It looks like a perfect storm for offshore energy drillers these days, though management at Noble
Second-quarter results for Noble were, well, noble. Revenue rose 36%, operating margins improved notably, operating income grew 97%, and net income more than doubled.
Dayrates (an industry term for rates per day) are the hot topic du jour in drilling, and Noble saw considerably higher dayrates for the period. While average international dayrates climbed nearly 10%, domestic dayrates jumped about 25% from the year-ago quarter.
That's nice, but it's not the whole story. Noble saw much higher utilization (97% vs. 84%) rates as more rigs were in action. Even more important, though, the number of operating days increased by 20%. Dayrates are all well and good, but if your rigs aren't operating, you don't get those dayrates, so that increase in operating days is definitely a positive that shouldn't be ignored or overlooked.
Looking around the oil patch, there's really not much reason to believe that dayrates or demand are about to fall off soon. Customers such as Petrobras
Of course, it's not all perfect. The labor market is tight, shipyard costs are increasing, and Noble management does expect operating costs to increase. That said, it doesn't seem like costs are going to get out of control or get too far out of balance vis-a-vis revenue growth.
Management also offered a fairly frank discussion of its plans for the use of cash. While acknowledging the need to continue to spend on capital projects, management is looking at further share buybacks and/or enhanced dividend payments as a means of sharing that cash with owners. Interestingly, management is apparently considering a variable dividend that would be tied to certain financial metrics. I applaud them for considering the idea, though it's tough to predict how the market might accept a variable dividend.
I could probably go on for a few hundred more words on the virtues of Noble and drilling in general. I like this company and I like this management team. While drillers' stocks will fluctuate with energy prices and storm worries, I think there's still money to be made from this sector.
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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).