(Adds analyst comment, updates stock price)
By Nivedita Bhattacharjee and Liz Hampton
Jan 22 (Reuters) - U.S. oilfield services company Halliburton Co reported a bigger-than-expected adjusted quarterly profit on Monday and gave an upbeat outlook for 2018, as higher oil prices continue to push U.S. production to near-record levels.
Halliburton’s optimistic view for its U.S. and international operations comes as rising crude prices spur demand for oilfield services. Its results, along with those of larger rival Schlumberger, suggested the oil and gas recovery will spread beyond U.S. onshore to international exploration and production markets.
“I am very excited about the way 2018 is shaping up,” said Chief Executive Jeff Miller during the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call. “North American unconventional activity should be very busy,” he added, referring to growth in production from U.S. shale.
Halliburton’s shares were up more than 5 percent at $55.71 in midday trading.
The company took a fourth-quarter charge of $385 million for its operations in Venezuela, which has been mired in political and economic turmoil. Halliburton said it would continue to “vigorously pursue” payments from its primary customer there, but expects continuing delays in payments.
Schlumberger last week reported a $938 million write-down on its Venezuelan assets and receivables. Other oilfield services firms have taken charges recently from receivables and promissory notes exchanged for debts from state-run oil company Petroleos de Venezuela.
The company posted an adjusted profit of 53 cents a share, beating the average analyst estimate of 46 cents per share, as per Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
“The big takeaway is that they conveyed an unequivocally constructive outlook for the industry in 2018,” said Bill Herbert, research analyst with Simmons & Company. He pointed to the company’s expectation that its North American margins will climb to around 20 percent this year. Margins were in the mid-teens in 2017, he said.
The company was upbeat about the health of the U.S. oil industry given the rise in oil prices and increased drilling. The U.S. rig count is up almost 35 percent from last year, according to data from General Electric’s Baker Hughes
“Commodity prices are supportive of increasing activity in North America and I am encouraged by the increase in tender activity and the positive discussions we are having with our international customers,” Miller said in a statement.
Halliburton, which makes more than half its revenue from North American operations, said total revenue rose to $5.9 billion for the quarter, from $4.02 billion a year earlier. Revenue in North America was $3.4 billion, up from $1.8 billion.
The uptick in U.S. drilling activity drove up costs for sand and trucking during the quarter, the company said on its call, but sand costs should decline in 2018 as local mines come online.
The company also reported $882 million in tax charges, largely the result of preliminary tax provisions related to the new U.S. tax law passed in December.
Schlumberger on Friday beat Wall Street forecasts and predicted its international operations would grow in 2018 for the first time in four years.
A stronger outlook for the international market follows a nearly 24 percent climb in the global Brent futures contract in the past three months.
“As for the international market, I’m encouraged for the first time in three years,” said Miller. (Reporting by Nivedita Bhattacharjee and Liz Hampton; Editing by Frances Kerry and Meredith Mazzilli)