You could excuse Paal Kibsgaard for a wry smile at the beginning of this week.
The Schlumberger CEO would have watched the collapse of the Halliburton/Baker Hughes deal with interest, as both the second and third largest oil service companies announced a parting of ways and a breakdown in their plans for a proposed US$28 billion merger – which would have been the biggest in oil service history.
Facing opposition from an anti-trust lobby including the US Justice Department, which filed a lawsuit to prevent the merger on the grounds that it threatened to eliminate competition in 23 products and services, Halliburton agreed to pay Baker Hughes a termination fee of US$3.5 billion, while Baker Hughes must now pick up the pieces of its business and try and regain market share once again. Not surprisingly, at OTC in Houston last week, Baker Hughes was focusing on the positive opportunities that the post-deal break up afforded for the company.
At Fifth Ring, as part of our ongoing analysis and understanding of the oil and gas industry, we have been watching the twists and turns in the fortunes of the planned merger with interest since it was announced in November 2014. For us, the break up of the HalliBaker deal raises a number of questions, not least in terms of what both companies thought the US Justice Department’s response would be to the mega-merger plan when it was first announced.
It also puts Schlumberger in a very interesting position, because it calls into question whether any future proposed mergers between the oil service giant’s rivals would be able to adequately satisfy anti-trust concerns. The painful and ultimately unsuccessful example set by Halliburton and Baker Hughes to take on the biggest player in the market may deter other large companies from even thinking about joining forces, which would seem to make Schlumberger almost untouchable in terms of its service sector ranking and status.
By seeing the challenge to Schlumberger’s dominance fail – due not least to governmental pressure – and its closest ranking rivals both taking a hit in the process in terms of finances and market share, it appears that the only company which has truly benefited from the Halliburton/Baker Hughes proposed merger is one that actually played no part in it.