Whenever we stop to check in on the results of the offshore drillers, it's important to consider the Long view -- that is, the perspective of Bob Long, CEO of Transocean (NYSE: RIG ) .
Long kicked off Transocean's quarterly conference call with a note of optimism on the deepwater market. Yes, the company's seen bidding activity sputter since the revenue backlog peaked back in the third quarter of 2008, but the dayrates on this year's three fixtures, falling in the mid-$500,000 to low-$600,000 range, are still historically strong. It's exactly those sorts of long-term contracted rig rates that provide Transocean a fat $17.4 billion free cash-flow backlog, which now exceeds total debt by $4 billion.
Transocean has five new rigs going to work this year for supermajors including Chevron (NYSE: CVX ) , StatoilHydro (NYSE: STO ) , and BP (NYSE: BP ) . Not to beat a dead Thunder Horse, but these are A-list clients. Those rigs will deliver a huge stream of cash next year, when another five rigs hit the water.
Transocean is riding a comfortable wave compared to largely mid- and shallow-water oriented drillers such as Atwood Oceanics (NYSE: ATW ) and Ensco International (NYSE: ESV ) . Given the softness emerging in those markets, both of those companies have to be pretty happy they've ordered up some deepwater rigs of their own -- even though Atwood is paying a relatively steep $750 million for its second semisubmersible.