Ultra Deepwater Drilling Poised to Take Advantage of Supply Demand Imbalance

The stars are aligned for the success of the ultra-deepwater (UDW) drilling industry. As crude oil prices remain substantially high, oil exploration companies are going farther offshore to obtain new supply sources, supporting the demand for UDW drilling. At the same time, the cost of purchasing UDW drillships remains low, as shipbuilders clamor for any sort of construction orders (rigs and ships) because of the extreme downturn in the shipping industry.

UDW drilling refers to drilling beginning at water depths of more than 7,500 feet. Companies in this field contract out their UDW drilling rigs along with the necessary equipment and work crew on a daily rate basis to drill wells for customers. The nature of the business is very specialized, meaning that it is difficult for a new entrant to replicate the business model and attempt to muscle itself into the picture. Furthermore, the business model is fairly simple. Companies aim to profit from the difference between the daily rates that they charge their customers, and the daily operating expenditures ("OPEX") that they incur while servicing drillships. So long as daily rates remain high and OPEX stays low, UDW drillers will make a tidy profit.

Fortunately for drillers, the demand and supply dynamics of the industry is in their favor. A typical drillship scheduled for delivery in 2015 can be purchased at around US$650 million, while the ongoing daily rate of a typical UDW drillship is around US$600,000. Assuming daily OPEX of US$200,000, a UDW drillship should bring in about US$400,000 daily. Considering these assets cost an average of US$650 million each and estimated useful lives of around 25-30 years, this spread between daily rates and OPEX could potentially generate US$730 million for the rig owner in five years.

Following the 2010 oil spill incident by BP in the Gulf of Mexico, increased regulation and greater scrutiny has limited the entrant of new UDW players. These policies entrench the incumbent UDW drillers and support the daily rate that companies can charge oil exploration companies such as ExxonMobil. At the same time, prices of new drillships remain low as the global shipbuilding industry goes through a deep cyclical trough. This means that shipbuilding houses are more likely to charge lower prices to obtain any business possible to make up for lost orders from the shipping sector.

Here are some of the drilling companies that have a higher proportion of exposure to UDW drilling and could potentially profit from the demand and supply imbalance in the industry. (Click here to access free, interactive tools to analyze these ideas.)

1. Ocean Rig UDW
ORIG is a pure play that allows one to invest in the deepwater water drilling market as it derives all of its revenue from that particular niche sector. 75% of its rigs are contracted into 2015, thus ensuring some kind of cash flow stability over the next three years. It has six high-spec UDW rigs on the water and three newbuilds scheduled for delivery in 2013. Of its six UDW rigs, it has two semi-submersibles that can drill up to 30,000 feet and four drillships that can drill up to 40,000 feet. Daily rates of all six ships are at least US$450,000, and up to US$675,000. 

Furthermore, in August 2012, two of the newbuilds have already been contracted at daily rates of around US$640,000. However, a potential investor might be concerned that its assets are pledged as collateral to loans that are beginning to mature from September 2013 onward. For example, its two semi-submersibles Eirik Raude and Leiv Eiriksson are pledged to a US$1.04 billion revolver that is maturing in 2013.

2. Pacific Drilling (Nasdaq: PACD  )
Pacific Drilling derives 100% of its revenue from deepwater drilling. As such, it is one of the only two pure-play UDW drillers on the market. It has a fleet of six UDW drillships, with four delivered and two newbuilds to be delivered by 2013. It has the youngest fleet in the industry. Similar to Ocean Rig, it's poised to profit from the upturn in deepwater daily rates and a lack of near-term supply of such expertise. The contract backlog for Pacific Drilling is at around US$2.2 billion and consists contracts ranging from one to five years. Two of the rigs operate in Nigeria, one in Brazil and another in the Gulf of Mexico. 

One of the concerns about the company is that it has a fairly small fleet and has all its exposure to the deepwater drilling market. Should crude oil prices turn south for a considerable amount of time, the company might run into trouble.

