Recession-Proof Stocks: Diamond Offshore

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As a former Boy Scout, I believe in being prepared. And since we've spent months now perched on the edge of recession, it makes sense for me to seek stocks that can weather such a slump and rebound handily. My vote goes to Diamond Offshore (NYSE: DO  ) , the Houston-based deepwater driller that sports terrific growth, one of the more interesting histories in the oil patch, and a slick yield to boot.

As the price of crude has steadily risen, doubling in the past year alone, the world has paid ever-greater attention to exploring for oil in water depths once considered prohibitive. Off Brazil's coast, for instance, Petrobras (NYSE: PBR  ) has recently recorded a number of big discoveries at depths of several thousand feet. Unless you envision crude prices retreating to $60 a barrel, its hard to imagine how Diamond Offshore and its drilling brethren, including Transocean (NYSE: RIG  ) , Ensco (NYSE: ESV  ) , and Noble (NYSE: NE  ) , can fail to stay busy for years to come.

Diamond, which once plied its trade largely in the Gulf of Mexico, has subsequently expanded its serves to such active areas as the North Sea, Egypt, Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brazil. In the latter area, the company currently has half a dozen rigs under contract to (you guessed it) Petrobras.

Today Diamond's fleet consists of about 15 jack-up rigs, which place their huge legs into the sea floor before drilling begins, then hydraulically "jack up" the main body of the rig. In addition, the company has about twice as many semi-submersible rigs, which partially lower themselves below the sea's surface for stability during drilling, enabling some to drill in as much as 10,000 feet of water. The fleet also includes one drillship, a craft with a maximum depth capacity of 8,500 feet.

Along with its international presence and impressive fleet, Diamond Offshore boasts a group of equally noteworthy financial metrics. Granted, Diamond is currently benefitting from remarkably strong dayrates, but I know of few companies that are able to turn a profit margin in excess of 33%, feature expected compounded annual earnings growth of 23% over the next five years, and boast a forward 2009 P/E less than 11.

I suspect that skinny valuation relates to the industry's former earnings volatility. Today, however, term operating contracts make earnings far more predictable.

Perhaps more importantly to income investors, Diamond's board has adopted the habit of paying special dividends, providing investors with a 3.1% trailing dividend yield on top of the stocks' 41-percentage-point outperformance against the market over the past year.

Wall Street won't come around and recognize Diamond's increasingly transparent earnings stream overnight, but I'm confident it will at some point. In the meantime, Diamond shareholders should enjoy some nice dividends, and the benefit of having rising energy prices working for their wallets, rather than against them. To this Fool, the stock appears to be a solid buy.

Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned. He does, however, welcome your questions or comments. Petrobras is an Income Investor recommendation. The Fool's disclosure policy is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.


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