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The mood among drilling companies certainly seems chipper these days. Offshore drilling got a shout-out from the president during the State of the Union speech Tuesday and indications are that offshore drilling will be a hot commodity in years to come.
Noble (NYSE: NE ) provided further fuel for drilling stocks this week when it reported earnings. Contract drilling revenue increased to $720 million in the fourth quarter from $614 million a year earlier. Earnings also rose to $127 million, or $0.50 per share, from $99 million in earnings a year ago.
The company is seeing drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, once a thorn in the side of rig owners, come back to full form and doesn't see much residual effect from the Macondo oil spill. And new rigs coming online in the first quarter of 2012 should drive results in the future.
Like other drilling companies, Noble has made a big investment in ultra-deepwater drillships and will be adding to that fleet in coming quarters. Three such ships are already in the water and another five are under construction along with six high-specification jackup rigs.
The only downside of the quarter was what management called "unacceptable levels of non-productive time" that negatively affected revenue and operating costs in the quarter. CEO David Williams said that reducing such downtime will be a focus for the company in 2012.
Drillers with ultra-deepwater capabilities are set to have a strong year with oil prices remaining elevated and more locations becoming available for drilling. SeaDrill (NYSE: SDRL ) , this Fool's top drilling pick, is adding to an already full stable of ultra-deepwater capabilities this year. Ocean Rig (Nasdaq: ORIG ) took delivery of four new drillships in 2011 and is the one pure deepwater play in the industry. Despite all of this building, demand will remain high along with dayrates unless the economy falters and oil prices plunge. The likelihood of that is getting smaller and smaller by the day.
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