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Rystad Energy: Covid-19 pushes OFS headcount to lowest level in over a decade

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Oilfield Technology,

The oil market turmoil brought on by Covid-19 has led to lower-than-anticipated activity and delayed projects, forcing the industry to deploy cost-cutting measures. A Rystad Energy analysis of the top 50 oilfield service (OFS) firms shows that staffing is set to reach its lowest level in more than 10 years, with the anticipated revenue per employee also declining towards the previous downturn’s level.

Rystad Energy tracks the permanent employee count of the top service companies, including reported permanent employees at year-end. Its analysis shows that the reduced staff levels in the OFS industry seen in 2016, after the previous downturn, have mostly been maintained since then at just over 760 000 employees, keeping a major cost driver – investment in human capital – at steady low levels.

However, the downsizing expected this year is likely to result in the OFS industry experiencing the lowest total headcount in over a decade, which Rystad estimates will amount to about 610 000 employees.

Within its analysis Rystad calculates revenue per employee as a company's total yearly revenue divided by the number of employees by year-end. Studying this parameter provides an understanding of how efficiently service companies are able to utilise their employees. Rystad considers this metric on a weighted average basis for the top service companies, which earned a total of over US$200 billion in 2019.

When Brent oil prices were above US$100 a barrel, we see that companies historically earned about US$300 000 or more per employee. However, when prices have fallen, revenue per employee has dipped to as low as US$250 000 per employee, as was seen in 2016. This year Rystad expects revenue per employee will fall again, diving to around US$260 000 per employee from the stable levels seen in the past two years as revenues from the largest OFS companies plummet quicker than their respective headcounts do.

Revenue per employee is not likely to fall as hard as in the previous crisis – companies have reacted early with layoffs and furloughs, and this time around there are fewer redundancies in terms of human capital investment. Schlumberger, for example, recently announced that it will lay off 21 000 employees – equal to 20% of its workforce – and is expected to have a 25% y/y revenue decrease in 2020. This will bring its revenue per employee to US$290 000, more than a 7% decline compared to last year.

OFS companies involved in shale operations began actively reducing their workforce as early as 2019. Revenues will continue to fall at an even quicker pace this year. Meanwhile, the long lead times of offshore projects mean that employment trends in the offshore sector are typically less volatile. Additionally, several offshore companies have already begun the process of diversifying their offerings, shifting focus especially towards renewables. This kind of involvement in other industries could provide a cushion for low oil prices.

As a result, the offshore sector is expected to have a slight decrease in revenue per employee. Within its analysis, Rystad sees that companies in the North American onshore sector will struggle more with the transition into new markets as their work is primarily focused on drilling and well service, which does not transfer as well to other industries beyond oil and gas.

“OFS employment is now heading for the lowest numbers in the past decade as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to impact ongoing work and the frequency of new awards, both of which could take years to fully recover. Nevertheless, some companies saw a bountiful 2019 in terms of inbound orders, and 1H20 numbers show that these companies have been more resilient,“ says Rystad Energy’s Energy Service Analyst Lein Mann Hansen.

Time will tell whether massive backlogs will be enough to bolster revenues. New contract awards are poised to pick up towards the end of 2021 and 2022, but until then, OFS companies must continue cutting costs, fighting for the few awards available, and diversifying into new markets.

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