I'm willing to bet that many Fools are ignoring a sector that could show some real solid performance in the months and years ahead. I'm referring to the engineering and construction group, and while its results have been something of a mixed bag this earnings season, I'm convinced that many of the companies are well-positioned to benefit from fundamental changes on the horizon for our country and the entire globe.

Take Houston-based McDermott International (NYSE:MDR), for instance. The company didn't shoot the lights out with its performance for the second quarter, but its backlog is strong, and it appears to have some positive opportunities ahead for it.

For the most recent quarter, McDermott generated net income of $92.6 million, or $0.40 a share, compared with last year's record quarter, in which its income reached $177.5 million, or $0.77 a share.

But before we look at McDermott in somewhat more detail, let's take a quick glance at how some of the other members of the group performed in the quarter. The figures in the two center columns are the companies' quarterly earnings rounded to the nearest million dollars.

Company

Most Recent Qtr.

Year-Ago Qtr.

Difference

Fluor (NYSE:FLR)

$169M

$208M

(19%)

Foster Wheeler (NASDAQ:FWLT)

$122M

$161M

(24%)

Jacobs Engineering (NYSE:JEC)

$95M

$109M

(13%)

McDermott

$93M

$178M

(48%)

Quanta (NYSE:PWR)

$33M

$38M

(13%)

URS (NYSE:URS)

$75M

$49M

53%

The message that some of you may take from this table is that McDermott is the worst performing company listed. But the real takeaway here is that companies in the group are subject to significant earnings changes quarter to quarter as major projects come and go. As indicated, McDermott's most recent numbers are being compared here to the company's strongest quarter ever.

Indeed, the most recent quarter was McDermott's most profitable period since its record was set a year ago, and shares have more than doubled year to date.

Diving into its second-quarter results, McDermott's segment income from its Offshore Oil & Gas group dipped by 31%, and its Power Generation unit's contribution slid by 59%. Income from its Government Operations segment actually increased by 35%. But again, the segments are being compared to a quarter when everything went exactly right for the company.

So the year-on-year decline notwithstanding, my inclination is to suggest that Fools keep a keen eye on McDermott International -- and its entire group. There could be some substantial shekels to be made as our economy regains its sea legs and more big projects come to the fore.  

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Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own share in any of the companies mentioned in this article. He does welcome your questions or comments. The Fool has a well-engineered disclosure policy.