NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Patterson-UTI Energy ( PTEN - Get Report) beat the Street on both the top line and bottom line in its earnings, but its shares are selling off under heavy trading pressure on Thursday.

The Patterson-UTI selloff may be indicative of the larger theme in the energy sector -- one that had been building before earnings but was awaiting the numbers to be fully fleshed out -- that it's time to transition away from the land drillers and seek less fully valued energy stock opportunities.

Patterson-UTI Energy beat the Street by a penny, with earnings of 19 cents a share. Revenue of $379 million was also ahead of the Street consensus of $364 million.

The company said rig count in the U.S. continues to rise, but investors may be betting that the next major leg up in the energy sector will come from the beaten-down international deepwater segment, and not the North American land drilling business that has dominated earnings in 2010 and this quarter in particular.

On Tuesday, Patterson-UTI Energy competitor Nabors Industries ( NBR - Get Report) beat expectations and its shares received a rally of 5%. Patterson-UTI Energy shares are down by 5% on Thursday.

One obvious reason why Nabors and Patterson moved in opposite directions on beats is that the spread between the two stocks had widened to an atypical level. Patterson-UTI was trading at a 52-week high ahead of its earnings report, and was up 23% for the year, whereas Nabors has slipped considerably this year, with shares down more than 7% even after its earnings rally.

While the short-term trend continues to favor land drilling in the U.S., investors seem to be saying with the Patterson-UTI selloff that it's an opportunity which has already been priced into the stocks, and that it's limited at that compared to the 100% rise in rig count over the past year from its low point.

"We're in the 7th inning stretch here with earnings revisions for the land drillers," said Sterne Agee analyst David Havens.

"These guys had a good run, but to the extent we get further seductive catalysts and major revisions investors are looking to other opportunities in oil services," the Sterne Agee analyst said.

The prevailing view remains rig count growth that is flattish to up 5% next year, yet the bears say that with natural gas prices floundering, it's not a good idea to be making a bet on rig count or holding the stocks on the front lines.

The big set of earnings revisions for the land drillers has been over the past year and a half, and there may be as much as 15% revisions for 2011 based on this set of earnings. In addition, the analyst said that expectations for next year are for pressure pumping and drilling margins to again go up, but investors are sensing that it's to be the last upwards earnings revision for the land drillers, and from there on out, it's revisions of decreasing magnitude.

-- Written by Eric Rosenbaum from New York.

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