Halliburton Co posted a 61 percent drop in quarterly profit on Friday, hurt by weak North American natural gas activity, but the figures topped Wall Street forecasts.

The world's second-largest oilfield services company said third-quarter profit fell to $262 million, or 29 cents per share, from $672 million, or 76 cents per share, a year earlier. Revenue fell 26 percent to $3.6 billion.

Excluding $19 million in charges for job cuts, earnings per share of 31 cents topped the 26 cents that analysts on average had forecast, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Halliburton had warned last month of third-quarter margins in North America declining from the previous quarter.

U.S. natural gas prices hit their lowest level in nearly eight years in September, although they have started a recovery that many analysts expect to continue steadily into next year.

That rebound has helped stem declines in prices for oilfield services, but margins in the key North American market will probably remain under pressure in the fourth quarter.

We believe that North America pricing has stabilized in most basins; however, competition remains fierce in North America, particularly in areas that exhibited growing activity such as the Haynesville and Marcellus shale plays, Halliburton said in a statement.

BMO Capital Markets this week initiated coverage of Halliburton and larger rival Schlumberger Ltd with outperform ratings, in the belief that their earnings were now bottoming and would pick up in 2010.

Schlumberger is due to report its earnings next Friday.

Halliburton shares were down 15 cents at $29.70 in premarket trading.

(Reporting by Matt Daily in New York and Braden Reddall in San Francisco; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)