In its weekly release on Friday, Baker Hughes Inc. (BHI) reported another rise in the number of rigs searching for oil and gas in the U.S., reflecting ramped up activity by the producers. Rigs exploring and producing in the U.S. climbed to 1,009 for the week ended Sept. 4 (as clear from the first chart below from Baker Hughes). This is the highest in five months and is up by 10 from the previous week’s tally.

The combined oil and gas rig count is down by 1,004 from the year-ago period. It rose to a 22-year high in 2008, peaking at 2,031 in the weeks ended Aug. 29 and Sept. 12.

The number of natural gas rigs drilling in the U.S. increased by 2 to 701, the seventh successive weekly gain. However, the rig count still remains 56% lower than its peak of 1,606 in late summer 2008. In the year-ago period, there were 1,586 active natural gas rigs. This is shown in the following chart from Baker Hughes.

The oil rig count was up by 9 to 295, maintaining the positive momentum since the past three weeks. But the tally is down more than 29% from the previous year’s count of 416, as shown in the following chart from Baker Hughes. Oil rigs peaked at 442 in early November last year.

The number of miscellaneous rigs was down by one, to 13 rigs.

Producers had curtailed oil and gas drilling over the past several months in the midst of falling commodity prices. However, the recent numbers suggest that companies are beginning to bring oil and gas rigs back on line amid signs of economic stabilization that could drive up energy demand.

The overall picture, though, remains weak, particularly for natural gas, whose inventories are threatening to surpass the all-time high level. The supply picture is expected to reverse in the coming months as the lagging effect of the sharp drop in domestic drilling activity takes hold.

Until then, we prefer to stay on the sidelines with oil service firms like Halliburton Company (HAL), Schlumberger Limited (SLB), Baker Hughes, Smith International Inc. (SII) and Weatherford International Ltd. (WFT). These oilfield service names have seen their revenues and earnings plunge in the last few quarters on the back of lower volumes and a very competitive pricing environment.

We have Neutral recommendations on all the above-mentioned companies.
Read the full analyst report on “BHI”
Read the full analyst report on “HAL”
Read the full analyst report on “SLB”
Read the full analyst report on “SII”
Read the full analyst report on “WFT”
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