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Weatherford shares sink on cash flow miss, bleak 4Q outlook

(Adds details from conference call, analyst commentary, price action)

By Laharee Chatterjee and Liz Hampton

Oct 29 (Reuters) - Shares of U.S. oilfield services provider Weatherford International fell sharply on Monday after the company's free cash flow and fourth-quarter guidance fell below analysts' expectations.

The Houston-based company, which has not reported a quarterly profit in four years, has struggled under the weight of a massive debt load since oil prices crashed in 2014. In the third quarter, Weatherford reported over $7.6 billion in long-term debt.

Weatherford's stock was down about 9 percent at $1.80 a share in early trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Last week, shares fell below $2, the lowest level in more than 20 years.

The company continued to generate negative free cash flow for the quarter, but said it expects to be cash flow-positive in 2019. Adjusted free cash flow for the quarter was about $35 million below the company's goal of breakeven, Chief Executive Mark McCollum said during the company's conference call.

"Our progress this quarter has not come without some bumps in the road," McCollum said, pointing to what he characterized as transitory supply chain issues.

The company reported a loss of $199 million, or 20 cents per share, for the third quarter, from $256 million, or 26 cents per share, a year earlier.

Weatherford said margins from its operations in the Western Hemisphere, its biggest market, rose 10.2 percent from 0.4 percent a year earlier.

Weatherford expects single-digit increases in operator spending next year and stronger offshore tendering activity.

However, near term the company will continue to see the impact of transportation bottlenecks in North America, which have hurt oilfield service companies, including rivals Schlumberger NV and Halliburton Co. Weatherford expects fourth-quarter revenues to be flat with the third quarter.

Analysts had mixed reactions to Weatherford's results. Researchers at investment firm Jefferies called the earnings report "positive" and said improved margins in the Western Hemisphere were a signal that McCollum's transformation efforts were working.

However, Wells Fargo on Monday said the results were negative, pointing to free cash flow that fell below expectations and the company's bleak fourth-quarter outlook, according to a note.

McCollum, who has been selling underperforming businesses and restructuring the company since becoming CEO last year, said Weatherford would no longer put a timeline on planned divestitures.

Third quarter revenue fell slightly to $1.44 billion from $1.46 billion.

Excluding onetime items, the company lost 10 cents per share, versus an expected loss of 12 cents per share, according to Refinitiv data. (Reporting by Nivedita Bhattacharjee and Laharee Chatterjee in Bangalore and Liz Hampton in Houston; Editing by Shailesh Kuber and Jonathan Oatis)