Last month I described the vital role being played by technology in the rapid ramp-up of U.S. oil and gas production. One of the specific areas I discussed was subsea production.
With the possible exception of increased deepwater rig sophistication, there hasn't been another advancement that has been as responsible as subsea technology has for the explosive growth in Gulf of Mexico activity. It's a phenomenon that has occurred following a time when it was widely assumed that the now prolific body of water had seen its best oil and gas days.
But the ability to perform functions on the sea floor -- typically at depths approaching, or occasionally exceeding, 10,000 feet -- tends to cut costs by reducing the number of platforms needed to service a group of wells. At the same time, it meaningfully increases the safety of deepwater and ultra-deepwater operations.
Given those important advantages, it's not surprising that expenditures for deepwater products and services, which hit slightly more than $25 billion in 2011, seem headed for about $130 billion by 2020. That's not all related to the Gulf. Brazil's Santos Basin and the Angolan offshore have also seen their deepwater futures brightened by improvements in subsea technology.
There are several compelling ways to play the subsea explosion. As I've noted previously, one of the best lies in the $235 billion market cap General Electric (NYSE:GE). The company's oil and gas products span nearly all aspects of on- and offshore drilling, along with LNG production and a host of other oilfield operations. But it may be in subsea technology that it's making the biggest name for itself.
Beyond that Cameron International (NYSE:CAM) and Schlumberger (NYSE:SLB) are 60 days into the operation of a subsea joint venture called OneSubsea. The unit, which is 60% owned by Cameron, with Schlumberger holding the remainder, will almost certainly benefit from the whopping $1.1 billion that the latter company commits annually to technological research and development.
But among subsea investment oportunities, you should also know about Houston-based FMC Technologies (NYSE:FTI). After all, with technology having become the key energy driver, a company whose last name is Technologies obviously belongs on Foolish radar screens.
Leader of the pack
FMC operates through three sectors: subsea technologies, surface technologies, and energy infrastructure. But it's the subsea unit that's the obvious kingpin, having generated two-thirds of total corporate revenues in the most recent quarter. That was up from 63% in the second quarter of 2012.
And while the dozen-year-old company is a relative infant in a world where the rudiments of some oilfield services companies were formed a century ago, its $12.7 billion market capitalization makes it somewhat larger than Weatherford International (NYSE:WFT).
Clearly, backlog expansion provides a key indicator of a company's health. At the conclusion of the June quarter , FMC's subsea segment had increased its own backlog by $1.52 billion, or 35%, year over year.
Inking big deals
For an idea of what the company actually provides to the subsea area, along with the sorts of customers it serves, let's take a glimpse at a few of the contracts it's garnered in recent months:
- In May, it inked a pact with Royal Dutch Shell to supply equipment for the latter's work in the 9,600-feet deep Stones field in the Gulf of Mexico. Included will be subsea trees, a subsea manifold, and both topside and subsea controls.
- A month later FMC Technologies was awarded a $1.2 million contract by Total (NYSE:TOT) for a project in Nigeria, where the French company is nearly alone in adding to its assets. FMC will begin supplying several types of subsea equipment to the Egina field, off the West African country's coast, in 2015.
- Last month FMC received a $500 million contract from Brazil's Petrobras for equipment to foster production in the country's technologically tricky pre-salt fields. The July pact is the second of two related orders that together will yield about $1.5 billion.
Comparing EMC Technologies to Weatherford and Baker Hughes (NYSE:BHI), the big-four services companies immediately above and below it from a size perspective, it's noteworthy that FMC has achieved a trailing 12-month operating margin and return on equity of 10.1% and 24.2%, respectively. For Weatherford, those two respective metrics are 6.7% and -1.4%. At Baker Hughes, they're 8.8% and 5.9%.
There you have a fast glance at FMC Technologies. While there obviously are several ways for Fools to play burgeoning subsea technology, there's ample reason to suggest that we should all be watching FMC closely.
Fool contributor David Smith has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends FMC Technologies and Total SA. (ADR). The Motley Fool owns shares of General Electric Company. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.