This column was originally published on RealMoney on July 19 at 2:37 p.m. EDT. It's being republished as a bonus for readers.

While energy stocks have fizzled lately, the beginning of earnings season should reheat the sector to a summer sizzle.

Three big companies report this week, and all could deliver news that could boost their shares, at least in the short-term.

Top of the Order

In a rare (some would say bold) move, Weatherford International ( WFT) claimed the leadoff spot among the oil field companies reporting for the second quarter. It will deliver results Thursday. While earnings schedules aren't set in stone, traditionally the largest oil field service companies -- Halliburton ( HAL) and Schlumberger ( SLB) -- take the leadoff and No. 2 slots.

That Weatherford CEO Bernard Duroc-Danner decided he'd be the first on stage this quarter could be a tell on the strength of its numbers.

Duroc-Danner, a gentleman and a scholar (he holds a doctorate in economics), also has the typical oil field CEO's drive to protect his ego. It's unlikely that he would put himself in the spotlight if he had less-than-stellar news to deliver.

There is more than ego that drives my analysis. Weatherford has spent the last several years building scale in the Eastern Hemisphere, focusing on oil services and diversifying away from the North American natural gas market. One need only look at the recent divergence in crude and natural gas prices to understand that there is strength in oil and weakness in gas.

I believe Duroc-Danner is likely to deliver bullish talk on the remaining significant growth opportunities in the Eastern Hemisphere, from new technologies in oil and gas exploration in Africa and the Middle East to the significant potential in Russia. Again, the more oil and international exuberance expressed by Weatherford, the better for energy investors.

That said, I would wager that Duroc-Danner is also sanguine on the North American natural gas market. My sources tell me activity is still good in key Weatherford strongholds like the Gulf of Mexico. While most investors hate natural gas, upbeat comments from energy services CEOs may give even gassy stocks a short-term boost.

The risk to Weatherford is a very long and tedious presentation by Duroc-Danner. He has a rhetorical bent, and if it shows up in excess, Weatherford calls can be a bit perplexing. However, a concise, upbeat message is likely to help lift Weatherford and its peers.

In the case of earnings, there's no reason to save the best for last. Weatherford is thinking you put the power hitter in the leadoff spot.

The Seismic Shuffle

On Friday, Schlumberger and Halliburton are likely to report strong numbers, and I think Schlumberger's call could hold a surprise or two, including bullish news for the seismic-survey industry.

Seismic surveying involves recording the echo from sound waves sent into the ground to find likely locations for oil and gas reserves. Through its WesternGeco subsidiary, Schlumberger is a leader in seismic mapping. The company claims that its Q-system creates better pictures with less noise, allowing exploration companies clearer views of potential new oil and natural gas reservoirs.

As a leader in the field, anything positive Schlumberger has to say about it should benefit other players in the industry. Data suggests WesternGeco's second quarter was stronger than normal (it's typically weak due to a slowdown in activity necessitated by the spring thaw). The number of teams it had working on seismic projects actually increased during the quarter. In addition, the company recently announced a major seismic project in the Gulf of Mexico for Royal Dutch Shell ( RDS-A). Those are positive data points that will likely be reflected in the conference call.

CEO self-esteem is likely to play a role here as well. Schlumberger announced earlier this year that it had consolidated control of WesternGeco by buying Baker Hughes' ( BHI) stake in the company. Andrew Gould, Schlumberger's able CEO, will want to make sure he expresses great pride in what an opportunistic purchase he made and how seismic is the wave of the future.

That would, in fact, be an accurate statement. The exploration business has largely ignored seismic over the past five to 10 years, and it is running low on prospects. The need to obtain more data -- especially given where commodity prices are today -- has never been greater.

A combination of accelerating demand for seismic and what appears to be a stronger-than-average second quarter could well lead Gould to tout WesternGeco as both a great company and an even greater strategic purchase earlier this year.

But Schlumberger isn't the play to make off of good WesternGeco numbers. Slob may benefit, but why not play names that are more leveraged to the geophysical market? That should lead investors to Veritas ( VTS), the largest pure-play seismic company. Shares of Veritas should react to good news on WesternGeco.

More adventurous investors could think about two smaller names, both of which are relatively inexpensive after the shockwaves that have rolled through the energy patch. Dawson Geophysical ( DWSN) is a smaller version of Veritas, with 11 seismic crews currently at work in the U.S. and another on its way to work for Chesapeake ( CHK) in the Appalachian Basin.

Dawson is in the early stages of a relationship with Schlumberger to deploy the Q-system on land seismic shoots in the U.S. So far, it has been used exclusively in international markets. If Schlumberger were to mention that relationship, Dawson shares should react.

Another small (and recently getting smaller) seismic play is Mitcham Industries ( MIND). Mitcham leases seismic equipment to companies in need of additional recording devices. Down well over 50% from its early 2006 highs, it's among the least expensive of oil field service stocks.

Remember, Veritas is the most obvious play here, but Schlumberger has to talk up seismic to make it work. However, even if Schlumberger merely says seismic is good without being highly enthusiastic, the result should be a push. Dawson and Mitcham are smaller, more speculative plays.

Steady Hal

Halliburton's catalyst remains the spinoff of Kellogg, Brown and Root, the company's engineering and construction division. Management is likely to provide an update on the process.

Beyond that, the company may well surprise many investors by talking about strong activity in the natural gas markets. While prices have slipped, I hear that pricing for well-stimulation services -- such as pressure pumping and fracturing -- is moving higher. If Halliburton confirms pricing power, companies like BJ Services ( BJS), and RPC Energy Services ( RES) should benefit.

Nimble Players

I continue to believe that oil field earnings will be better than the average pundit or investor thinks. In addition, the real fear is that companies will begin to guide second-half results lower due to depressed natural gas prices.

While results may be crimped somewhere down the line, I believe earnings and outlooks will be better than expected, at least from the big three this week. That should help re-energize this group.

That said, recent days when commodity prices have risen and energy stocks have moved lower suggest sentiment stinks. While that trend may stick around for a while -- in my view, it comes from a macro view that an economic slowdown will lead to lower energy demand -- these three earnings calls provide some opportunities to trade.

If nothing else, results from Weatherford, Schlumberger and Halliburton are always colorful. Enjoy the show.

Please note that due to factors including low market capitalization and/or insufficient public float, we consider Mitcham and Dawson to be small-cap stocks. You should be aware that such stocks are subject to more risk than stocks of larger companies, including greater volatility, lower liquidity and less publicly available information, and that postings such as this one can have an effect on their stock prices.
At time of publication, Edmonds held none of the issues mentioned, although holdings can change at any time.

Christopher S. Edmonds is partner and managing director of research at Pritchard Capital Partners, a New Orleans energy investment firm. He is based in Atlanta. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. While Edmonds cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, he appreciates your feedback; click here to send him an email.

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