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The Zacks Analyst Blog Highlights: Baker Hughes, Halliburton, Schlumberger, Basic Energy Services and BJ's Restaurants

CHICAGO, Aug. 19, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- Zacks.com announces the list of stocks featured in the Analyst Blog. Every day the Zacks Equity Research analysts discuss the latest news and events impacting stocks and the financial markets. Stocks recently featured in the blog include the Baker Hughes Inc. (NYSE:BHI-Free Report), Halliburton Co. (NYSE:HAL-Free Report), Schlumberger Ltd. (NYSE:SLB-Free Report), Basic Energy Services Inc. (NYSE:BAS-Free Report) and BJ's Restaurants, Inc. (Nasdaq:BJRI-Free Report).

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Today, Zacks is promoting its ''Buy'' stock recommendations. Get #1Stock of the Day pick for free.

Here are highlights from Monday's Analyst Blog:

U.S. Rig Count Still Rising as Nat Gas Drilling Improves

In its weekly release, Houston-based oilfield services company Baker Hughes Inc. (NYSE:BHI-Free Report) reported a rise in the U.S. rig count (number of rigs searching for oil and gas in the country). This can be primarily attributed to an increase in the tally of gas-directed rigs.

The Baker Hughes data, issued since 1944, acts as an important yardstick for energy service providers in gauging the overall business environment of the oil and gas industry.

Analysis of the Data

Weekly Summary: Rigs engaged in exploration and production in the U.S. totaled 1,913 for the week ended Aug 15, 2014. This was up by 5 from the previous week's rig count and indicates the fourth increase in as many weeks.

The current nationwide rig count is more than double the lowest level reached in recent years (876 in the week ended Jun 12, 2009) and is well above the prior-year level of 1,791. It rose to a 22-year high in 2008, peaking at 2,031 in the weeks ending Aug 29 and Sep 12.

Rigs engaged in land operations ascended by 9 to 1,841, inland waters activity was down by 4 to 10 rigs, while offshore drilling remained steady at 62 units.

Natural Gas Rig Count: The natural gas rig count – which in mid-June slumped to its lowest point since May 1993 – increased for the second successive week to 321 (a gain of 5 rigs from the previous week). Despite the weekly growth, the number of gas-directed rigs is down by 60% from its recent peak of 811, achieved in 2012.

In fact, the current natural gas rig count remains 80% below its all-time high of 1,606 reached in late summer 2008. In the year-ago period, there were 388 active natural gas rigs.

Oil Rig Count: The oil rig count was up by 1 to 1,589. The current tally – the highest since Baker Hughes started breaking up oil and natural gas rig counts in 1987 – is way above the previous year's rig count of 1,397. It has recovered strongly from a low of 179 in June 2009, rising 8.9 times.

Miscellaneous Rig Count: The miscellaneous rig count (primarily drilling for geothermal energy) at 3 was down by 1 from the previous week.

Rig Count by Type: The number of vertical drilling rigs fell by 10 to 368, while the horizontal/directional rig count (encompassing new drilling technology that has the ability to drill and extract gas from dense rock formations, also known as shale formations) was up by 15 to 1,545. However, horizontal rig units increased by 12 from the last week's level to reach an all-time high of 1,329.

Gulf of Mexico(GoM): The GoM rig count remained flat at 60. The number of oil drilling rigs improved by 1 to 44, offset by a unit decrease in gas rigs to 16.

Conclusion

A Key Barometer of Drilling Activity: An increase or decrease in the Baker Hughes rotary rig count heavily weighs on the demand for energy services – drilling, completion, production etc. – provided by companies that include large-cap names like Halliburton Co. (NYSE:HAL-Free Report) and Schlumberger Ltd. (NYSE:SLB-Free Report).

However, our preferred pick in this group Basic Energy Services Inc. (NYSE:BAS-Free Report). The Fort Worth, TX-based firm – carrying a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy) – has a solid secular growth story with potential to rise from the current level.

Is BJ's Restaurants Poised for a Turnaround?

On Aug 14, 2014, we issued an updated research report on BJ's Restaurants, Inc. (Nasdaq:BJRI-Free Report).

On Jul 24, this casual diner reported second-quarter results, wherein earnings beat the Zacks Consensus Estimate but revenues missed the same. We believe the earnings beat was due to improvement in restaurant level margin.

The company remains committed to its target of achieving restaurant level margin of 19%, primarily driven by the cost savings initiative focused on non-strategic restaurant operating cost and support. In fact, in the second quarter of 2014, the restaurant level margin improved sequentially for the second consecutive quarter.

Though the company's comps underperformed the Knapp-track industry average in the past three quarters, we believe that it is poised to turn it around in the coming quarters with easier year-over-year comparisons for the rest of 2014, gradual economic recovery as well as the positive impact of the numerous sporting events. Thus, BJ's Restaurants remains a turnaround story, in our view.

Additionally, the company's sales building initiatives like guest loyalty program, catering program and focus on supply chain management have borne fruit. Decline in June comps was offset by Father's Day and the FIFA Football World Cup, which improved sales toward the end of the quarter. The fact that BJ's Restaurants managed to grow revenues in the second quarter without sacrificing its margins is laudable. We believe the company will be able to boost its top line in the coming quarters through sales building initiatives as well as sporting events in the U.S.

We commend BJ's Restaurants' decision to prudently continue unit development in the next couple of years. The company intends to focus more on its smaller prototype restaurant, thus reducing operating costs amid a sluggishly recovering economy.

However, going forward, we remain concerned due to the rising commodity, labor and insurance costs. In fact, the company's second-quarter earnings were down 3.2% year over year due to higher costs and expenses.

Meanwhile, as this Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy) restaurateur continues to open stores in newer markets, we expect increased pre-opening expenses and stiff competition to act as the headwinds. Also, BJ's Restaurants' limited international presence lowers its chances of gaining a share of the global market. Further, higher taxes in California and increased gasoline prices limit discretionary spending, which might affect sales in the coming quarters.

Today, Zacks is promoting its ''Buy'' stock recommendations. Get #1Stock of the Day pick for free.

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Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Inherent in any investment is the potential for loss. This material is being provided for informational purposes only and nothing herein constitutes investment, legal, accounting or tax advice, or a recommendation to buy, sell or hold a security. No recommendation or advice is being given as to whether any investment is suitable for a particular investor. It should not be assumed that any investments in securities, companies, sectors or markets identified and described were or will be profitable. All information is current as of the date of herein and is subject to change without notice. Any views or opinions expressed may not reflect those of the firm as a whole. Zacks Investment Research does not engage in investment banking, market making or asset management activities of any securities. These returns are from hypothetical portfolios consisting of stocks with Zacks Rank = 1 that were rebalanced monthly with zero transaction costs. These are not the returns of actual portfolios of stocks. The S&P 500 is an unmanaged index. Visit http://www.zacks.com/performance for information about the performance numbers displayed in this press release.

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