(Core Laboratories, 31.Jan.2024) — Core Laboratories Inc. (NYSE: “CLB”) reported fourth quarter 2023 revenue of $128,200,000. Core’s operating income was $14,600,000, with diluted earnings per share (“EPS”) of $0.14, all in accordance with U.S. generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). Operating income, ex-items, a non-GAAP financial measure, was $15,000,000, yielding operating margins of 12%, and EPS, ex-items, of $0.19. The company’s fourth quarter 2023 effective tax rate was negatively impacted by adjustments primarily associated with non-cash adjustments of deferred taxes in connection with the domestication of the parent company to the U.S. For the full year 2023, revenue was up 4% compared to 2022, with incremental margins, ex-items, over 80%, driven by continued execution of the company’s strategic operational efficiency priorities. The company’s full year EPS, ex-items, was $0.80, representing year on year growth of 40%. A full reconciliation of non-GAAP financial measures is included in the attached financial tables.
Core’s CEO, Larry Bruno stated, “Our fourth quarter and full year financial results delivered modest revenue growth, highlighted by continued strong global demand for our Reservoir Description laboratory services. Additionally, demand for international energetic system product sales and completion diagnostics improved quarter-over-quarter. Reservoir Description experienced sequential growth in several geographic regions; however, that was partially offset by geopolitical events in the Middle East, as hydrocarbon trading patterns and the associated demand for crude oil and derived product assay work were disrupted. In 2023, we experienced growth in committed work volumes across our Reservoir Description laboratory network. In particular, Core’s investments to expand capabilities in the Middle East and Latin American markets prior to the global pandemic are now coming to fruition, as long-delayed client analytical projects progress into the early stages of execution. We expect that these prior investments in international growth opportunities will generate superior, long-term incremental margins. Aligned with our stated strategy, Core Lab reduced debt by $15mn in the fourth quarter of 2023, amounting to the elimination of more than 8% of the company’s total outstanding debt as of September 30, 2023. Core remains diligently focused on its strategic business priorities which include further reduction of debt and strengthening the balance sheet, while at the same time working to increase our return on invested capital, which improved for the sixth consecutive quarter.”
Reservoir Description operations are closely correlated with trends in international and offshore activity levels, with approximately 80% of revenue sourced from projects originating outside the U.S. Revenue in the fourth quarter of 2023 was $84,600,000, flat sequentially. Operating income was $12,300,000, yielding operating margins, ex-items, of 15%. The segment’s financial performance in the fourth quarter of 2023 reflects increased demand for reservoir rock and fluid analysis in international markets. This was somewhat offset by disruptions to hydrocarbon trading patterns and associated laboratory assay work in response to the Middle East conflict that emerged early in the fourth quarter of 2023. While operating margins remained strong, sequential margins were negatively impacted by higher labor costs. For the full year 2023, the segment’s revenue increased 8%, and incremental margins, ex-items, were over 85%.
During the fourth quarter of 2023, Core Laboratories Middle East Advanced Technology Center was selected by a prominent regional operator to quantify and de-risk their assessment of in-situ fluid saturations in a challenging carbonate reservoir. The operator recognized discrepancies between reserve estimates derived from down-hole log calculations and actual production outcomes from the targeted zones. Core Lab was asked to harness the collective expertise of both Reservoir Description and Production Enhancement to employ its proprietary, highly effective, InvasionProfiler™ drilling mud tracer technologies to address this problem. For this program, cores were cut in the target intervals to determine the fluid saturations in the rock. However, the coring process can alter saturations due to fluid exchange between the drilling mud and the pore space in the rock. By using a combination of drilling mud tracers from Core’s Production Enhancement segment, along with proprietary laboratory technologies from Reservoir Description, Core’s InvasionProfiler™ technology allowed the operator to accurately account for and quantify any fluid exchange that might have occurred. The fluids extracted from the core samples underwent thorough analysis using state-of-the-art gas chromatography-mass spectrometry to measure tracer concentrations. This meticulous analytical process corrected for any invasion of drilling mud filtrate, delivering very accurate determination of in-situ fluid saturations. The operator will use this core-based, tracer-corrected fluid saturation data to recalibrate their reservoir model.
Production Enhancement operations, which are focused on complex completions in unconventional oil and gas reservoirs in the U.S., as well as conventional projects across the globe, posted fourth quarter 2023 revenue of $43,600,000, up over 8% sequentially. The sequential financial performance reflects higher demand for U.S. and international completion diagnostics, along with a rebound in international product sales. Operating income on a GAAP basis was $2,200,000, while operating income, ex-items, was $2,400,000, yielding operating margins of 6% and incremental margins exceeding 20%. Production Enhancement’s full year 2023 revenue decreased 3%, primarily due to lower activity associated with drilling and completing onshore wells in the U.S.
During the fourth quarter of 2023 Core Lab expanded its proprietary HELIOS™ product line of plug and abandonment perforating technologies, designed for oil and gas well decommissioning programs. When decommissioning a well in the North Sea, local regulations require a new, dedicated cement barrier be emplaced to fully isolate the wellbore. Core’s engineering team was engaged to deploy HELIOS™ to increase efficiency for a plug and abandonment “perf-wash” operation. Existing competitive plug and abandonment technologies were unable to create the needed annular circulation patterns required to efficiently remove the old cement. HELIOS™ provides a higher shot density, optimizing flow between perforations with 360° annular coverage. This technology generates an array of perforations that minimizes fluid flow tortuosity, yielding faster and more efficient perf-wash operations. The HELIOS™ family now consists of multiple configurations, offering clients higher perforation coverage compared to competitive technologies. Core’s clients confirmed that the HELIOS™ technology provided a more effective flow path to the existing cement barrier in the annulus, resulting in a superior well abandonment solution. The expanded HELIOS™ product line demonstrates Core’s commitment to developing new technologies for its clients throughout the lifecycle of a well.
