NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The four major oil service stock plays have now reported fourth quarter earnings, and only Baker Hughes ( BHI) has managed to engineer a rally to a new 52-week high, in what's a big comeback for the previous oil service group underperformer.
Schlumberger ( SLB) and Halliburton ( HAL) both beat the Street expectations, but failed to attain new 52-week high levels when they reported. Schlumberger's earning beat fizzled within a few hours on Friday, and Halliburton shares barely nudged higher on the strength of another strong earnings report. Weatherford International ( WFT) reported a less-than-clean earnings, and a few one-time items -- nothing new for Weatherford -- made for a headline earnings miss that had shares off by close to 3% on Tuesday. Weatherford wasn't helped by an energy sector selloff -- energy declined by more than 1% on Tuesday, much steeper than the broad market loss. Schlumberger was down another 1.7% in the early afternoon, while Halliburton remained close to flat in trading. Yet amid the tepid reaction to another round of earnings from oil-service stocks, Baker Hughes is up 6% on Tuesday. Unlike the other oil-service stocks, which have given back 52-week high levels attained in December, Baker Hughes hit a new 52-week high on Tuesday, at $61.74 intraday. Trading of more than 10 million shares in the early afternoon was three times the average volume for what has been the underperformer among oil-service stock plays. Being the trailing stock in its peer group is part of the reason for the sustained rally in Baker Hughes shares, and where Baker Hughes had trailed was in its margin performance. Baker Hughes showed improved operating margins in every geographic region in the fourth quarter, and after what one analyst described as a dismal margin performance in the third quarter, the margin rebound was exactly what Baker Hughes needed to move shares higher. In North America, Baker Hughes margins increased by 5%; while international margins increased by 3.75% on a consolidated basis.