* Says customers think oil price slump is short term
* Sees shale drilling most resilient to oil price drop
* Q3 profit misses estimates as weak Gulf of Mexico hits margins
* Expects N.American, international margins to rebound in Q4
* Shares fall 10 pct (Adds executive, analyst comments, updates shares)
By Swetha Gopinath
Oct 16 (Reuters) - Baker Hughes Inc, the world’s No.3 oilfield services provider, said its clients would reconsider projects if oil prices fell to and remained at $75 per barrel for a few months, although many of them considered the recent slide in oil prices a short term blip.
The caution from came after Baker Hughes reported a lower-than-expected profit for the first time in five quarters as political tensions in Libya and Iraq as well as a sharp fall in Gulf of Mexico drilling weighed on margins.
Ample supply and weak demand have hit oil prices. Global benchmark Brent crude oil futures are at about $83 a barrel, off nearly 28 percent from a June high, while U.S. crude prices have fallen to $80 a barrel for the first time in two years.
“I think $75 is the starting point to where activity could start to slow,” Chief Executive Martin Craighead said on a conference call, stressing that low prices would have to persist to affect activity.
“If we are sitting at $75 come the holiday season or early into Q1, then certainly I think the conversations with the customers will be different.”
Baker Hughes shares fell 8 percent to $49.50. Market leader Schlumberger Ltd, scheduled to report results after markets close on Thursday, and Halliburton Co initially fell, but reversed course to trade up in morning trade.
Robust drilling in North American shale fields was the brightest spot in Baker Hughes’ operations in the third quarter ended Sept. 30, and the company expects activity in the region to continue unabated despite the slide in oil prices.
“With current break-even prices for most basins in the $60-$70 per barrel range, we do not expect to see meaningful pullback in North American activity in the near term,” Craighead said.
He, however, said customers pursuing “marginal” onshore fields or shallow water projects could curtail activity in the near term.
The company’s North American margins were flat in the quarter as delayed activity in the Gulf of Mexico more than offset a seasonal rebound in drilling in Canada and increased demand for pressure pumping.
Pretax profit margins in its operations in Europe, Africa and the Russia Caspian region slumped to 8 percent from 17 percent.
The results “raise the specter of weaker-than-expected activity” in the Gulf of Mexico, Jefferies & Co analysts wrote in a note.
Still, Baker Hughes said it expects activity in the region to rebound in the current quarter. It forecast higher revenue and margins in the fourth quarter for both its North American and international businesses.
Baker Hughes’s third-quarter net income rose 10 percent to $375 million. Excluding items, its profit of $1.02 per share fell short of the average analyst estimate of $1.13, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Revenue rose 8 percent to $6.25 billion, narrowly missing the average analyst estimate of $6.29 billion. (Additional reporting by Edward McAllister in New York, Kanika Sikka and Anannya Pramanick in Bangalore; Editing by Savio D‘Souza)