In my preview of Noble Corp's (NYSE:NE) quarterly earnings results, I had a really hard time finding a bear case for the company among our Motley Fool CAPS players. That turned out to be pretty appropriate, given the offshore driller's outstanding report. The company achieved all sorts of records -- quarterly contract drilling margins (67.7%) and first-half man hours worked hit all-time highs, while the first-half incident rate hit a record low. Somebody give these guys a prize.

PEMEX, Mexico's national oil company, sort of gave Noble a prize in the form of a leading-edge dayrate for a three-year deepwater drilling contract. If you follow this market, you've likely heard plenty about the deepwater opportunities in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, West Africa, and Brazil. There's not a lot of buzz about offshore Mexico, which is fine with Noble's management -- they've been ahead of the curve before, and they may very well maintain that position with their call that Mexico is "the market of the future." PEMEX is going to be Noble's single largest customer in 2007, and this new contract just solidifies the working relationship that ought to give the driller a leg up over competitors in years to come.

Noble's investigation of possible bribery payments in Nigeria is an unfortunate distraction, but I don't think this process merits undue concern. The review seems primarily a precautionary measure in light of Baker Hughes' (NYSE:BHI) recent -- and costly -- guilty plea in response to corruption charges.

GlobalSantaFe (NYSE:GSF), Tidewater (NYSE:TDW), and Global Industries (NASDAQ:GLBL) have all self-reported internal investigations to the SEC and Department of Justice. If transgressions were made, I would expect penalties to be light, since the companies initiated these investigations. Noble's temporary suspension of share repurchases is prudent, given the uncertainty -- not a red flag, in my view.

Because a significant portion of Noble's fleet are jackups, it's important to keep an eye on the rates earned by newly built rigs of that variety. There are a lot of these shallow water rigs coming online over the next few years, with 75% of them being built on spec, meaning there's no contract attached. The predominant concern is that this rising supply will pressure dayrates. Noble doesn't see the supply/demand balance getting out of whack, thanks to strong international demand. Looking at the desperation to secure rigs in places like Mexico and India, I'm pretty optimistic that rates can hold near present levels for quite some time.

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Fool contributor Toby Shute doesn't own shares in any company mentioned. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy never gets out of whack.