TGS, a provider of seismic data for the oil industry, proposed a higher-than-expected dividend on Feb. 7 as its quarterly earnings rose, though less than forecast, and saw demand for its services picking up this year.
The company said there were signs of strengthening demand in 2019 despite uncertainty related to factors such as U.S. onshore production, oil prices and exploration and production budgets.
While oil companies have increased their exploration investments after years of cost cuts, recent crude price volatility has impacted their spending on seismic data.
Seismic surveyors like TGS are a bellwether of oil companies' appetite for conducting exploration for oil and gas deposits.
"With the market fundamentals continuing to improve, they (oil companies) are likely to come under increasing pressure to replenish reserves and secure growing production in the longer-term," TGS said in a statement.
Earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) rose to $68 million in the last quarter of 2018, from $51.6 million a year ago, but lagged market expectations of $77.8 million in a Reuters poll of analysts.
The company increased its quarterly dividend from $0.20 per share to $0.27 per share, higher than the $0.24 per share expected in the Reuters poll.
The company said it expected its investments in new multi-client surveys, data of which it can sell to a number of buyers, to rise 20% to $300 million in 2019.
Commitments from buyers ahead of multi-client surveys, or pre-funding revenues, were expected to cover about 40-45 percent of the investments this year, it added.
Last year, TGS spending on new multi-client surveys totaled $250 million with pre-funding levels at 42 percent, compared with the previous guidance of $260 million and around 40% respectively.
Its sales after seismic data is gathered, or so-called late sales, rose nearly 6% to $152 million in the fourth quarter from a year ago.
Unlike some of its competitors, such as PGS, TGS does not own seismic vessels and rents them.
Last November, TGS announced a strategic partnership with Norway's Axxis Geo Solutions (AGS) for multi-client ocean bottom node projects in the North Sea.
The technology allows surveyors to get a sharper image of sub-surface petroleum reservoirs, improving chances of making discoveries or increasing recovery from the producing fields.
Front-month gas futures rose 7.3 cents, or 3.4%, to settle at $2.238 per million British thermal units, their highest close since Dec. 26.
Saudi Arabia's state oil producer Aramco has cut the official selling prices for its crude to Asia and Europe, while leaving them unchanged for the U.S., a document obtained by Reuters showed.
Gas stockpiles in the US and Europe are expected to reach all-time highs by the end of the injection season.