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Jan 19 (Reuters) - Schlumberger reported better-than-expected profit in the fourth quarter and said it expected another strong year for North American shale drilling in 2018 along with its first international business growth in four years.
$2.7 billion in one-off charges, including an almost $1 billion write-down of investments in Venezuela, widened the company's GAAP loss to $2.26 billion. It also announced the closure of its land and marine seismic exploration business.
Adjusted for the one-off items, however, the past year's recovery in crude prices drove earnings at the world's largest oil services company to 48 cents a share, beating average analyst estimates of 44 cents, as per Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Shares in Schlumberger, which have risen 25 percent since mid-November, dipped around 1 percent in premarket trading.
Chairman and Chief Executive Paal Kibsgaard said explorers and producers now predict 15-20 percent growth in North American investment this year and said 2018 would be the first year of growth for all parts of its global operations since 2014.
"Looking at the oil market, the strong growth in demand is projected to continue in 2018, on the back of a robust global economy," he said.
The recovery of oil prices to almost $70 a barrel has given fresh legs to shale drilling in North America, poising the United States to push oil output past 10 million barrels per day - toppling a record set in 1970.
Prices of West Texas Intermediate surged about 25 percent in the past three months, while Brent crude climbed nearly 24 percent, spurring U.S. shale producers to put more rigs to work.
Schlumberger's revenue from North America rose 59 percent to $2.81 billion for the fourth quarter, pushing total revenue up 15 percent to $8.18 billion.
International revenues fell one percent during that time.
The company pointed to the strong shale market as the reason for its run-down of its seismic acquisition business. It said it was the only one of its businesses which it did not believe would meet expectations for returns going forward.
"We have therefore taken the difficult decision to exit the marine and land seismic acquisition market, and instead turn our WesternGeco product line into an asset-light business," it said. (Reporting by Nivedita Bhattacharjee and Liz Hampton; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila and Patrick Graham)