A Truly Unique Company

I don't think there's a more overused -- and wrongly used -- word in the entire English lexicon than "unique." As its less powerful sibling "unusual" has lost most of its punch through overuse, "unique" has been invoked to mean something that is rare, when in reality it means absolutely one of a kind.

When I was an analyst, my colleagues and I frequently labored to locate comparables to provide us with some measure of comfort regarding our equity valuations. For many of the unusual companies we were concerned with, those comps ultimately involved something of a stretch, but we typically were able to create one or more acceptable fits for our analysis.

I've headed down this road to pave the way for a quick glimpse at a company that I believe is truly unique: Oceaneering International (NYSE: OII  ) . Once simply a diving company -- serving drillers like Rowan (NYSE: RDC  ) , Diamond Offshore (NYSE: DO  ) , and Transocean (NYSE: RIG  ) during their early forays into the Gulf of Mexico -- today Oceaneering is a diversified and advanced applied technology organization that operates some of the most sophicated equipment in the worldwide energy services industry.

As the offshore quest for oil and gas has moved into progressively deeper waters, Oceaneering has grown from its early roots as an air and mixed-gas diver to become the operator of the sorts of remotely operated underwater vehicles that you may have seen on television performing all manner of intricate operations, sometimes thousands of feet beneath the sea's surface.

Indeed, The Discovery Channel recently portrayed an effort to position the world's first hurricane-proof drilling rig in Gulf waters 150 miles south of Louisiana. The success of the effort was largely attributable to anchoring work performed on the sea floor by a remotely operated vehicle.

Oceaneering's Subsea Products unit manufactures control umbilicals from a variety of materials, including thermoplastic hoses, electric cables, collapse-resistant flexible pipes, and steel tubes -- or combinations of these materials. It also makes numerous connection systems for the umbilicals. Its Mobile Offshore Production Systems (or MOPS) typically involve the conversion of offshore drilling rigs into production centers, often in remote locations. In addition to all of these products and services -- which are also used by such customers as the U.S. Navy and major telephone companies -- the company performs a variety of inspection and non-destructive testing services around the world.

A growing demand for Oceaneering's products and services has benefited the company financially, as was indicated by its third quarter, which saw per-share earnings leap from $0.33 to $0.70. And for the first nine months of the year, the company earned $1.72 per share, compared to $0.81 last year.

Regardless of the prospects for energy prices one, five, or 10 years down the road, exploration and production activities undoubtedly will continue to move to progressively deeper waters and will involve more and more technological sophistication.

As a result, it is my strong belief that Oceaneering, which plays a unique role in the production of hydrocarbons, will benefit materially from this changing world. All of this makes me think that the company warrants careful attention from Foolish investors.

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Fool contributor David Lee Smith does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned. He welcomes your questions or comments. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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