Now, for the energy. Last week was somewhat perplexing: Despite solid numbers from the likes of Schlumberger ( SLB), Halliburton ( HAL) and Weatherford ( WFT), the stocks did nothing but trade lower. The listlessness was partly the result of some cautious comments on the short-term outlook for North American natural gas markets, but also simply a case of investor malaise toward the energy space. That malaise may well turn into a renewed interest after a plethora of oil field earnings overnight and Tuesday morning. Nabors Industries ( NBR), the largest U.S. land-rig contractor, beat estimates by a dime and provided a robust outlook. The stock trades just above six times forward earnings, if it earns about $5 a share in 2007. In addition, the company's margins will continue to increase as rigs working at lower-than-current rates roll to higher rates. Plus, the company was very bullish about its international prospects on the conference call this morning -- business that has nothing to do with the North American natural gas operations. Nabors sees lots of additional growth opportunities in Saudi Arabia and says more rigs will be needed for gas drilling in the Middle East and North Africa. If trends continue, international revenues could double in 2006 and again in 2007. "The kind of trajectory you have seen in margins domestically is beginning to come to the international markets," Denny Smith, Nabors director of development, said on the call. But if you don't believe Nabors, listen to others. Grant Prideco ( GRP), BJ Services ( BJS) and Smith International ( SII) all reported solid quarters and were upbeat about the future of their businesses, much of which is levered to North American natural gas. BJ Services -- a leading pressure-pumping company -- says it still sees growth of 20% in the coming year and boosted guidance for the third quarter 10% above current estimates. From a rig perspective, also listen to the bullish tone from Rowan ( RDC). Rates for jack-up rigs in the Gulf of Mexico are now well above $110,000 per day, and the company has at least one high-horsepower land rig working for $35,000 a day. Denny McNeese, Rowan's CEO, said Tuesday morning that he sees little on the horizon to change his company's bullish outlook on rig demand.
In short, earnings and outlooks are well ahead of investor expectations. While natural gas storage may well spur additional short-term volatility in the stocks, second-quarter results -- and, more importantly, what appears to lie ahead -- suggest the long-term energy cycle remains intact. If you doubt the cycle, look at the announcements from exploration and production companies. Cimarex ( XEC) reiterated its $1 billion capital budget and, even more impressive, XTO Energy ( XTO) boosted its development budget to $2.1 billion from $1.7 billion. While some of that will cover increased costs, the company also plans at least 50 additional development wells. So there are two big natural gas producers with no change in strategy. Again, a bullish sign for the cycle. With natural gas back above $6 and oil holding firm, the stocks are finally catching a bid. If energy prices hold, these stocks have plenty of room to run. The buy-on-weakness strategy
last week is paying dividends today. That's how I would continue to play this tape.