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The energy bust has played havoc on companies in the oil and gas industry for a full year now, and the impact on earnings has been huge. FMC Technologies (NYSE:FTI) relies on a strong energy sector to support its drilling services business, and coming into Tuesday afternoon's third-quarter financial report, FMC investors knew quite well that the challenging environment in the oil patch would weigh on results. In the end, FMC's results were mixed, with a bigger sales hit than expected and earnings that only topped expectations when you take out one-time items.

Let's take a closer look at the latest from FMC to figure out whether a recovery could come soon for the company.

FMC Technologies isn't any more energetic
FMC Technologies' third-quarter report showed just how tough conditions in the energy sector have been lately. Sales plunged 22% to $1.55 billion, which was more than $100 million less than the consensus forecast among investors in the company. Net income dropped by more than half, and even after making allowances for the impairment charges that FMC had to take, the company's adjusted earnings of $0.61 per share were down about 15% from year-ago levels, even though they were better than the $0.58-per-share consensus that analysts were expecting.

The hit to FMC came from across the company's segments. Revenue from the Subsea Technologies division fell 16%, with the strong dollar having the biggest impact on the figure. By contrast, the 35% sales hit that the Surface Technologies saw resulted largely from weak oil prices affecting the willingness of FMC's customers to continue their drilling operations. The smaller Energy Infrastructure unit also suffered a 22% decline in sales. In terms of operating profit, both Surface Technologies and Energy Infrastructure posted losses for the quarter, and even Subsea's profits were down from the year-earlier period.

The news from inbound orders was somewhat more mixed, yet even that was a defeat for FMC. Subsea managed to limit inbound-order declines to just 2%, but that was a huge sequential disappointment compared to last quarter's 20% rise from year-ago levels. Meanwhile, Surface and Energy Infrastructure saw declines in the 25% to 40% range. Backlogs throughout the company continued their precipitous decline, dropping by more than a quarter to $4.95 billion.

CEO John Gremp once again emphasized the company's successes even under tough conditions. "The North American onshore market's prolonged decline negatively affected our company's financial results," Gremp admitted, but "our Subsea Technologies segment delivered strong operating performance." In particular, Gremp pointed to an agreement with Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE:RDS-A) to provide the company's first subsea multiphase pump, as well as moves to continue standardizing key parts for pressure and temperature systems in underwater environments.

When will FMC Technologies start to gain ground?
Over the past couple of months, FMC Technologies has seen its stock price start to stabilize, and part of the reason might well be the extensive stock buyback activity that the company has engaged in over that period. In the third quarter alone, FMC increased the pace of its share repurchases, buying back 1.7 million shares at an average price of $33.95 per share. That was almost 20% cheaper than what FMC paid for the stock it bought back in the second quarter, but net debt fell sequentially to end at around $583 million.

Increasingly, though, those who follow FMC Technologies are pushing out their expectations on how quickly profits might start climbing. 2016 earnings projections have already dropped by nearly 20% over the past few months, and a lack of any obvious bounce-back in FMC's latest results could further delay more optimistic sentiment about the timing of a broader turnaround.

Investors didn't react immediately to FMC Technologies' news, as the stock didn't trade in the after-hours session following the announcement. Long-term shareholders seem resigned to the fact that FMC won't see a true recovery until oil prices start to rebound, and with the company taking steps to weather the storm, FMC seems to be making the right moves to put investors in a position to benefit when industry conditions improve.

Dan Caplinger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends FMC Technologies. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not 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.