Revenue for this marine services company grew about 11% over that of the previous December, while operating income rose almost 19%. Granted, those numbers don't spell "roaring growth stock." But Fools who are willing to dive a little deeper might see an interesting story emerging from the high seas.
In a nutshell, Tidewater provides transportation services for companies that drill offshore for energy -- whether it's towing drilling rigs to new locations, supplying those rigs with materials, or ferrying crews to and fro.
While that's admittedly pretty boring stuff, there's nothing boring about higher pricing and higher capacity utilization. Compared to the September quarter, day rates were up as much as 6%, and present-day rates are higher across the board versus the average seen for December. Utilization rates have followed a similar trend, and the company is having no particular problem finding work for its vessels.
Tidewater is fundamentally a story about operating leverage. What that means is that for each 1% increase in revenue, the company sees a greater than 1% increase in profits (and vice versa when revenue declines). Just a year ago, business for marine service was terrible, and Tidewater's profits suffered.
It now looks as though drilling activity is reviving. With high energy prices apparently going to stick around for a while, energy companies are sinking new wells and exploring for new reserves. Many of those new wells are going offshore. With increasing offshore drilling activity around the world, it appears that there is now once again growing demand for the marine services that Tidewater offers.
Coming off what looks like a cyclical bottom, shares look expensive. But that's the way that cyclical bottoms work, since earnings get pushed down so low. If the company can get back to "good cycle" earnings of $3.70 to $4.00 per share, the stock would no doubt go along for a nice ride. That's a big "if," but this is a well-run company that has managed to stay profitable even in the darkest days. Fools who believe that energy drilling activity is on the way back up, and can accept some pretty high risk, might want to check this one out.
Fool contributor Stephen Simpson, a chartered financial analyst, has no financial interest in any companies mentioned.
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