They weren't earnings that'd knock your socks off, but at least they were earnings -- better even than the analysts who follow the company had expected. And certainly better than a passel of companies from other industries that have checked in on the shy side of the breakeven line this quarter.

British oil and gas giant BP (NYSE:BP) managed to earn $2.56 billion in the most recent quarter. That's down from $7.09 billion in the same quarter a year ago, but with crude prices having dropped by nearly two-thirds in the intervening period, the most recent results are worth taking.

Perhaps even more importantly, if you adjust for replacement cost profit -- which backs out the (significantly) changing value of inventories -- the number was near $2.4 billion. That was about 62% below last year's figure, but better than the consensus expectation of $2.23 billion.

BP has followed some other big companies, including ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP) and Occidental (NYSE:OXY), to better-than-expected results for the most recent quarter. And beyond that, it produced slightly more than four million equivalent barrels a day, a greater than 2.5% improvement from the year-ago figure. One key to the hike was the contribution of the company's mammoth Thunder Horse field in the Gulf of Mexico, whose full implementation was delayed by Hurricane Katrina.

In my rarely tentative opinion, BP has come a long way in a short time. It's solved refinery problems in Texas and Indiana, repaired a leaking oil pipeline in Alaska, and adroitly changed out CEOs successfully. At the same time, its TNK-BP partnership in Russia has gone from apparent dissolution a year ago, to the point where, as the third-largest oil company in that country, it appears to have found a road to success.

We'll know somewhat more about trends among exploration and production companies when ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) and Chevron (NYSE:CVX) check in with their results. Both will report in the next couple days.

In the meantime, the oilfield services group appears to be succumbing to lower prices. Schlumberger (NYSE:SLB) and Halliburton (NYSE:HAL), for instance, have been affected by a combination of slower activity in North America, along with the emerging world of lower prices -- the latter part of which can only benefit BP and its peers.

Advice for my Foolish friends: I'd keep a close eye on BP. As indicated, it's progressing nicely, and even if its 8% yield doesn't extend into perpetuity, the company looks quite compelling today.  

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Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned above. He does, however, welcome your questions or comments. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.