Halliburton weathering storms, CEO says

By Brett Clanton, Houston Chronicle

Nov. 11–Halliburton has survived problems in the past and will weather its latest set of challenges, CEO Dave Lesar told investors in Houston on Wednesday, in a clear but unstated reference to liability the company could face in the Gulf oil disaster.

He urged investors and analysts to have patience and try to focus instead on a range of new growth targets the oil-field services giant plans to hit over the next three years.

“Stay with us,” Lesar said during a half-day of presentations at Halliburton’s annual investor and analyst day at the Omni Hotel. “I think you can make some good returns.”

Halliburton, with dual headquarters in Houston and Dubai, United Arab Emirates, has been on the defensive in recent days after a presidential oil spill commission said the contractor’s cement job in the Macondo well had proven unstable in some lab tests prior to the accident. An April 20 blowout of the well killed 11 workers and launched the worst U.S. oil spill.

But Halliburton said the commission’s findings were based on flawed tests. In addition, the company maintains its contract with BP on Macondo shields it from liability.

“CEO Lesar seems relatively relaxed about the Macondo fallout,” wrote James D. Crandell, industry analyst with Barclay’s Capital, in an investor note Wednesday.

Still, the Macondo disaster has brought more unwelcome attention to Halliburton, which has gained notoriety over former subsidiary KBR’s handling of Iraq war contracts, asbestos liabilities inherited in its merger with Dresser Industries in 1998 and other issues.

In June, the company’s stock price was down about 40 percent from a 52-week high of $35.89, though it has since rebounded.

Lesar said his “battle-hardened” management team is prepared to deal with current issues, saying “we’ve been through tough times before.”

On Wednesday, company executives laid out an ambitious agenda for extending Halliburton’s leadership in unconventional oil and gas plays in North America, improving profitability in international regions and increasing its presence in deep-water fields around the world.

They also said Halliburton plans to boost capital spending in 2011, to $2.5 billion-$3 billion, up from $2.1 billion this year.

Investors responded by sending Halliburton shares up $1.66 to close at $34.88.



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