Shaw Group (NYSE: SHAW), the engineering, construction and technical-services provider, reported a third-quarter net loss of $70 million that surprised the Street, mostly thanks to impairments and cost escalations. This was a complete turnaround from a profit of $68.2 million in the year-ago period. Shares closed off 7% on the news. Do these numbers spell a problem for the company, or is there some promise left?

The numbers
Shaw's revenues for the quarter fell 17% to $1.5 billion. The Energy & Chemicals segment's revenue accounted for the negative earnings, plunging 65% as subcontractor issues resulted in a charge of $112.8 million during the quarter. A loan-related accounting impairment of $48.1 million also ate into Shaw's earnings, though the company expects to recover a part of this charge.

These two charges, which total $1.25 per share, led to a loss of $0.89 per share, compared with an EPS of $0.79 in the year-ago quarter.

The unfilled-orders backlog, which indicates future potential revenues, was marginally lower at $19.7 million, compared with $20.3 million in the year-ago quarter. The new awards Shaw received were mostly in the Plant Services and the Environmental & Infrastructure segment. Plant Services performed well, but the E&I segment suffered a dip in margins. Rival URS (NYSE: URS), meanwhile, reported increasing revenues and margins in its last quarter for the same segment.

Cash flow from operations rose to $51.2 million from $34.1 million a year ago. But $51.7 million worth of asset writedowns contributed to the positive cash flows.

The good news is that Shaw doesn't face any cash crunch. Total cash stands at $1.7 billion, and Shaw has no long-term debt on its books. It has also planned an additional $500 million worth of share repurchases.

The nuclear view
It was overall a tough quarter, but new deals are pouring in. The company recently won a $500 million contract for Entergy's (NYSE: ETR) natural-gas plant. Things look good for the Plant Services division, too, after winning a three-year contract to maintain five nuclear power plants for Florida Power & Light. With this addition, Shaw now provides service maintenance to almost 40% of U.S. nuclear units.

Though nuclear-energy accounts constitute nearly half of Shaw's total backlog, I don't smell many problems here. Shaw expects two of its new nuclear-power projects to receive operating licenses from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in early 2012. Construction of new plants seems to be under way in the U.S. as well, after a long 30-year gap. That's definitely good news for Shaw.

The Foolish bottom line
Shaw's fourth-quarter EPS guidance of $0.60 and fiscal 2012 guidance of $2.20 to $2.50 per share are well below Street estimates. The weak numbers further add to my cautious view in the near term. However, good prospects and financials could provide a reason to keep a watch on the stock in the long run.

Fool contributor Neha Chamaria owns no shares of any of the companies mentioned in this article. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.