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Transocean: Icahn goes drilling for returns
(NYSE:RIG), which owned and ran the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico, has disclosed that legendary activist investor Carl Icahn has accumulated a 3.2% economic interest in the offshore drilling company. The stake consists of a 1.6% position in the common shares and a synthetic long position representing 1.7% of the shares. According to the company, the investor notified them that he may seek to increase his stake to 5%. A demand for board representation cannot be far in the future.

Mr. Icahn was busy in the energy sector last year, successfully agitating for a board shake-up at Chesapeake Energy (NYSE:CHK) and acquiring refiner CVR Energy outright. His timing here is not happenstance: Last month, Transocean announced it had reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to settle a civil claim and any potential criminal claim with a $1.4 billion settlement to be paid over five years. Claims by private-sector plaintiffs and states against Transocean remain outstanding, although the bulk of states' claims under the Oil Pollution Act falls overwhelmingly on BP.

 With its focus on deepwater and harsh-environment drilling services, Transocean looks well-positioned to benefit if analysts' positive outlook for the deepwater "Golden Triangle" -- consisting of Brazil, the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, and West Africa -- is realized in 2013. Utilization rates and day rates have been moving up worldwide. In the Gulf of Mexico, Michael LaMotte of Guggenheim Securities believes exploration and development spending will double between 2012 and 2014.

If Mr. Icahn is expecting to earn a return through the resumption of a dividend, he may well be disappointed, as Transocean is embarking on an ambitious capital-spending program. However, with a price-to-earnings multiple of 12.2 (based on an estimate of the next 12 months' earnings per share) against a peer group median of 14.4, there is certainly scope for share price appreciation to pacify the veteran raider.