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Halliburton takes US$2.2b charge on shale slump

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The charge for asset impairments was centred on hydraulic fracturing and legacy drilling equipment units, as well as workforce reductions, the company said.

[WASHINGTON] US oilfield services firm Halliburton on Tuesday disclosed a US$2.2 billion charge to earnings as weakening North American shale activity continued to hit the industry.

The charge for asset impairments was centred on hydraulic fracturing and legacy drilling equipment units, as well as workforce reductions, the company said. It dismissed 8 per cent of its North American staff at mid-year, and later cut its workforce across several western US states.

US producers are pulling back on drilling and completing wells, pressured by volatile oil prices and investor demands to focus on debt reduction and returns. Larger rival Schlumberger on Friday revealed it had cut some 1,400 workers since the third quarter, and laid out plans to idle 50 per cent of its hydraulic fracturing equipment. Fracking applies high pressure to release trapped oil and gas in shale wells.

Schlumberger earlier in 2019 took a US$12-billion charge while US oil major Chevron Corp booked a US$10 billion charge on oil and gas fields that were no longer economic to tap.

Halliburton Chief Executive Jeff Miller said in a statement he expected customer spending in North America to decline again this year. The company expects to recognise US$50 million of the charges in the current quarter, according to a press release.

The US rig count has fallen by 254, or roughly 24 per cent, to 796 in the past year, according to Baker Hughes.

Excluding the impairment, Halliburton beat analysts' estimates for quarterly profit, boosted by higher drilling activity in international markets which have been a recent bright spot for oilfield service providers.

The company swung to a US$1.7 billion loss in the fourth quarter because of the charge. On an adjusted basis, the company earned 32 cents per share, compared with analysts' average estimate of 29 cents, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Halliburton said revenue from North America fell over 30 per cent to US$2.33 billion, while international markets rose over 10 per cent to US$2.86 billion in the fourth quarter ended Dec 31.

REUTERS