NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- When compared to rivals Baker Hughes (BHI) and Schlumberger (SLB), I've never believed that shares of Halliburton (HAL) presented any immediate value -- not when the stock traded at a price-to-earnings ratio that is 5 points higher than Schlumberger, which is considered the best of bunch.Even so, that's never stopped me from making comparisons as to whether or not Halliburton could one day supplant Schlumberger as the market's leader. Though Schlumberger has always enjoyed more press coverage, Halliburton has never been too far behind. Following the company's recent, better-than-expected earnings report, I believe Halliburton is now in one of the best positions it has ever been, given how well management is performing internationally. Now that there are clear signs that sluggish rig counts have finally bottomed, shares of Halliburton, which have already gained 32% on the year, may yet be cheap. Investors in this sector understand how brutal the industry has been. So it came as no surprise that Halliburton managed 1% year-over-year revenue growth in the quarter. But unlike most sectors, the year-over-year comparisons very rarely ever matter. Always looking for signs of improvement, analysts make their assessments by focusing more on the quarter-over-quarter basis. To that end, Halliburton was more "energized" as revenue grew by more than 5% since the April quarter. As with Schlumberger and Baker Hughes, weakness in North America has been tough to overcome. But Halliburton managed to grow revenue 3% sequentially, which was consistent with the performances of both Schlumberger and Baker Hughes. But unlike both rivals, Halliburton showed plenty of strength in international markets, growing 14% year over year and 8% sequentially.
I'm not suggesting that the worst is over, only that any prolonged weakness in North America is not as dire. In that regard, management deserves a considerable amount of credit for having navigated such a brutal environment, especially for the 15% sequential growth in operating income, which outperformed Schlumberger by 2%. It wasn't a blowout quarter, not by any stretch. But the company did what it had to do to beat both on revenue and earnings estimates. There's not much more that an investor can ask for, especially given the overall state of this industry. Investors should also be encouraged by the fact that the company announced a $5 billion share buyback program, which indicated an increase level of confidence by management that the worst is over. I wouldn't expect that capital commitments of that size would have been made if management was worried about preserving the cash to battle the weakness in, say, North America. What's more, the $5 billion stock repurchase program, which now goes along with the company's 39% dividend increase (announced in April), makes Halliburton one of the best shareholder-friendly stocks on the market. It is clear that management is committed to returning value to investors. Follow @saintssense This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.