MANAMA/HOUSTON – U.S. oil services firm Halliburton Co. (HAL) is moving its headquarters and chief executive to Dubai in a move that immediately sparked criticism from some U.S. politicians.
Texas-based Halliburton, which was led by Vice President Dick Cheney from 1995-2000, did not specify what, if any, tax implications the move might entail. It plans to list on a Middle East bourse once it moves to Dubai — a booming commercial center in the Gulf. The company said it was making the moves to position itself better to gain contracts in the oil-rich Middle East.
"This is an insult to the U.S. soldiers and taxpayers who paid the tab for their no-bid contracts and endured their overcharges for all these years," said judiciary committee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat.
Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, might hold a hearing on the implications, an aide to Waxman said.
Halliburton has drawn scrutiny from auditors, congressional Democrats and the Justice Department for the quality and pricing of its KBR Inc. (KBR) unit's work for the U.S. army in Iraq.
"My office will be in Dubai, and I will run our entire worldwide operations from that office," Chief Executive David Lesar said at an energy conference in Bahrain on Sunday. "Dubai is a great business center."
Halliburton, which has long been involved in the Middle East, generated more than 38 percent of its $13 billion in oil-services revenue in the eastern hemisphere last year.
MIDDLE EAST GROWTH
"The company as a whole has continued to diversify internationally, and the Middle East is a point that they have targeted," said William Sanchez, a U.S.-based analyst at Howard Weil Inc.
"They are being opportunistic in putting the CEO in the middle of the action."
Sanchez said he believed Halliburton's move to Dubai was not tax related. Instead he viewed it as a strategic play.
Alan Laws, an analyst at Merrill Lynch (MER), said the move would likely help Halliburton's position in negotiating large contracts.
Halliburton said it would maintain its legal registration in the United States and was not leaving Houston, where it was currently based.
But Lesar told reporters: "At this point in time we clearly see there are greater opportunities in the eastern hemisphere than the western hemisphere."
KBR, the engineering and military-services contractor unit that Halliburton is in the process of splitting off, is the Pentagon's largest contractor in Iraq.
KBR has so far booked more than $20 billion in revenues from its work in Iraq and has been the target of several investigations into the company's billing practices. It has also faced complaints from some U.S. lawmakers about the company's close ties to the Bush administration.
Oil and gas service companies have raised prices for their services over the past two years as the sector strains to bring enough capacity on line to meet rapidly rising oil demand.
Many new supply projects are in the oil-producing countries of the Middle East, while Asia accounts for most of the rising demand.
In contrast, a slide in natural gas prices in the United States has prompted investor concerns that oil and gas companies might cut back spending in North America.
Lesar also said he expected the price of oil to stay above $40 a barrel, providing good conditions for future investment in the oil and gas industry.
Halliburton's shares closed up 29 cents at $32.02 on Friday. The stock has gained 7 percent in the past month but has slipped 3 percent in the last 52 weeks.