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Investment Opportunities in Natural Gas Service Companies

Companies / Natural Gas Apr 26, 2008 - 12:38 AM GMT

By: Hans_Wagner

Companies Best Financial Markets Analysis ArticleTo beat the market investors it often makes sense to invest in companies that support the companies that are most directly involved in a top performing sector. The Energy sector has outperformed the S&P 500 for several years. An earlier article examined the key issues driving opportunities in natural gas in the U.S. Natural gas is the cleanest burning fuel and is now trading at a lower cost relative to oil. Demand for natural gas should continue to expand, driven by substitution for coal to generate electricity and for heating. Natural gas is also being used by government and corporate fleets, as it is a lower cost and cleaner fuel.

To take advantage of the potential in natural gas, many investors are buying the exploration and development companies. However, the oil and gas field service firms also offer significant investment opportunities. Much like the companies that provided the picks, shovels and other implements to the early gold rush miners, these firms provide the equipment, fluids and services to help the exploration and production companies to find and extract oil and gas.

Three of the biggest firms are Baker Hughes (BHI), Halliburton (HAL) and Schlumberger (SLB). However, which ones offer the best opportunity to investors?

I like to look for companies that possess what several noted investors have called “growth at a reasonable price.” First, I look for companies that are trading at a good value. Then I look to see if they have good growth potential. In addition, it is useful to examine free cash flow and how it relates to the companies sales and enterprise value.

Halliburton Company (HAL)

Halliburton is an oil and gas services company with worldwide operations. They have extensive exposure to the North American natural gas exploration markets. As a result, the company will benefit from the growing demand for natural gas.

The table below presents some of the Value and Growth factors for the company's 2007 results. In particular, HAL is doing an excellent job generating earnings as indicated by its Return on net tangible Capital and Earnings Yield. As a company that must continue to reinvest its cash into the business to grow, they are generating solid cash flow as measured by the Free Cash flow Margin and Free Cash flow Yield. 

Return on Capital 56% PE Ratio 11.9
Earnings Yield 9.9% PEG Ratio 1.07
Free Cash Flow Margin 7.5% Enterprise Value/Free Cash Flow 31.8
Free Cash Flow Yield 2.9% Quarterly Revenue Growth (yoy) 19.1%
Quarterly Revenue Forecast (yoy)  16.4%


Halliburton experienced a decrease in the price for their services in North America during the second half of 2007 primarily due to the falling price of natural gas. Now that the price of natural gas is trending up, the price for their goods and services is recovering as indicated by their first quarter 2008 results. They also are benefiting from a growing focus on the Middle East and Asia, space dominated by rival Schlumberger.

So far Halliburton is up 25.5% this year, vs. the 6.6% rise in the Philadelphia Oil Service Index ($OSX).

In 2006, Halliburton divested their KBR subsidiary, the company that got so much bad press for their contracting work for the Department of Defense in Iraq. Likely, this issue is still weighing on some investors minds, keeping them from considering a very good company. 

Baker Hughes (BHI)

Baker Hughes provides oil and natural gas industry products and services for drilling, formation evaluation, completion and production. BHI operates throughout the world.

Baker Hughes offers a good value as indicated by their Return on net tangible Capital and their Earnings Yield. However, they do not generate as much as free cash flow from their operations as shown by their Free Cash Flow Margin and their Free Cash Flow Yield. 

The company sports a slightly higher Price to Earnings ratio and a much higher Enterprise Value to Free Cash Flow ratio, another way to look at the value of the company relative to its free cash flow. Of interest, its most recent and projected revenue growth is lower than Halliburton.

Return on Capital 44.7% PE Ratio 15.2
Earnings Yield 10.8% PEG Ratio 0.92
Free Cash Flow Margin 3.3% Enterprise Value/Free Cash Flow 61.9
Free Cash Flow Yield 1.56% Quarterly Revenue Growth (yoy) 11.7%
Quarterly Revenue Forecast (yoy)  9.0%


Like Halliburton, Baker Hughes experienced pricing pressures in the last half of 2007. As they reported in their first quarter 2008 results, the current high price of oil and the higher price of natural gas are helping them to increase their prices, adding to their margins. BHI has significant exposure to the North Sea and Russia where weather negatively affected their results.

Baker Hughes is selling at a slight premium when compared to Halliburton without the higher growth potential. BHI is essentially flat for this year, vs. the 6.6% rise in the Philadelphia Oil Service Index ($OSX).

Schlumberger Limited (SLB)

Schlumberger is an oilfield services provider to exploration and production companies around the world. Like the other oil field service firms, SLB experienced pricing pressure due to fewer rigs in North America in the latter half of 2007, when the price of natural gas declined.

Schlumberger is a good value opportunity as indicated by their Return on intangible Capital, which is the highest of the three firms reviewed. However, their Earnings Yield is the lowest, indicating the market places a higher value on Schlumberger. 

SLB's P/E Ratio is the highest of the three firms; another indication the market expects the company to grow faster than the other firms. Their quarterly revenue growth rate helps to sustain this belief. 

Return on Capital 68.4% PE Ratio 21.6
Earnings Yield 6.3% PEG Ratio 0.97
Free Cash Flow Margin 14% Enterprise Value/Free Cash Flow 33.3
Free Cash Flow Yield 3.0% Quarterly Revenue Growth (yoy) 16.8%
Quarterly Revenue Forecast (yoy)  16.1%

Schlumberger is considered by many analysts to be the best oil and gas field services firms, which is one of the reasons they have a higher valuation. Given their growth expectations, this is probably justified. Just remember you are buying a firm that is already valued higher than its peers are. SLB is up 6.3% this year, vs. the 6.6% rise in the Philadelphia Oil Service Index ($OSX).

The Bottom Line

Each of the three firms should benefit from the continued demand for energy throughout the world. There should be a pick up in their revenues and earnings throughout 2008 as exploration and development expenditures grow. Investors interested in these companies should listen to the recent earnings conference calls to gain a better understanding of the potential for each of these companies.

Of the three companies, I believe Halliburton is the best value for an investor's money. Moreover, HAL has extensive exposure to the rebound in natural gas drilling in North America, which should help them. They should enjoy a nice up side, with lower down side risk. Look to buy on dips in the price, rather than chase the recent run up.

To learn more about finding stocks that may beat the market, I suggest reading How To Make Money In Stocks: A Winning System in Good Times or Bad, 3rd Edition by William J. O'Neil is an excellent book on how to pick winning stocks. Mr. O'Neil is the founder of Investors Business Daily a national financial newspaper read by many professional traders and investors. You might also want to consider The Neatest Little Guide to Stock Market Investing by Jason Kelly combines friendly guidance and sound financial expertise, giving readers a solid foundation on which to build a profitable portfolio. The guide includes important tips from Wall Street masters Peter Lynch, Benjamin Graham, Warren Buffett, and others.

By Hans Wagner

My Name is Hans Wagner and as a long time investor, I was fortunate to retire at 55. I believe you can employ simple investment principles to find and evaluate companies before committing one's hard earned money. Recently, after my children and their friends graduated from college, I found my self helping them to learn about the stock market and investing in stocks. As a result I created a website that provides a growing set of information on many investing topics along with sample portfolios that consistently beat the market at

Hans Wagner Archive

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