Image Source: Marathon Oil. 

What: Shares of Atwood Oceanics (NYSE:ATW) soared more than 20% by 3:15 p.m. EST on Thursday. Fueling today's surge was... well, nothing. At least, nothing specific given that oil prices were down, and there was no company-specific news.

So what: If anything, today's rally is loosely linked to news that peer Noble (OTC:NEBLQ) has offered to buy back $300 million of its bonds for just $200 million. At least that's the link being drawn by analysts at RBC Capital. They see the move, which will save the company $10 million a year in interest and add $0.03 per share to earnings, as being a net positive for the sector because it shows that there is potential for meaningful balance-sheet improvements within the sector should others copy that move.

In addition to that, the capital markets appear to be thawing just a little bit to the energy sector, which is evidenced by the fact that a number of companies raised capital this week. Oil giant ExxonMobil, for example, raised $12 billion in debt that it reportedly is going to be using to make acquisitions. Meanwhile, Weatherford and Marathon Oil both sold stock in up-sized offerings that not only bolstered their balance sheets, but implied that investors are hungry for fresh energy equity. This capital infusion suggests that the energy sector isn't on the brink of bankruptcy. Further, with the gates open to new capital, we could see a thaw in the M&A market in the coming weeks.

Now what: Having said all that, none of that news really addresses the primary problem plaguing Atwood Oceanics, which is the fact that it still has a boatload of drilling rigs going off contract later this year. Those rigs won't get new contracts until oil prices are much higher. There's no telling when that will happen because oil production, though falling, has been stubbornly resilient. That's holding back the need for investment in new offshore wells, which, of course, is what Atwood Oceanics needs in order to get those rigs under contract.

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