With the exception of ringleader Schlumberger (NYSE:SLB), which released lower earnings last week -- only to benefit at the hands of Mr. Market-- the oilfield-services companies have fared relatively well during the final quarter of 2008. However, their earnings came immersed in caveats about what lies ahead: reduced rig counts and generally slowing business.

For its fourth quarter, Houston-based Baker Hughes (NYSE:BHI) earned $432 million, or $1.41 per diluted share, compared to $401 million, or $1.26 per share year over year. The company's net income for the year was $1.64 billion, or $5.30 per diluted share, versus the prior year's $1.51 billion, or $4.73 per share. Analysts who follow Baker Hughes had been anticipating the per-share line to come in the same as last year, at about $1.26 for the quarter.

Much like Schlumberger CEO Andrew Gould, Baker Hughes CEO Chad Deaton is becoming adept at describing the overall energy picture. "Looking forward, the outlook for 2009 has continued to deteriorate," he noted Wednesday. Deaton went on to describe how the global economic catastrophe, lower oil and gas prices, and reduced access to credit will affect the funding of the company's customers' development programs.

As Deaton also noted, production and development are becoming the top priorities for many of the company's international customers, as they pare back exploration efforts. In North America, which has seen a 25% slide in its rig count, customers are trimming their budgets in the face of a bulging natural gas market.

But despite that bleak picture, the company is maintaining its faith in a broader vision of its business: Baker Hughes believes "that in the long-term the industry will be challenged to offset production declines. When the economy recovers, we expect the demand for energy and the demand for our technology and services will recover in parallel."

How should Fools with an eye for energy view Baker Hughes these days? I believe that the company is solid. And although I'd rather acquire shares in competitors Schlumberger and Halliburton (NYSE:HAL), or deepwater drillers Transocean (NYSE:RIG) or Diamond Offshore (NYSE:DO), I believe that the proper investment approach to all these companies is a matter of timing.

With enough patience, there is solid money to be made in the group. Baker Hughes can do nice things for your portfolio; it's just a matter of having an extended investment time horizon.

Baker Hughes is a five-star member of the Motley Fool CAPS contingent. Does that company's rating include your assessment?

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Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned. He does, however, welcome your questions or comments. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.