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The year-over-year comparisons aren't pretty for offshore oil drillers these days, but the good news is we're almost back to business as usual. Noble (NYSE: NE ) reported revenue that was down 12% from last year to $628 million in the second quarter, but the first quarter is really where we should be comparing right now.
Versus the first quarter, revenue was up 8.5% and earnings per share were flat at $0.21. But Noble was expecting more in the second quarter, and mechanical failures that kept two drill rigs out of commission hurt the company's profitability.
The downside of the new regulatory environment is less tolerance for mechanical failures even where redundancies are in place. That means more downtime that will affect operators and rig owners. Who takes the burden and how much it costs is yet to be worked out, but this quarter, Noble took the brunt of the impact from extra downtime.
Across the industry, management is starting to see positive developments in permitting and day rates. Mexico and Saudi Arabia provided solid demand for Noble, and U.S. drilling permits appear to be coming steadily as operators and drillers adjust to the new regulatory conditions.
The theme of deepwater drilling that's dominating the landscape continued at Noble. Competitors SeaDrill (NYSE: SDRL ) , Transocean (NYSE: RIG ) , and DryShips (Nasdaq: DRYS ) are all building deepwater drilling rigs as fast as possible, and Noble showed that U.S. drilling in deeper water is starting to pick up. All six of the company’s semisubmersibles in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico have been certified, and the latest, Noble Jim Day, began its full contract rate of $485,000 after the quarter ended on July 11.
Foolish bottom line
Slowly but surely, offshore drillers are starting to win back business, and now may be the time to jump in. Noble is trading at just 10 times forward earnings estimates and provides a solid value with a growing fleet of drill rigs.
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