Contract driller ENSCO International (NYSE: ESV) had a tough time winning converts last year. Analysts scolded the shallow-water scamp in late summer, but I saw a lot to like. I further warmed up to the company by fall and was positively pounding the table by February. This driller is finally getting its due.

To understand why, just take a gander at the latest quarterly results. Dayrates were goosed nearly 9% higher compared to last year, and a bit shy of 3% sequentially. While the deepwater rig drilling for Chevron (NYSE: CVX) certainly contributed, international jackups also ratcheted rates higher. Even though Gulf of Mexico rates have withered, fleetwide jackup rates averaged more than $142,000 per day. That's 40% higher than at Diamond Offshore (NYSE: DO).

I've talked repeatedly about ENSCO's top-shelf margins, so I won't belabor that point. We've also looked at shipyard days and how they affect operators like Pride International (NYSE: PDE), ENSCO, and Atwood Oceanics (NYSE: ATW). In the quarter, fleet utilization was superb at 95% -- and this period included the company's only vessel enhancement work for the entire year. Combine that situation with a fully booked international fleet, and ENSCO is guaranteed to mint moola for the rest of the year.

Finally, it's worth noting that a good amount of that cash is going to be staying with shareholders, thanks to a very low tax rate. Both for the first quarter, and as expected for the full year, ENSCO and Noble Corp. (NYSE: NE) both sport tax rates in the high teens, whereas Diamond Offshore clocks in around 28%. That's quite the gulf, and I'm not talking about that body of water to the south.

Related Foolishness:

Atwood Oceanics is a Stock Advisor selection. Seeking a source of stocks that stomp the S&P? Look no further than our Foolish flagship service, which you can sample free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Toby Shute doesn't have a position in any company mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.