It seems as if investors in offshore drillers Seadrill (NYSE:SDRL)and its subsidiary, North Atlantic Drilling (NYSE:NADL), have had nothing but bad news recently, including the cancellations of billion-dollar contracts. However, some recent good news for both offshore drillers should bring a glimmer of hope to long-term investors.
Creditors are willing to play ball
DNB ASA -- Norway's largest bank and a major lender to Seadrill -- recently allowed the company and other offshore drillers to defer loan installment payments due to the damage inflicted on the industry by the crashing price of oil.
According to DNB Executive Vice President Harald Serck-Hanssen, the bank -- which holds $2.1 billion in loans to offshore drillers -- understands the risk to the industry is high and is willing to work with drillers that operate the most advanced rigs.
That's because, according to Serck-Hanssen: "The biggest risk on the rig side isn't those (modern UDW) rigs, but the old, simple rigs that are about to be outdated with current security requirements."
DNB believes that even with the global glut of rigs, companies with modern ultra-deepwater, or UDW, rigs should be able to obtain average dayrates of at least $275,000. The bank says that level is necessary for drillers to pay operating expenses and interest payments.
Why this matters to you
DNB isn't the only bank willing to help Seadrill to get through this industry downturn. In fact, the company described its diverse group of creditors as "very supportive," which is great news for investors who are holding or considering buying Seadrill shares based on the industry's strong long-term potential.
After all, Seadrill's fast-growing fleet of state-of-the-art UDW rigs are of little use to investors if the company's enormous financial burden -- $4.8 billion in funding requirements through 2016 -- causes it to go bankrupt. However, if creditors recognize the value of Seadrill's fleet and have confidence in its management -- which appears to be the case -- then this greatly improves the likelihood the company can continue to tap credit markets at favorable terms and potentially come out of this downturn stronger than ever.
Announcement is great news for North Atlantic investors as well
If you're an investor -- as I am -- in Seadrill subsidiary North Atlantic Drilling, this news should cause you to cheer as well. That's because Seadrill recently agreed to insure all $2.6 billion of North Atlantic's debt should the company not be able to service it. With the last 12 months' interest payments totaling 43% of operating cash flow, and Rosneft recently canceling a $1 billion UDW contract and likely to cancel four more, this is a distinct possibility. Also, 50% of North Atlantic's fleet could be idle come September, which would likely cause its cash flow to collapse beyond its ability to avoid bankruptcy had Seadrill not insured its debt.
Now, however, North Atlantic is unlikely to go bankrupt unless Seadrill does, and Seadrill's creditors appear to have strong long-term faith in the company's prospects.
Takeaway: Creditors willing to cut Seadrill slack means the investment thesis is intact
DNB's willingness to defer debt payments means the credit crunch on Seadrill -- which is now protecting its subsidiary from bankruptcy -- is not nearly as bad as many investors had feared. In my opinion, this increases the likelihood that Seadrill and North Atlantic Drilling can make it out of this industry downturn alive, and with much more modern fleets and stronger market positions than their peers. That means they remain very attractive -- if still risky -- deep-value, long-term investments.