Also during the fourth quarter of 2023, Core’s diagnostic technologies were employed in both the U. S. and international markets to assess high-profile well completions. In the Gulf of Mexico, where an operator needed to confirm the competency of their frac pack completion, Core’s proprietary SpectraStim™ proppant tracing, SpectraScan® gamma ray logging and PackScan® density logging technologies were employed. After processing the logs, Core’s engineering team determined that there was an effective annular pack. However, there was insufficient proppant placement across the zone to ensure long-term stability of the frac pack. The operator executed a cost-effective remedial treatment, averting a costly, time-consuming recompletion. In the international arena, Core’s proprietary technologies were used to determine the competency of an openhole gravel pack offshore Trinidad. Core’s PackScan® log revealed an annular void in the lower portion of the sand control screen, but also showed that there was a sufficient proppant reserve above the top of the screen to fill in this void. Core’s technical team recommended that the operator slowly bring the well on production, allowing for the gradual in-filling of this void. The operator followed Core’s recommendation, and the well generated sand-free hydrocarbon production. The operator shared that had it not been for Core’s recommendation, they would have initially flowed the well at a high rate, as per their standard practice, and the completion would have likely failed, leading to an expensive remediation.
Liquidity, Free Cash Flow and Dividend
Core continues to focus on maximizing free cash flow (“FCF”), a non-GAAP financial measure defined as cash from operations less capital expenditures. For the fourth quarter of 2023, cash from operations was approximately $19,400,000 and capital expenditures were $2,700,000, yielding FCF of $16,700,000.
Core expects the company to continue generating positive free cash in future quarters. As of 31 Dec. 2023, Core reduced net debt by $13,500,000 from prior quarter-end to $150,900,000, and the Company’s leverage ratio improved from 1.92 to 1.76. The company will continue applying future free cash towards reducing debt until the company reaches its target leverage ratio (calculated as total net debt divided by trailing twelve months adjusted EBITDA) of 1.5 times or lower.
On 1 Nov. 2023, Core’s Board of Directors (“Board”) announced a quarterly cash dividend of $0.01 per share of common stock, which was paid on 4 Dec. 2023 to shareholders of record on 13 Nov. 2023.
On 31 Jan. 2024, the Board approved a cash dividend of $0.01 per share of common stock payable on 4 Mar. 2024 to shareholders of record on 12 Feb. 2024.
Return On Invested Capital
The Board and the company’s Executive Management continue to focus on strategies that maximize return on invested capital (“ROIC”) and FCF, factors that have high correlation to total shareholder return. Core’s commitment to an asset-light business model and disciplined capital stewardship promote capital efficiency and are designed to produce more predictable and superior long-term ROIC.
The Board has established an internal metric to demonstrate ROIC performance relative to the oilfield service companies listed as Core’s Comp Group by Bloomberg, as the company continues to believe superior ROIC will result in higher total shareholder return. Using Bloomberg’s recently updated formula, the company’s ROIC for the fourth quarter of 2023 improved to 13.4%.
Industry and Core Lab Outlook and Guidance
For 2024, Core will continue to execute its strategic plan of technology investments targeted to both solve client problems and capitalize on Core’s growth opportunities. As part of the strategic plan, the company will remain focused on generating free cash, reducing debt and maximizing ROIC. Core Lab maintains its constructive outlook on international upstream projects for 2024 and anticipates sustainable activity growth in the years ahead to support crude-oil demand and energy security. Crude-oil demand increased in 2023 and is anticipated to continue growing in 2024. Consequently, increased investment in the development of onshore and offshore crude-oil fields will be required to maintain and grow hydrocarbon production. In the near-term, global crude-oil markets may remain volatile due to global recession fears and the uncertainties related to on-going conflicts in Russia-Ukraine and the Middle East.
As the international recovery continues, committed long-term upstream projects from the Middle East, South Atlantic Margin, certain areas of Asia Pacific and West Africa support year-over-year growth for Core Lab. As customary, Core expects typical sequential seasonal industry patterns will cause activity in the first quarter of 2024 to decline in some regions. As such, Core anticipates Reservoir Description’s first quarter 2024 revenue to be down low to mid-single digits. Increased client activity in some regions may help mitigate the typical seasonal decline. The geopolitical situations in Russia-Ukraine and the Middle East continue to create volatility with respect to trading patterns and maritime transportation of crude oil and derived products, along with the associated laboratory assay services that Core Lab provides. Turning to the U.S., onshore drilling and completion activity in 2024 is anticipated to be flat compared to 2023. However, market penetration of Core’s proprietary energetic system and completion diagnostic service technologies are projected to outperform activity levels. For the first quarter of 2024, onshore U.S. drilling and completion activity was adversely impacted by extreme freezing conditions in January; however, activity is expected to improve as the quarter progresses.
Reservoir Description’s first quarter 2024 revenue is projected to range from $80,000,000 to $84,000,000 and operating income of $10,100,000 to $11,900,000. Core’s Production Enhancement segment’s first quarter 2024 revenue is estimated to range from $42,000,000 to $44,000,000 and operating income of $1,500,000 to $2,200,000.
The company’s first quarter 2024 revenue is projected to range from $122,000,000 to $128,000,000 and operating income of $11,800,000 to $14,300,000, yielding operating margins of approximately 10%. EPS for the first quarter of 2024 is expected to be $0.14 to $0.18.
The company’s first quarter 2024 guidance is based on projections for underlying operations and excludes gains and losses in foreign exchange. First quarter 2024 guidance also assumes an effective tax rate of 20%.