Noble leads offshore drillers lower amid rig slowdown

By David Wethe
Bloomberg News

Noble Corp. led a decline among offshore deep-water drilling contractors after saying the industry may be experiencing a “pause in the cycle” after years of growth fueled by oil and natural gas discoveries.

Noble was down 9.3 percent at $32.87 as of 1:02 p.m. Thursday in New York after earlier sliding as much as 9.7 percent, the most intraday since September 2011. Transocean Ltd. fell 3.7 percent, while Ensco Plc and Diamond Offshore Drilling Inc. lost 4.3 percent and 4.9 percent, respectively.

Rig contractors responded to rising demand in the past few years with the biggest batch of orders for rigs since the advent of deep-water drilling in the 1970s. Noble, the second-worst performer in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Energy Index during the past six months, said today in a statement that it’s seeing fewer contract opportunities than a year ago.

“There really is an execution phase that is going on right now where the customers are trying to swallow the proverbial pig,” Roger Hunt, Noble’s senior vice president of contracts and marketing, told analysts and investors today on a conference call. “Our customers really have had an extraordinary increase in activity over the past three years.”

The pace of customer spending growth is expected to be lower this year compared with last year, according to Hunt. There are a total of 38 ultra-deep-water rigs around the world looking for work, up from 22 a year earlier, Hunt said.

Separately, Hercules Offshore Inc. slumped the most in more than three years after saying yesterday in a fleet status report that it suspended plans to reactivate a shallow-water rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Hercules dropped 14 percent to $4.92 after earlier plunging as much as 17 percent.

Hercules investors are nervous about the demand outlook for shallow-water rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, where the Houston-based drilling contractor carries out most of its work, Byron Pope, an analyst at Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co., said today in a phone interview.

Noble has fallen 18 percent in the past six months. Houston-based Diamond Offshore has dropped 28 percent in the same period.

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