NEW YORK (AP) ¿ Shares of oil services companies fell on Wednesday on expectations that waning energy demand, constrained credit markets and oil price weakness would cause mounting cancellations of drilling projects and sharper-than-expected declines in rig counts.

Light, sweet crude fell 74 cents to $53.26 in afternoon trading after government data showed that crude inventory levels climbed beyond analyst forecasts, further evidence of demand weakness.

Ben Dell, an analyst with Bernstein Research, on Wednesday lowered his rig demand forecast and profit expectations for oil services companies. Dell said he expects 2009 US rig demand to decline 45 percent from the prior year, even worse than his earlier estimate of a 30 percent decline. Dell predicted the bottom will occur during the second quarter of the year.

Dell slashed his 2009 earnings-per-share estimates Nabors Industries Ltd., Schlumberger Ltd., Halliburton Co., Baker Hughes Inc., Weatherford International Ltd. and Patterson-UTI Energy Inc.

He added that he remains cautiously optimistic about the group and maintained an "Outperform" rating for Halliburton, Nabors and Patterson-UTI.

Shares of Nabors fell 27 cents, or 2.5 percent, to $10.73 in afternoon trading, while Halliburton shares lost $1.20, or 6.6 percent, to $17.09. Shares of Baker Hughes fell $1.50, or 4.5 percent, to $31.97. Weatherford shares dropped 25 cents to $12.53. Patterson-UTI Energy shares slid 36 cents, or 3.5 percent, to $9.99.

Shares of Schlumberger Ltd., the world's largest oil field services company, dropped $1.43, or 3 percent, to $44.73.

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