Global oilfield services firms say their margins have to rise. Majors are adamant they will keep down costs. Can the circle be squared?

The collapse in oil prices from the second half of 2014 led majors to take an ax to what they acknowledge had been bloated capex budgets. From $196bn in 2013 and $175bn in 2014, the five supermajors’ collective capex had fallen to just $97bn for 2017, with only a slight uptick planned for this year (MEES, 9 February).

Key oilfield services firms have...