Shiny New Rigs Make Seadrill a Standout

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Since the BP (NYSE: BP  ) oil spill in April, shares of contract drillers have been slowly climbing out of a deep ditch. Outperforming the pack has been Norway's Seadrill (NYSE: SDRL  ) , which has really taken the industry by storm since its inception in 2005. Its recently filed third-quarter report offers plenty of insight into the driller's dazzling rise.

First off, Seadrill's rig utilization figures are outstanding, at 95% for floating rigs and 97% for jackups. Utilization reflects a rig's uptime, and hence its earnings contribution relative to potential.

I recently estimated that fully half of Transocean's (NYSE: RIG  ) jackup fleet is not working today. How is it possible, then, that Seadrill's rigs are so busy amid a dreary jackup market? As noted in that same article, there's a big bifurcation in the market between jackups built 20 or 30 years ago, and the modern, "high-spec" jackups built in recent years. As a glance at Seahawk Drilling (Nasdaq: HAWK  ) will show you, one modern jackup with all the bells and whistles is worth more than a whole fleet of old commodity rigs.

Seadrill's rigs have the bells, and they have the whistles. This company, perhaps better known for its floating rigs, has the largest fleet of modern, premium jackups in the business. Seadrill keeps ordering new jackups as well, with 19 on hand or on order. All have been built since 2006.

Turning to floaters, the story is very similar. Last year, we noted a widening gap between demand for deepwater rigs and ultra-deepwater rigs (i.e. for greater than 7,500-foot water depth). Now, in the post-Macondo world that's ushered in stricter drilling regulations, there's even a divide emerging within the ultra-deepwater segment. In the most demanding markets, such as the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, only the most modern floaters -- so-called sixth- and seventh- generation rigs -- are likely to make the grade.

These market trends are extremely favorable for Seadrill, even moreso than for Ensco (NYSE: ESV  ) , which is well-positioned on the deepwater side, but has some less than top-notch jackups. There's another trend that's leading investors to this stock as well, and that's the fat dividend yield. Seadrill recently boosted its quarterly payout to $0.65, making for a roughly 8% yield. Between this stock and dividend payer Diamond Offshore (NYSE: DO  ) , I can't blame investors for siding with the former. With only two recently built floaters, Diamond just doesn't bring the same asset quality to the table.

Fool contributor Toby Shute doesn't have a position in any company mentioned. Check out his CAPS profile or follow his articles using Twitter or RSS. 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 Fool owns shares of Ensco and Transocean. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Read/Post Comments (3) | Recommend This Article (13)

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Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On December 02, 2010, at 5:55 PM, Johncarringer wrote:

    SDRL looks very interesting, but what about that debt that it appears to be carrying? Is this for real? Are there mitigating factors that don't show up on the published balance sheet? Thanks.

  • Report this Comment On December 03, 2010, at 9:30 AM, Gtrinvestor wrote:

    Love the write-up. Thanks for actually adding some real insight here. Too many TMF articles simply show some cash flow stats that I can figure out for myself quickly... this is a little more "under the covers" sort of write up. Thanks.

  • Report this Comment On December 03, 2010, at 9:54 AM, lctycoon wrote:

    Johncarringer, SeaDrill actually took on all that debt in order to fully modernize their fleet. Now, they are, as this article indicates, leveraging that fleet to grow the company.

    That debt is by far the biggest problem with this company, but I think that it is just fine atm. It is easily covering that debt with cash flow, plus still generating enough to pay that dividend and retain earnings.

    This company also does the vast majority of its business with Norway and Brazil.

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