Schlumberger Ltd. (NYSE: SLB), the world's largest oilfield services provider, warned investors on Dec. 4 that its fourth-quarter North America revenues would likely decline 15% sequentially on steeper-than-expected price declines in hydraulic fracturing.
The drop in hydraulic fracturing activity this year had been "significantly larger" than expected, Patrick Schorn, executive vice president of wells at Schlumberger, said at a conference in New York, leading to a bigger decline in pricing than it had originally forecast.
Oilfield service companies this year have been hit by a slowdown in demand as producer customers face transportation bottlenecks that have cheapened the value of their oil. A recent drop in U.S. oil prices to around $53 a barrel has also stoked fresh concern among investors that markets are over-supplied.
Schlumberger is "guiding consensus lower" through the first quarter of 2019, analysts for investment firm Raymond James wrote in a note following Schorn's presentation.
Shares of Schlumberger were down about 2.6% in afternoon trading on Dec. 4, at $44.62, amid a broad market decline. The stock is down roughly 44% since January.
Hydraulic fracturing pumps water and sand at high pressure into a well to release oil and gas trapped in shale rock. Oil producers have been pulling back on fracking and completing wells because of the pipeline bottlenecks.
Schorn said recent oil price volatility would likely prompt its customers to take "a more conservative" approach during the start of 2019 and that any ramp-up in international investment could be tepid.
"Looking forward to next year, the recent volatility in oil prices has introduced more uncertainty to the outlook" for exploration and production spending in 2019, Schorn said.
Schlumberger's North America revenue, including its Cameron International business, was $3.12 billion in the third quarter, accounting for roughly 38% of total revenue.
A year ago, Schlumberger acquired Weatherford International Plc's (NYSE: WFT) U.S. pressure pumping business for $430 million, positioning it to better compete with rival Halliburton Co. (NYSE: HAL). Both companies have seen shares fall sharply this year amid the slowdown in hydraulic fracturing demand.
Chevron expects to spend $15.8 billion on oil and gas exploration in 2018, with spending on shale rising to $4.3 billion overall, CEO John Watson said.
Company insider Stephane Biguet has emerged as top candidate to replace Schlumberger CFO Simon Ayat at the world's largest oil services firm, three people familiar with the matter told Reuters.
U.S. rig counts have been falling for several weeks and recently hit a four-month low, while production has grown at a slower rate than the EIA's estimate.