Energy Business

Analyst Says Russian Turmoil Could Hurt Top Oil Services Stocks

The oil services sector has been on fire for most of the past year, and until the recent decline in oil prices, everything still looked full-speed ahead for the rest of 2014. While the North American business for the major stocks still appears to be firing on all cylinders, the geopolitical messes in Ukraine and the Middle East, and the sanctions against Russia, may prove to be a wild card that ends up putting a dent in third-quarter earnings and maybe beyond.

A new research report from the oil services team at Cowen says flat-out that while results in North America are likely to be better than they had recently forecast in the second half of 2014, those results are likely to be more than offset by the impact of sanctions in Russia and to a lesser extent turmoil in Iraq and Libya.

The Cowen analysts are trimming estimates on some of the top stocks, but remain cautiously optimistic on the group.

Halliburton Co. (NYSE: HAL) flexes its muscle and remains a top stock to buy at Cowen, but the numbers are coming down for the third quarter and beyond. While the company leads peers with North American margins of 18.2%, offsetting this however is weakness in Russia due to sanctions affecting the use of equipment and services in unconventional, deepwater or Arctic applications and restrictions on personnel being employed in Russia. The Cowen analysts are trimming estimates for the third and fourth quarters in 2014 and lowering full-year estimates for 2014 to 2016.

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Halliburton investors are paid a 0.90% dividend. While the analysts remain positive on the company long term, the Cowen price target for the stock is dropped from $89 to $84. The Thomson/First Call consensus target is posted at $82.81. The shares closed trading Wednesday at $67.58.

Schlumberger Ltd. (NYSE: SLB) is the largest oilfield services company in the world, with far-reaching operations all around the globe. While most of Wall Street and the team at Cowen are still bullish on the stock, the research note points out that the oil services giant derives 6% of the total corporate earnings from Russia, which they consider to be an outsized part of the total revenue picture. News reports indicated that a ceasefire in Ukraine is in agreement with Russia, but the release of sanctions will not be an overnight process. Investors are paid a 1.5% dividend.

The Cowen rating remains on Schlumberger at Outperform, and the price target is at $132. The consensus target is at $132.78. The stock closed Wednesday at $108.17.

Weatherford International Ltd. (NYSE: WFT) has been a frustrating stock for many investors over the years, and finally rewarded investors with an outstanding first half of the year, highlighted by solid growth and cost-cutting. The company has had a strong move off the mid-August lows and looks to break out and go higher. Weatherford offers a wide range of global capabilities, including a proprietary system for pressure management in the mushrooming arena of subsea production.

The company might be able to dodge the worst hit from sanctions as they announced in July a sale of the company’s land rig operations in Russia and Venezuela to Russia’s state-controlled oil giant Rosneft for $500 million in cash, as the oilfield services company continues to slim down and focus on its core businesses. This business accounts for half of Weatherford’s Russian-generated income. The question remains does the geopolitical turmoil slow down the completion of the deal? The Cowen price target for the stock, which is also rated Outperform, is $32. The Wall Street consensus target is $26.95. The stock closed Wednesday at $23.53.

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International turmoil can always cause headaches for stock investors. The question is almost always one of duration: how long will it take to play out and return to normal? Investors looking to add these top oil service stocks to their portfolios may be treated to a substantial price discount if panicked shareholders sell and ask questions later.