Oceaneering International (NYSE:OII) can give investors headaches when trying to build an investment thesis. On the one hand it has a dominant market share in the remotely operated submersible vehicle market for underwater construction and maintenance work, with a history of generating strong returns for investors. On the other hand, it's a niche market player that depends greatly on a few select energy customers spending money on some of the most expensive barrels of oil out there -- offshore.
To understand why Oceaneering had such a great quarter, but failed to impress investors with its 2015 guidance, you need to know the two faces of the company. So let's look at the good and bad of this recent earnings release.
By the numbers
Oceaneering posted one of its most successful quarters ever, with earnings coming in at $0.99 per share. The combination of better revenue, higher margins, and a reduced stock count from the company's share repurchase program improved the per share number by more than 15% year over year.
Two of Oceaneering's businesses -- remotely operated vehicles, or ROV, and subsea products -- contributed more than 90% of its operating income for the year. The biggest difference between these segments was that ROV margins and revenue improved while the numbers for Subsea products remained strong, with operating margin above 20%.
The only sign of weakening demand for Oceaneering's services was ROV fleet utilization, which declined by 7 percentage points to a utilization rate of 80%. However, with more than 60% market share in the ROV business and its recent acquisition of C & C Technologies to increase that market share, this segment won't be crushed anytime soon.
Whenever a company posts one of its best quarters, investors would like to sit back and enjoy it, but the outlook that accompanied this quarterly release was much bigger news. It looks as though management swung and missed last quarter when it issued EPS guidance for 2015 in the $4.10-$4.50 range, because this quarter it revised that number down to $3.10-$3.50 per share. That's still pretty good considering the downturn in the market, but it still sent shares down over 10% at the time of the announcement.
The biggest reason for the downturn wasn't lost business, but that Oceaneering is likely to be forced to charge less to its clients. With a company that generates much of its profit from renting equipment, it's much better to agree to a lower contract rate than simply let the equipment collect dust -- and cost money while idle.
Then again, this outlook was based on what the market looks like today, but it is unlikely to stay this way in perpetuity. Many of the companies that employ Oceaneering's equipment budget for the entire year, so it wouldn't be surprising if these numbers hold for a while, but a major change in oil prices again could move guidance.
What a Fool believes
Yes, 2015 looks to be a stinker for Oceaneering, but that shouldn't come as a surprise for anyone following the energy sector -- several of the industry's big spenders are cutting back exploration and appraisal work until prices recover. Luckily for Oceaneerning shareholders, the company has more than $500 million in cash and short-term investments to deploy on share buybacks and dividends, as well as low-interest obligations, so liquidity and solvency issues are a long ways off.
We don't know how long oil prices will remain weak, but chances are they will eventually bounce back, and offshore activity will pick up again as a result. Oceaneering should be well positioned to take advantage of this rebound, and picking up shares while the market is down might be the best way for you to get the most of the company's stock.