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April 15 (Reuters) - Oilfield services company Hunting Plc said its first-quarter operating profit fell about 60 percent, hurt by falling global rig counts and reduced capital expenditure across the sector.
Shares in the company fell 8 percent to 536 pence in early trade on the London Stock Exchange on Wednesday.
Hunting said its subsea, electronics and tubular component machining sectors performed better in the quarter compared with last year, offsetting weakness in its North American drilling tools business. (bit.ly/1H6dHTZ)
"The decline of 60 percent y-o-y headline number looks severe at first glance, but we highlight this was versus a much stronger environment in the first half of 2014," Barclays analyst Mick Pickup said in a note.
The company, which provides services and equipment for drilling, completing and maintaining oil and gas wells, had said in February that it expected the impact of weak oil prices to show up from the second quarter.
The faster- and steeper-than-expected fall in North American rig counts accelerated the impact of the slowdown, specifically the decline in the traditionally sturdy Gulf of Mexico region, Finance Director Peter Rose told Reuters on Wednesday.
"That is an environment where we thought we would have some degree of protection... but even there we are all seeing some rig contracts being cancelled and we're seeing some slowdown there."
Hunting said it had cut about 20 percent of its headcount so far this year, more than half of it in the United States, as part of a cost cutting program started in February.
Barclays' Pickup estimates that a reduction of about 15-20 percent in headcount could help the company save $39 million to $52 million a year, of the estimated $260 million in salary costs.
Hunting shares recovered from early losses and were down 1.4 percent at 575.5 pence at 0813 GMT.
Reporting by Abhiram Nandakumar in Bengaluru; Editing by Gopakumar Warrier and Anupama Dwivedi