Baker Hughes Hardly Half-Baked

I suppose if I thoroughly understood what propels the market, its sectors, and its individual stocks, CNBC would be following me around raptly rather than tracking Warren Buffett's every move. But I don't, as indicated by my confusion over Baker Hughes' (NYSE: BHI  ) nearly 6% slide since its earnings release on Friday.

That was the day the company announced that its September quarter earnings had risen to $389.1 million, up 9% year over year. On a per-share basis, earnings were in line with expectations at $1.22, vs. $1.09 in last year's quarter. Revenues were up 16% to $2.68 billion.

The company's improved performance apparently related to several factors, including improved international activity, a seasonal recovery in Canadian drilling, and increased U.S. activity onshore and in the Gulf of Mexico. Beyond that, its avowed strategy for 2008 is to continue to focus on activities outside North America.

I'm typically disdainful of the dry toast with which many companies stuff their quarterly earnings releases, including the canned comments of CEOs and the occasional CFOs who are permitted to speak. But in the case of Baker Hughes, I found CEO Chad Deaton's statements to be a simple yet effective synopsis of the task at hand for the company and its big oilfield services peers -- especially in a world where crude prices have bolted to almost $93 a barrel, from near $50 earlier this year:

"The outlook for our international business remains strong as our customers continue to be challenged in their efforts to increase reserves and production volumes for oil and natural gas. Today's high oil price is a clear signal that the industry must increase its activity in order to satisfy growth expectations for worldwide demand."

So perhaps Baker Hughes didn't grow its earnings by as much as other big services companies, including Schlumberger (NYSE: SLB  ) , Halliburton (NYSE: HAL  ) , and Weatherford (NYSE: WFT  ) . But it nevertheless is a company whose drilling and evaluation services, as well as its completion and productions activities, will be in increasing demand worldwide in the years to come.

On that basis, I'll gladly pay a market multiple of slightly more than 15x expected forward earnings for its shares. I'd urge my Foolish friends to consider a similar approach.

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