Halliburton Co., the world's second-largest oilfield services company, posted a higher-than-expected quarterly profit, boosted by strong demand for oil projects in North America.
The rise in oil prices to near $90 a barrel has spurred a bout of fresh spending by energy companies on new wells, overshadowing a decline in natural gas projects as prices for that fuel remained weak.
An 80 percent jump in North American sales was driven by robust on-shore activity, even as offshore activity in the Gulf of Mexico remained slack, Halliburton said.
On Friday, Schlumberger, Halliburton's larger rival, also reported a higher-than-expected quarterly profit and said it expects spending from its oil and gas producing customers to increase.
Halliburton's shares have gained about 25 percent over the last 12 months, but remain a bargain compared to its peers such as Schlumberger, analysts said.
"It's still the cheapest of the large-cap diversified (oilfield service) companies," said RBC Capital Markets analyst Kurt Hallead.
The shares were trading on a 20 percent discount to its rivals based on 2012 earnings forecasts, according to UBS analyst Angie Sedita, who has a price target of $48 on the shares.
Shares in Halliburton were up nearly 1 percent to $39.54 in early trading on the New York Stock Exchange. The Philadelphia Stock Exchange's Oil Service index fell 0.6 percent.
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Fourth-quarter net profit rose to $605 million, or 66 cents per share, from $243 million, or 27 cents per share, a year earlier.
Excluding a 2 cent per share charge related to former subsidiary KBR's settlement with Nigeria, earnings per share were 68 cents, topping the 63 cents per share that analysts had on average forecast, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Revenue jumped 40 percent to $5.16 billion in the quarter. Analysts had expected revenues to be $4.88 billion.
The moribund activity in the Gulf of Mexico comes as companies struggle to win new drilling permits in the wake of the BP Plc oil spill last year.
Halliburton, which could face legal liability in the disaster that killed 11 workers last April, expects business in the region to eventually return, although prospects remain uncertain for the first half of the 2011.
"However, I believe it is prudent to maintain all of our infrastructure and most of our headcount in anticipation of a rebound in the Gulf," said Chief Executive and Chairman Dave Lesar said in a statement.
Lesar also said the company will expand its deepwater operations in the Eastern Hemisphere, although it did not specify how much it would spend.
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