It's not always fun to be right, especially when it means you're seeing a few of your own stocks getting hit. In late 2005, I mentioned that many drillers were trading at prices above long-term fair value estimates, instead going along for the ride with energy prices (especially natural gas).
Well, fast-forward a couple months, and you see high gas storage inventories, lower natural gas prices, and lower stock prices for drilling companies. Yet operators like Rowan
In some respects, it doesn't matter whether you're looking at Helmerich& Payne
In Rowan's case, fourth-quarter revenue climbed more than 66%, reported income from continuing operations more than quadrupled, and full-year operating cash flow nearly tripled. Dayrates were much stronger (up 82% on average in the Gulf of Mexico), and although utilization rates were reported down in the jack-up rig business, that was entirely due to the company's preparations to send rigs over to Saudi Arabia.
The big fear right now is that energy producers, particularly the smaller ones, will start delaying projects because of the drop in natural gas prices. And that makes a certain amount of sense -- if prices were to stay at this level, I'm sure a few producers would postpone. But not too many people expect natural gas prices to stay down here indefinitely, and I don't think a single drilling company has reported any delays or postponements yet.
It's also true that there are some additional rigs being built, and as many as 50 new rigs could hit the market between 2007 and 2009. Still, that overlooks several key points. First, some of those rigs will be replacing old and outdated models that are barely hanging on today. Second, international demand is still ahead of rig supply, and demand keeps increasing. Third, Rowan has a manufacturing business that makes rigs (about one-third of the world's current jack-ups came from Rowan's yards), and it will make money on that expansion effort.
Trying to predict and project values and stock movements here is fruitless, other than to say that today's expectations seem pretty modest. While I'm a bit more drawn to the likes of Transocean
Past Foolish thoughts on the energy drillers:
Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).