3. Atwood Oceanics (NYSE: ATW  )
ATW is an international offshore drilling contracted founded in 1968. It currently derives 83% of its revenue from deepwater drilling and has eight rigs on the water, with five semi-submersibles and three jackups. It also has five newbuilds that are ready for delivery by 2014. Given its smaller size compared to the other players in the field, roughly 75% of its revenue is generated from its three largest customers: CVX Australia, Sarawak Shell, and Kosmos Energy Ghana. 

The company is poised to take advantage of the upturn in the industry with most of its rigs contracted for a number of years. Its earliest rig repricing will come in December 2012, and this will allow it to have a chance of renewing the contract at a higher daily rate. Furthermore, the company has pretty low leverage compared to its peers with its debt to capital ratio at 26%, far lower than the industry average of around 35%.

4. SeaDrill Limited (Nasdaq: SDRL  )
Seadrill derives 66% of its revenue from deepwater drilling in FY2011 and has a mix of deepwater floaters, high-spec Jackups, and newbuilds. A huge advantage in investing in Seadrill is its aggressive dividend yield, which is currently at 9%. Its fleet consists of 66 offshore rigs, with 19 of them being newbuilds. It also has stakes in other offshore drilling companies such as Archer Limited (40%), SapuraKencana (6%), Varia Perdana (49%), Asia Offshore Drilling (34%), and Sevan Drilling ASA (29%). Its EBITDA margin and operating margin over the last two years has also been above those of its peers at 53% and 41%, respectively. However, similar to Ocean Rig, Seadrill has a tremendous amount of debt with its debt to capital ratio over 60%, while its peers are averaging around 35%. While in a rising daily rate environment Seadrill will do well with its leverage, it will suffer if and when the industry suffers a slowdown.

5. Noble Corp. (NYSE: NE  )
Noble Corp is a leading player in the offshore drilling industry with an existing fleet of close to 70 rigs. The fleet consists of nine drillships, 16 semi-submersibles and 43 jackups. In FY2011, it derived 61% of its revenue from deepwater drilling and will be a benefactor from the uptrend in daily rates of ultra deepwater drilling rigs. 

In terms of geographical reach, Noble Corp is everywhere. It has 19 rigs in the Middle East, 12 rigs in Mexico, 10 rigs in Brazil, 10 rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, nine rigs in the North Sea, two rigs in the Mediterranean, one in Alaska, and five in other regions.

6. Transocean (NYSE: RIG  )
Transocean currently derives 59% of its revenue from the deepwater drilling sector. Unfortunately for the company, it was involved in the Macondo oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. As a result, there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the company. However, Transocean is definitely a force to be reckoned with in the offshore drilling market. It has the largest fleet of offshore rigs, with 130 rigs on water and five newbuilds. Furthermore, it has a large cash pile of close to US$4.0 billion and generates close to US$2.0 billion in cash from operations every year. This makes it a prime target to renew and upgrade its existing fleet of UDW rigs to take advantage of the latest uptrend in daily rates. Unfortunately, the Macondo event and its ensuing troubles will probably keep its share price depressed for the foreseeable future.

Interactive Chart: Press Play to compare changes in analyst ratings over the last two years for the stocks mentioned above. Analyst ratings sourced from Zacks Investment Research.


Disclosure: Kapitall's SiHien Goh does not own any of the shares mentioned above.

The Motley Fool owns shares of Transocean, Atwood Oceanics, and Seadrill. The Motley Fool owns shares of Exxon Mobil. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Seadrill and Atwood Oceanics. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.


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  • Report this Comment On September 07, 2012, at 1:33 PM, spokanimal wrote:

    Re: Transocean and macondo...

    Transocean has alredy set aside what is needed for any costs associated with macondo.

    Further, the DOJ, in it's new threat to sue BP for "gross negligence" cited BP's incessant attempts to fault it's subcontractors like Transocean as being the reason why DOJ is losing patience...

    ... meaning that DOJ thinks BP needs to "own up" to the fact that the macondo incident began... and ended... with BP.

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