I hope this doesn't become an exercise in trite aphorisms. One of my wife's favorites is the basic and well-known, "If you snooze, you lose." That one doesn't need any explanation. But I hope you'll excuse me if I offer that a good expression for those in Baker Hughes' (NYSE:BHI) headquarters might be something like "If you miss, you get dissed."

OK, I won't do that to you again. I will note, however, that Baker Hughes did miss expectations rather severely when it released its results for the quarter ended Dec. 31 on Wednesday. With earnings of $1.02 per share, the results represented a 36% improvement over the $0.75 recorded in the final quarter of 2005. And what's worse for at least the short-term performance of the company's stock, analysts had anticipated earnings of $1.19. The quarter included a $46 million pre-tax ($0.12 per share) estimated charge to resolve an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice into the energy services company's business in Angola, Kazakhstan, and Nigeria.

On a sequential basis, or compared with the preceding quarter -- often a reasonable approach with energy-related companies -- Baker Hughes' per-share earnings declined more than 6% from the $1.09 for the quarter ended in September. And as a coup de grace for the stock, which opened down more than 8%, management's guidance for current-quarter per-share earnings is in the $1.08 to $1.10 range, versus expectations of about $1.20. Finally, because of uncertainty about future results for the company's business in North America, management chose not to provide guidance for full-year 2007 earnings.

To some extent, following Baker Hughes today is an exercise in geography. The company, which helps oil and gas producers like ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM), Chevron (NYSE:CVX), and BP (NYSE:BP), along with smaller independents, with their production efforts worldwide, has initiated a "west to east" strategy. With this it foresees something of a softening of energy production activity in and around North America, and a consequent need to move its business to other producing horizons, including Brazil, India, Saudi Arabia, and Russia. As a result, the company added about 5,500 employees worldwide in 2006 alone, with an attendant need for training that ate into the bottom line.

Before proceeding further, I must make two confessions to Fools: I own shares in Schlumberger (NYSE:SLB), and I once followed the energy services industry (including Baker Hughes) as an analyst. And while I continue to consider energy services to be an area where significant investment profits can be made for years to come, right now I would be on the sidelines with regard to Baker Hughes. After all, if the company's management is uncertain enough about North America to avoid providing a 2007 earnings range, I'll not be too sheepish about allowing that management team to improve its vision before I invest in the company.

In the meantime, I also continue to believe that Schlumberger -- with its size, its worldwide representation that includes a lower percentage of its business generated in North America, its participation in the seismic arena, and its superb management -- is an excellent proxy for the energy services sector.

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Fool contributor David Lee Smith owns shares in Schlumberger, but not in the other companies mentioned. He welcomes your comments or questions.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.