By Arathy S Nair and Swetha Gopinath
(Reuters) - Halliburton Co <HAL.N>, the world's No. 2 oilfield services provider, said its revenue growth this year would meet or outpace the increase in the number of drilling rigs in North America.
However, Halliburton's revenue growth in North America in the latest quarter lagged the increase in rig count, sending the company's shares down as much as 4.5 percent to $53.93.
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"They are really kind of throwing some cold water on North America pricing picking up in the first half of the year," Barclays analyst David Anderson said.
The company's fourth-quarter revenue from North America increased 9 percent compared with the previous quarter, while the average U.S. rig count jumped 23 percent in the same period.
"We expected a little more in terms of revenue growth just given what the rig count did," Edward Jones analyst Rob Desai said.
The reason for the difference was Halliburton's decision to forgo unprofitable contracts, Chief Executive Dave Lesar said on a post-earnings call.
That helped the company post its first quarterly operating profit in North America in a year and report an adjusted profit that topped analysts' expectations.
Rising oil prices are prompting producers to put more rigs back to work in low-cost shale fields in North America.
"Animal spirits have broken free and they are running," Lesar said. "Customers are excited again and our conversations have changed from being only about cost control to how we can meet their incremental demand."
To meet that demand, Lesar said Halliburton would start reviving hydraulic fracturing equipment it had idled when oil prices were slumping.
However, Halliburton expects the reactivation costs to weigh on margins in the near term.
Oil producers are more focused on North American shale fields than on expensive deepwater drilling and mature oilfields in international markets.
Halliburton said there would not be an "inflection" in international markets until the latter half of 2017, echoing larger rival Schlumberger NV <SLB.N>.
"It is important to remember that our world is still a tale of two cycles," Lesar said. "The North America market appears to have rounded the corner, but the international downward cycle is still playing out."
Net loss attributable to Halliburton rose more than five fold to $149 million in the latest quarter. Its adjusted profit of 4 cents per share was double analysts average estimate, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Revenue fell 20.9 percent to $4.02 billion, slightly shy of analysts' estimate of $4.09 billion.
(Reporting by Arathy S Nair and Swetha Gopinath in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty and Savio D'Souza)