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Third-quarter financial results in the oil patch won't look too shabby, but forget them. Things have changed.

Just scanning the key commodity prices for the sector during the period, one would think the industry is in fine form, still riding a wave that had developed earlier in the year.

In the July-September period, West Texas intermediate (WTI) oil averaged $97.25 (U.S.) a barrel, slipping less than a percentage point from the year before. It could have been worse.

Western Canada Select heavy oil, a domestic benchmark, rang in at $78.83 a barrel, a 10-per-cent increase as the discount to WTI shrank by almost a third. Not bad.

Alberta natural gas, meanwhile, rose more than 25 per cent to $4.02 (Canadian) per 1,000 cubic feet. That's enough to fuel optimism among drillers.

So what are the industry and its investors worried about? From a macro view, almost everything that's happened since the quarter ended. CEOs will be happy to crow about their third-quarter successes during conference calls, but their target audience wants to know if the recent pain will be chronic.

Here's why: Since the end of September, oil's hit the skids. WTI tumbled into the low $80 (U.S.) range, pressured by a glut of supplies in North America and from OPEC producers, and growing worries about European and Asian economies, which could squelch demand for the rest of this year and in 2015.

One saving grace has been the Canadian heavy oil discount, which has remained unusually narrow for this time of year.

Natural gas has also weakened, and U.S. storage and production data point to middling prices this winter unless the continent is blanketed by the kind of bone-chilling weather that rocked markets last heating season.

Investors have stampeded for the exits, and many had only just returned to the sector. Between the start of 2014 and mid-June, the S&P/TSX capped energy index roared ahead by 25 per cent. Since that time, it has lost all of that and then some. From the end of September, it is down 9 per cent, and that's with some recovery from last week's slide.

One big theme as companies roll out results in the coming weeks will be risk management. Hedging prowess, if deployed when the forward curve was steeper, will prevent big drops in capital spending budgets in 2015. Most of these guys plow all their free cash flow back into the ground, so protecting cash is key as commodities weaken.

Cenovus Energy Inc., one of the senior producers that kicks off quarterly reports Thursday, has protected some of its output – basically equal to volumes that flow to the West Coast – at Brent-linked pricing of $113.64 (Canadian) a barrel through next year.

Encana Corp., which has piled up $9-billion (U.S.) of acquisitions in Texas this year, has hedged 30,400 barrels a day for the second half of 2014 at $97.34 a barrel.

Another thing to watch as markets creak: How some of the companies that have struggled through difficult restructurings through the good times plan to emerge from holes that have now become deeper.

Exhibit A is Talisman Energy Inc., whose stock has slumped to 11-year lows following the reported exit of a potential suitor, and as North Sea operational and financial woes kept others away. It is due to report results on Nov. 4.

Chief executive officer Hal Kvisle, who has refocused efforts on the Americas and Southeast Asia, has said he does not intend to remain at the helm past this year, so investors are looking for the name of his successor. Then they want details on the new boss's plans for working with activist shareholder Carl Icahn to wring what has proven to be elusive value from Talisman.

The market's fall has also been cruel to Penn West Petroleum Ltd., which seeks to recover from an accounting scandal, and Athabasca Oil Corp., which struggled with uncertainty over payment for its stake in an oil sands project, only to watch its shares tumble to new depths after the deal was finalized.

As lower oil prices squeeze returns, eyes are also peeled for indications of more inflation in development costs in the oil sands after Statoil ASA shelved its Corner project and Suncor Energy Inc. and Total SA put its Joslyn mining development on hold indefinitely.

More higher-cost projects in Northern Alberta could be delayed or cancelled if weaker crude prices persist and costs show no signs of going down.

These are conversations that few in the oil patch were having in the first half of this year. For the remainder, producers will hammer out their capital spending budgets for 2015.

Those will really be the numbers to watch, for indications of just how worried executives are about oil and gas markets.