That's right folks, it's time to drill down on Nabors Industries' (NYSE:NBR) quarterly results, and to look a bit into the future. The leading land driller surprised to the upside with its earnings and revenue numbers on Thursday. When we look at arguably more useful metrics, however, it becomes clear that business is not exactly humming along.

Post-tax operating profits were down more than 22% from the prior year, and returns on average capital employed slid from 25% to 14%. You won't likely see those figures bandied about by the media, but they give a much clearer picture of the present operating environment. And no, I didn't have to perform any arcane calculations to derive those figures -- the company conveniently provided them on its website.

I've covered the challenges confronting competitor Grey Wolf (AMEX:GW), and I've wondered about Unit Corp's (NYSE:UNT) wherewithal to weather the storm. So how about Nabors' fortitude in the face of market feebleness?

First off, Nabors is phasing in a major fleet upgrade. "Old & tired" rigs are making way for state-of-the-art programmable rigs that can be operated from a central control center. In 2008, the company expects Tier I rigs to comprise 34% of the fleet. These high-specification rigs translate to higher productivity for customers like BP (NYSE:BP) and Suncor (NYSE:SU), and consequently command a premium in the marketplace. Many of these new rigs are contracted long term, which provides a solid buffer against softening day rates.

Just as crucial is Nabors' repositioning toward underserved international markets. Like competitor Helmerich & Payne (NYSE:HP), the company already has a history of operating in far-flung locales, but the international segment is rapidly ramping up its contribution to total pre-tax earnings. This year, that share is projected to roughly double, from 14% to 28%. Due to lower tax regimes abroad, this shift is also bringing down the company's overall tax rate.

Beyond these two promising developments, Nabors brings a lot to the table. The veteran management team makes decisions with the long term in mind. You also have legendary value investor Marty Whitman serving as lead director. While you'll never get to invest in Nabors on as low a cost basis as Marty -- he was a creditor to Nabors' bankrupt predecessor in the late '80s -- you can purchase shares today at a price below the level at which management retired tens of millions of shares around this time last year. If you don't have any commodity exposure, perhaps you might consider inviting Nabors into your portfolio.

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Fool contributor Toby Shute wouldn't mind visiting Nabors HQ in Bermuda. He doesn't own shares in any company mentioned. Unit Corp is a Stock Advisor selection. Find out what the other selections are with a free 30-day trial. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy is purer than Ned Flanders' thoughts.