to Mexico and to provide technology for shale rock formation drilling in Argentina. Halliburton Co. (HAL) - reports Jan. 23 Wall Street Expectations: Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters recently expected a profit of 99 cents a share on $6.82 billion in revenue, compared with 68 cents a share and $5.16 billion, respectively, a year earlier. Key Issues: The second-largest oil-field services company, which is the top seller of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, services in North America, expects increased North American onshore drilling business to mitigate any slump in energy prices as concerns of a new recession grow. Halliburton has said shale activity accounts for a much larger share of drilling in North America than it did during the 2008 economic crisis, essentially making the North American onshore drilling business a two-commodity market thanks to increasing oil production. In 2008, most of the drilling was directed toward natural gas, which saw deep price declines. Baker Hughes Inc. (BHI) - reports Jan. 24 Wall Street Expectations: Analysts forecast a profit of $1.33 a share on $5.47 billion in revenue, compared with 84 cents a share and $4.42 billion, respectively, a year earlier. Key Issues: Baker Hughes expects its fourth-quarter profit levels to improve from the prior quarter, which saw weak profit margins overseas due to a changing geographic and product mix and one-time items. The company has also forecast stronger international activity in the second half of 2011, as well as seasonal improvements in its Canada operations. Baker Hughes also is investing in sand mines, rail cars and other components in short supply as it expects demand for oil-field services to outpace the industry's ability to supply them for at least another year. Weatherford International Ltd. (WFT) - reports Feb. 21 Wall Street Expectations: Analysts forecast a profit of 33 cents a share on $3.58 billion in revenue, compared with 21 cents a share and $2.9 billion, respectively, a year earlier. Key Issues: After building itself into a global oilfield-services company through acquisitions and takeovers, Weatherford has unveiled plans to sell noncore assets worth up to $1 billion in an effort to increase its efficiency. Standard & Poor's Ratings Services raised its outlook on Weatherford to stable in November, citing the company's improved credit-protection measures over the last several quarters. Yet, analysts were disappointed to see a stronger dollar erode the company's profits in overseas markets, especially Russia, last quarter. But revenue reached an all-time high thanks to a boom in North American oil and gas development, a region that accounts for most of Weatherford's top line. Nabors Industries Ltd. (NBR) - reporting date to be announced Wall Street Expectations: Analysts forecast a profit of 50 cents a share on $1.72 billion in revenue, compared with 44 cents a share and $1.32 billion, respectively, a year earlier. Key Issues: The oil-drilling contractor continued to shake up its exploration-and-production portfolio by selling some of its oil and gas properties in California last month for $72 million in cash. Although small, some analysts say the deal is symbolic, as Nabors sharpens its focus on drilling. Separately, the company's executive-pay practices have drawn Securities and Exchange Commission scrutiny because Chairman Eugene Isenberg will receive $100 million in cash for relinquishing his chief executive title, although he remains with the company, and Nabors is facing criticism over its corporate governance from big public pension-fund systems in five states. (The Thomson Reuters financial estimates and year-earlier figures may not be comparable due to one-time items and other adjustments.) -By Melodie Warner, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2283; melodie.warner@dowjones.com

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