* Fourth-quarter EPS $1.08, ex-items, vs est $1.07
* Targets double-digit earnings growth in 2013
* Sees Saudi rig count up this year, US count up in Q1
* Shares rise 2.5 percent
By Thyagaraju Adinarayan and Braden Reddall
Jan 18 (Reuters) - Schlumberger Ltd on Friday reported fourth-quarter earnings just above recently reduced expectations, lifted by strong growth in oil and gas services beyond the shores of North America.
Schlumberger, the oilfield services sector leader, posted its fifth straight estimate-beating quarterly profit as growth in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico, Latin America, the Middle East and Asia made up for a slowdown on North American land.
International markets accounted for about two-thirds of its total 2012 revenue of $42.15 billion, which has helped the company build on its lead over Halliburton Co.
Schlumberger shares rose more than 2 percent early on Friday, while Halliburton was up more than 1 percent.
“In a challenging quarter for oil service companies, once again Schlumberger is clearly differentiating itself,” said analyst James Crandell of Dahlman Rose & Co.
Oil and gas companies have slowed onshore exploration in North America as the going prices for natural gas and natural gas liquids, such as butane and propane, remain low.
While Schlumberger Chief Executive Paal Kibsgaard sees the negative impact of the glut still weighing on margins in the region, he expects the number of North American rigs to rise by between 100 and 150 in the first quarter.
Kibsgaard said Saudi Arabia’s rig count would rise by about 25 rigs this year to 160, though global oil demand would grow at a similar pace to 2012 and spare capacity would be unchanged.
DOUBLE-DIGIT EARNINGS AHEAD
Kibsgaard forecast client spending in international markets would rise 10 percent, compared with no growth in North America, but Schlumberger earnings should grow by double digits in 2013.
“This is assuming no major setback in the global economy and also no further significant setbacks in North America,” Kibsgaard told analysts on a conference call.
Schlumberger cut its 2013 capital budget to $3.9 billion from $4.7 billion last year, and analysts at Simmons & Co expect spending directed at North American land to be “eviscerated.”
Fourth-quarter net income fell to $1.37 billion, or $1.02 per share, from $1.41 billion, or $1.05 per share, a year before. Excluding items, earnings were $1.08 a share versus the analysts’ view of $1.07, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Revenue increased 8 percent to $11.17 billion, comfortably beating the average estimate of $10.82 billion.
Just over a month ago, Schlumberger warned the North American slowdown and contract delays in Europe and Africa would knock fourth-quarter earnings down by 5 cents to 7 cents per share.
Latin America revenue rose 13 percent, while the Middle East and Asia jumped a combined 21 percent, compared with a 3 percent drop in North America.
UBS analyst Angie Sedita noted strength in Gulf of Mexico deepwater drilling more than offset onshore U.S. weakness. Offshore revenue was up 24 percent from the previous quarter.
Schlumberger, with its main offices in Paris, Houston and The Hague, raised its dividend by 13.6 percent on Thursday.
The company’s shares rose 2.5 percent to $75.20 on the New York Stock Exchange. The stock is now up about 8 percent this year, compared with 6 percent for Halliburton.
Halliburton, the U.S. market leader and the largest hydraulic fracturing company, is due to report earnings next Friday. Baker Hughes Inc, the industry No. 3, releases its fourth-quarter numbers on Jan. 23.