Really, guys? Were you that surprised that Nabors Industries (NYSE:NBR) had a rotten quarter?

Despite the weekly documentation of a rig-count meltdown courtesy of Baker Hughes (NYSE:BHI), reports of massive headcount reductions at shops such as Lufkin Industries (NASDAQ:LUFK), and rough results from service slugger Halliburton (NYSE:HAL), Nabors still found a way to surprise to the downside with its second-quarter earnings report. The shares sold off by about a buck on the heaviest volume since, well, the last earnings report.

I guess this kind of thing shouldn't surprise me by now. I've been covering hypervolatile land drillers like Nabors and Helmerich & Payne (NYSE:HP) for years. The earnings are just so hard to model that everyone gets whipped into a tizzy every few months, when analysts' spreadsheets prove less-than-divinely crafted. And so it shall ever be, I suppose.

This time around, Nabors reported revenue of $878 million, missing the consensus estimate by 7%. Net income before non-cash charges cratered to $0.32 per share, roughly half the level achieved in the previous quarter. Interestingly, that appears to actually beat the Street's expectation of $0.28. So it wasn't really the results that stung here.

Was it something CEO Gene Isenberg said, perhaps? I think so. With regard to the U.S. lower-48 land drilling unit's results next quarter, Isenberg braced investors for as much as a 50% decline in operating income.

Wondering how that's possible, with the rig count showing some firming in recent weeks? Well, we saw last time how Nabors was getting paid not to drill via lump-sum termination payments. As these payments give way to idle rig time, and contracts reprice at lower market rates, there's a good bit of room for further declines.

Still, 50% is more than I would have expected, and others were no doubt shaken by this outlook as well. A trio of Nabors' competitors -- including Patterson-UTI (NASDAQ:PTEN) and Unit (NYSE:UNT) -- even caught downgrades on the basis of Nabors' grim near-term forecast.

All told, the energy services group, and the land drillers perhaps prime among them, has made quite a run on signs of stabilization alone, while an actual recovery in the space remains elusive. In that context, this sell-off was hardly out of place. If anything, it could be just a preview of the disappointment to come if a late-2009 rebound in oil patch activity doesn't materialize.

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Fool contributor Toby Shute doesn't have a position in any company mentioned. Check out his CAPS profile or follow his articles using Twitter or RSS. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.