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UPDATE 4-Halliburton, Baker Hughes beat estimates, eye oil recovery

(Adds comment from earnings call, updates price action)

April 21 (Reuters) - Baker Hughes Co and Halliburton Co on Wednesday said North American oil markets were showing signs of recovery as the two energy services firms beat Wall Street expectations for first-quarter earnings.

The upbeat outlooks marked a sharp change from a year ago, when the coronavirus pandemic slashed energy demand and production and oil companies reduced spending on new equipment and drilling.

Year-over-year revenue was down for both companies as oil and gas customers remain committed to lower spending.

Halliburton reported earnings of 19 cents per share versus analysts’ estimates of 17 cents, IBES data from Refinitiv showed.

Improved results come as oil prices have rebounded from pandemic lows, with Brent oil futures trading close to $65 per barrel and the worldwide rig count up about 11.5% to 1,231 rigs in the quarter, Baker Hughes data showed.

“The first quarter marked an activity inflection for the international markets, while North America continued to stage a healthy recovery,” Halliburton Chief Executive Jeff Miller said.

Oilfield services pricing still needs to recover, Miller told investors during an earnings call, but added the company is seeing “positive signs of market rebalancing” that he expects to drive improvement.

Shares were down 4% in early trading at $19.02.

Halliburton posted revenue of $3.45 billion, up 6.6% from the fourth quarter but down from $5 billion a year earlier.

Analysts had expected revenue of $3.36 billion, Refinitiv data showed.

Baker Hughes’ earnings per share of 12 cents topped Wall Street estimates of 11 cents. Profit was down 40% in the first quarter, while adjusted operating income fell to $270 million for the quarter from $462 million last quarter.

Chief Executive Lorenzo Simonelli said he remained “cautiously optimistic” that the global economy and oil demand would recover.

Shares of Baker Hughes were down 1.38% to $19.22 in early activity.

Year-over-year revenue was down 12% at $4.78 billion. Baker Hughes said stronger-than-expected activity in North America helped mitigate the impacts of a Texas winter storm that hampered the market.

Baker said it would see a non-operating loss from a change in the fair value of its investment in technology firm C3 AI of $788 million.

Wall Street analysts said the results were positive, and applauded higher oilfield margins and strong free-cash flow.

“This is a solid start to the year,” James West, senior managing director for Evercore ISI, said of Halliburton’s report, pointing to earnings growth in its drilling business. (Reporting by Arathy S Nair and Shariq Khan in Bengaluru and Liz Hampton in Denver, editing by Jason Neely, Lisa Shumaker and Marguerita Choy)

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