Despite a down day for most of Wall Street, oil-services stocks continued Thursday to rack up healthy gains as the outlook for the sector continues to improve.

Analysts said the rising stock values in oil services reflect the sustained strength in crude prices that have allowed cash-rich oil companies to boost their drilling budgets.

"The fundamentals of the oil-services group continue to improve," said Scott Gill, co-head of research at Simmons & Co. "Crude oil continues to hold around $30 a barrel and natural gas prices are strong because of very low reserves. This is setting up a situation where exploration and production companies have a lot of capital to spend."

The prospect for a pickup in business, combined with a cyclical rotation toward oil services as other industrial sectors languish, has given a lift to oil-services stocks.

The gains have been wide-spread among all companies within the sector. Notable movers Thursday included

Global Marine

(GLM)

, which closed up 1 5/8, or 8.7%, at 20 1/4,

Marine Drilling

(MRL)

, which closed up 1 9/16, or 8.3%, at 20 7/16,

Ensco

(ESV)

, which closed up 2 3/16, or 8%, at 29 1/2, and

BJ Services

(BJS)

, which closed up 3 13/16, or 8%, at 51 11/16.

Most of those companies' stock values had fallen steadily in the second half of 1999 as weak oil and natural gas pricing caused earnings to fall under the weight of a massive slowdown in exploration and production.

James Crandell, analyst at Lehman Brothers, said the sector could continue to strengthen even if prices back off and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries decides to ramp up production.

Most analysts are expecting the oil cartel to boost production by some degree, but that increase is unlikely to spur a supply imbalance similar to the one which sent oil below $11 per barrel last year.

"The natural gas situation continues to look good in terms of maintaining prices, and most people are starting to think that oil prices won't go back below the $20-to-$25-per-barrel range," said Crandell.

The price of light crude for April delivery was at $29.97 per barrel late Thursday, up 58 cents from its Wednesday close.