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Energy's Fundamentals Scream Value

This column was originally published on RealMoney on Oct. 21 at 3:56 p.m. EDT. It's being republished as a bonus for readers.

Though oil and gas stocks are feeling the pinch of lower commodity prices, this week's earnings and outlooks for energy companies paint a very different picture.

Earlier this week, after Lufkin Industries (LUFK) reported a solid quarter and gave a rosy outlook, its shares bucked the sloppy energy stock trend and worked higher. That provided some hope that earnings will matter this quarter.

On Friday, Schlumberger (SLB - Get Report) announced a solid quarter, but the stock was soft as traders focused on crude oil trading below $60 a barrel.

That is important in the short term and will remain important until we find a new base for the price of crude and natural gas. However, once the markets find a new base -- likely somewhere in the $50s -- fundamentals will again become important, and then energy stocks are likely to be a value investor's friend.

Schlumberger Speeds Up

Usually soft-spoken and conservative, Schlumberger CEO Andrew Gould was sanguine about the company's future. "Third-quarter activity strengthened on a global basis as exploration and production activity continued to grow rapidly worldwide," Gould said in his earnings comments. "The industry response to the current lack of an oil supply cushion and the long-term need to increase supplies of natural gas is under way but is still far from reaching a peak."

The company posted earnings of 86 cents a share for the third quarter, in line with expectations. However, the company's results were stronger than the number suggests given Schlumberger said hurricanes Katrina and Rita resulted in an opportunity cost of 6 cents a share in third-quarter earnings.

Moreover, Gould's comments about the future appear very positive, suggesting Schlumberger will likely post double-digit growth for the balance of the decade as the world attempts to cope with accelerating production declines and the need for more stability in hydrocarbon supply. The strength will likely be universal. Growth will be spread from longtime markets such as the Gulf of Mexico and the North Sea to emerging markets in the Eastern Hemisphere and Latin America.

A Different Cycle

The sustainable growth described by Gould is important, because it suggests something I have discussed in these pages before: This energy cycle will likely be longer in duration than previous cycles.
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