Weatherford CEO's Rebound Plan Relies On Getting Smaller
HOUSTON, Sept 14 (Reuters) - Four years ago, oilfield company Weatherford International Plc pledged to sell non-core businesses and make paying down debt its top priority after years of borrowing and over spending.
It almost worked. Asset sales provided some $1.8 billion to pare debt, and Weatherford's stock nearly doubled that year. But when oil prices plummeted in mid-2014 and customer spending on new wells followed, Weatherford failed to cut costs fast enough and payments on its debt jumped, killing its stock price rally.
Mark McCollum, the company's third chief executive officer in two years, thinks his push to simplify its sprawling supplier networks and corporate organization will help turn around one of the largest energy companies yet to emerge from the oil price collapse.
"As I studied this, a large part was leadership. This was entirely fixable. It just needed attention," McCollum said in his first sit-down interview since taking over the company last year. The former Halliburton Co finance chief was fresh off a flight from the Middle East, where Weatherford agreed to sell more than 30 drilling rigs in what he called one of the "hardest" deals of his career.
McCollum is consolidating more than 90 once independently-managed country operations into 14 territories, and is streamlining its dozens of computer systems and thousands of suppliers to lower costs.
When he arrived last year, Weatherford had some 30 payroll systems as a result of various deals and had around 32,000 suppliers - more than its global staff.
"The work to put Weatherford on solid financial footing is a massive integration project," McCollum said. "We needed to bring this group together so we have common processes, common systems, common language – not just drive cost out."
Many investors have chosen not to wait around for the McCollum rebound. The stock trades under $2.60 per share, off almost 40 percent this year, and its debt has a non-investment grade rating.
As rivals Schlumberger and Halliburton post robust earnings this year, Weatherford has piled up losses while pursuing asset sales and cost cuts. Wall Street expects the company's revenue to rise about 5 percent this year and 10 percent next year, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. But an annual profit is not expected until 2020.
"They're running out of runway," said Jake Leiby, a senior analyst with debt researcher CreditSights, who has an "underperform" rating on Weatherford's bonds.
A sale of the entire company is unlikely because of Weatherford's about $7.6 billion in long-term debt, he added.
McCollum's plan calls for Weatherford to sell its U.S. fracking and land rigs businesses, and he has put other, undisclosed units up for sale.
He has pledged $500 million in divestitures this year, on top of the company's rig sale, to help pay down debt, and has acknowledged that he may eventually need to sell one of its bigger operations to make a dent in its debt.
Its largest business, called artificial lift, keeps old wells pumping. It had about $1.3 billion in revenue in 2017, according to oilfield services consultancy Spears & Associates.
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