Following earnings renditions by the other big oilfield services performers during the past 10 days, Baker Hughes (NYSE:BHI) came forth with its own dreary results on Wednesday. Unfortunately, as far as trendsetting goes, the company performed pretty much in line with its peers.

Like Halliburton (NYSE:HAL) the second-largest of the service providers and the company that started the parade of poor earnings, Baker Hughes' earnings dropped like a down-hole diamond drill bit in the most recent period. But to the positive, at least there were earnings. In another case of “setting the bar so low the company can’t help but trip over it,” Wall Street applauded the results and sent Bakes Hughes shares up nearly 9%.

The company's profit slid to $195 million, or $0.63 per share, from exactly $200 million more on the net income line and $1.27 a share in the first quarter of 2008. Revenues were precisely flat in the period at $2.67 billion. Analysts who follow the company had anticipated $0.76, excluding $0.19 in special charges that crept into the results.

As was the case with Halliburton, and the other two big oilfield services companies, Schlumberger (NYSE:SLB) and Weatherford (NYSE:WFT), the primary negative dragging down the quarter was a moribund North American market, which was hit in large part by an excess of natural gas. This pullback in turn resulted in a significant slowdown in drilling activity on the continent. And then there were foreign exchange rate translations, which added to the company's woes during the first quarter. Operating around Eastern Europe and the Caspian could provide continued currency headaches if the region continues its economic deterioration.

Chad Deaton, CEO of Baker Hughes, probably put it well when he noted that "Our first-quarter results for North America reflect the severe contraction in customer spending activity." Mr. Deaton also noted that, nevertheless, outside the U.S., declines in Saudi Arabia, Russia, and the Caspian and U.K. markets were at least partially offset by increases in South America, Norway, and Africa.

But in looking ahead, which in investing is far more important than peering into the rearview mirror, Deaton also was not optimistic. As he noted, "the fundamentals that drive our outlook are essentially unchanged. We expect customer activity in North America to continue to decline."

My strong inclination for those Fools without an extra-long investment horizon is to avoid the oilfield services sector -- certainly including Baker Hughes. It's apparent that the group will continue to be affected by slowing activity and declining prices, especially in the U.S. and Canada. Indeed, thus far only the deepwater drillers -- primarily Transocean (NYSE:RIG) and Diamond Offshore (NYSE:DO) -- have been able to maintain price integrity and are therefore deserving of your continuing scrutiny.

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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 about the group. The Fool has a disclosure policy.