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Oil market trends are setting the foundation for higher crude prices, Schlumberger says

  • Positive oil market trends and declining crude stockpiles are "creating the required foundation" for higher commodity prices, according to Schlumberger CEO Paal Kibsgaard.
  • Financial discipline in the U.S. oil patch, a likely extension of OPEC-led production cuts and underinvestment in future crude output further underpin Kibsgaard's outlook.
  • The world's largest oilfield services company reported third-quarter profits grew 65 percent and revenues jumped 13 percent year over year.

Oil prices are poised to rise as a number of positive trends take shape in the market, which is now balanced after years of oversupply, according to Schlumberger, the world's largest publicly traded oilfield services company.

Schlumberger Chairman and CEO Paal Kibsgaard sounded the positive note after his company announced its third-quarter earnings rose by 65 percent, excluding charges related to a major acquisition. The company also saw quarterly revenue jump 13 percent year over year, driven by strong growth in the U.S. shale oil patch, as well as in Russia, the North Sea and Asia.

Looking at the global picture, Kibsgaard said the prospect of rising oil prices has been bolstered by falling crude stockpiles around the world, as well as several other positive signals.

"A continuation of these market trends, combined with further steady draws in global oil inventories is now creating the required foundation for further upward movement in oil prices and subsequent growth in global E&P investment," Kibsgaard said in a statement, referring to oil exploration and production.

Those market trends include the shift in focus among U.S. drillers from production growth to financial discipline after a heady period of land acquisition, particularly in the low-cost Permian basin in Texas and New Mexico. That signals more moderate output as American shale drillers strive to generate positive cash flow.

Kibsgaard is also encouraged by recent signs that OPEC and other exporters including Russia will extend a deal to keep 1.8 million barrels a day off the market through the end of 2018. Also underpinning his view, investment in the oil industry throughout much of the world remains at "unprecedented low levels," which increases the odds that the market will swing to undersupply in the medium term.

"Given the visible tightening of the supply and demand balance and the current geopolitical tensions in many of the world's key oil producing regions, a geopolitical risk premium may again become a significant factor," Kibsgaard said.

U.S. fracking forges ahead

Looking at the North American market, revenue from land drilling grew 18 percent from the previous quarter, thanks to the heavy deployment of Schlumberger's hydraulic fracturing capacity.

Hydraulic fracturing is the technology behind a boom in U.S. oil and gas production. It involves injecting water, minerals and chemicals underground at high pressure to break up shale rocks and allow hydrocarbons to flow.

Schlumberger says it has more than doubled its deployment of fracturing fleets in North America over the last six months. Its total fracking capacity is almost fully deployed, the company said, lending further evidence that drillers could see price inflation as they compete for crews.

While hydraulic fracturing revenue grew 42 percent quarter over quarter, the brisk pace of crew deployments created transitory costs and inefficiencies in the oil fields across Schlumberger's network. Kibsgaard said the company will address those issues in the fourth quarter.

While activity is buzzing in the American shale patch, the outlook for U.S. offshore drilling looks negative, according to Kibsgaard.

"In the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, activity continued to weaken in the third quarter, and the outlook remains bleak for this region based on current customer plans," he said.