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Argus cuts profit forecast for Baker-Hughes

HOUSTON (AP) -- Falling oil prices and already low natural gas prices led Argus Research Co. to reduce its forecast for 2012 and 2013 profit at oilfield-services provider Baker-Hughes Inc. on Wednesday.

The move didn't hurt the stock. Baker-Hughes shares rose $1, or 2.6 percent, to $39.26 in afternoon trading, as the broader markets rose.

Argus lowered its prediction of the company's 2012 adjusted earnings to $3.55 per share from $4.60 per share, and it lowered its 2013 forecast to $4.40 per share from $5.50 per share.

The research firm maintained a "Hold" rating on the shares.

Baker Hughes and other oilfield-services companies could be vulnerable if drilling activity falls as a result of oil prices, which are down more than 20 percent from their highs of early 2012.

Argus analyst Philip Weiss said in a note to clients Wednesday that he didn't expect much movement in the shares until prices stabilize, especially for oil. He said he also wanted to see more signs of operational improvement.

Baker-Hughes' first-quarter profit slipped less than 1 percent from a year ago despite an 18 percent boost in revenue as costs grew. The company has said its drilling and evaluation services have been seeing strong business in Nigeria, Angola and Mozambique, but analysts said the first-quarter numbers were hurt by weaker profit margins, especially in North America, and high expenses.

Through the end of trading Tuesday, the shares were down 21 percent so far in 2012. They hit a 52-week low of $37.08 on Tuesday and are far below their 52-week high of $81 set last July.