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Schlumberger and Halliburton to accelerate capex cuts in anticipation of slowdown

Schlumberger and Halliburton plan to accelerate cost-cutting in hopes of significantly reducing spending this year as the oil market has been roiled by the coronavirus outbreak and Saudi-Russia price war, executives from the 2 major oilfield services firm said during a conference.

Schlumberger and Halliburton to accelerate capex cuts in anticipation of slowdown

Oil prices have fallen by more than half this year, diving below $24 a barrel on March 24, as coronavirus curtails demand and top suppliers Saudi Arabia and Russia began pumping full bore to grab share in a slumping market. The twin supply and demand shocks have driven major oil companies to slash spending by up to 50% this year and pushed oilfield services providers for price cuts.

Schlumberger, the world's largest oilfield services company, said it would cut spending by 30% this year from last year's levels.
The company expects a rapid reduction in active drilling and hydraulic fracturing activity, estimating the number of rigs in operation could fall to levels last seen during the 2016 downturn.

Earlier this year, Schlumberger had already outlined an aggressive cost-cutting strategy for North American operations, which CEO Olivier Le Peuch said positioned the firm for the latest downturn in prices. The company has accelerated its asset light strategy, as well as personnel and compensation reductions.

"It's not an easy ride, I must say, but we're doing everything we can to catch up," he told investors in an online presentation for the Scotia Howard Weil Energy Conference. Organizers switched to a webcast-only event in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

The company said the spread of coronavirus likely would impact some field crews and operations, and it was preparing for logistical disruptions as countries implement restrictions.

Halliburton is also accelerating its cost-cutting and will significantly reduce spending this year below its original $1.2 billion budget, its finance chief said on March 24.

The Texas-based company did not disclose a new spending target, but is testing scenarios including a 60%-65% reduction in some areas of the oilfield services sector, CFO Lance Loeffler told investors on a webcast. He pointed to a reduction to $800 million done during the last downturn that began in late 2014 as a potential target.

"The industry is facing an unprecedented dual impact on demand and supply side that none of us have witnessed over our professional lifetimes," Loeffler told investors.

Halliburton had already been cutting cost by idling equipment and laying off workers. Last week, it said it would furlough 3,500 workers for 2 months. "All options are being considered," Loeffler said.

He emphasized that Halliburton would focus on returns and free cash flow, rather than slashing prices to gain or hold onto market share, as the company did in the last downturn.

He said one reason Halliburton was taking a different strategy this time was because financing from Wall Street had dried up for the oil and gas industry. "There is no more lifeline," Loeffler said.

Shares of Halliburton and Schlumberger were both up on March 24. Halliburton shares were up 24.4% to $6.52. They are down 72% from the beginning of the year. Shares of Schlumberger were trading at $13.81, up 7%. They are off 68% in the last 52 weeks.