Noble Corporation reported first quarter 2008 earnings of $384 million, or $1.43 per diluted share, versus $250 million, or $0.93 per diluted share (split adjusted), for the first quarter of 2007. Per-share earnings were up 54 percent from the first quarter of 2007 and up 11 percent from the $1.29 per diluted share reported for the fourth quarter of 2007.
Contract drilling services revenues for the 2008 first quarter were $798 million, up 5 percent from the fourth quarter 2007. Contract drilling margin for the first quarter 2008 was approximately 70 percent, generating $493 million in net cash provided by operating activities. The Company invested $234 million in capital projects during the first quarter 2008. The results for the 2008 first quarter include after-tax charges of $0.03 per diluted share related to the ongoing independent investigation of the Company's Nigerian operations.
"With a fifth consecutive record quarter, Noble continues to deliver excellent results, powered by our industry-leading margins, increased dayrates on several units and attention to cost control," said Noble Corporation Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer David W. Williams. "This quarter was again characterized by strong execution by our crews, a clear focus on the timely completion of our newbuild and upgrade programs, and extension of our contract backlog."
Debt as a percentage of total capitalization declined to 13.6 percent at March 31, 2008, from approximately 15.4 percent at December 31, 2007. During the first quarter of 2008, the Company repurchased 593,000 shares at an average price per share of $44.81, for a total cost of approximately $27 million. As previously reported on April 17, 2008, the Company's Board of Directors has declared a special cash dividend of $0.75 per ordinary share that will be paid on May 16, 2008 to shareholders of record on April 30, 2008. The dividend payout will total approximately $202 million based on the number of ordinary shares of the Company currently outstanding.
Noble Adds Almost $5.0 Billion in Potential Revenue Backlog During First Quarter 2008
As of March 31, 2008, approximately 83 percent of the Company's total rig operating days were committed for 2008 and approximately 50 percent were committed for 2009. Additionally, the Company secured commitments on eight deepwater rigs for multi-year terms beginning as late as 2010. In late March, Noble announced a Memorandum of Understanding for contracts on five rigs currently in Brazil. These commitments are reflected in the Company's recently released Fleet Status report, along with the preliminary timing and order on when the three drillships in Brazil will experience shipyard time for their respective upgrades. In West Africa, the deepwater semisubmersible Noble Homer Ferrington received a Letter of Intent (LOI) from a major operator for three years at a dayrate of $495,000 commencing in 2009.
In the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, the deepwater semisubmersible Noble Jim Thompson received a contract during the quarter for two years with Shell at a dayrate of $505,000, commencing in 2009. The Company also received a contract for the Noble Lorris Bouzigard for a two year term with LLOG at a dayrate of $270,000, scheduled to begin in May 2008. Also in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, the mooring system upgrade is nearing completion on the Noble Amos Runner, which is expected to return to full service in May 2008, under contract to Anadarko at a dayrate of $435,000 until March 2011.
The Company's international jackup units also experienced notable contract activity in many markets during the quarter. In the North Sea, the 360' jackup Noble Al White received a LOI from Total for one year at a dayrate of $208,000, commencing in 2008, and Cirrus Energy declared its option on the Noble Lynda Bossler at a dayrate of $220,000 through February 2009. In the Middle East, the Noble Roger Lewis commenced the contract for Shell in Qatar in February. As a result, a dayrate increase from $103,000 to $160,000 on the Noble Gene House, which also works for Shell, went into effect at the time the Noble Roger Lewis' contract commenced. Also in the Middle East, the 150' jackup Dhabi II received a LOI for an extension from ADOC for a three year commitment at a dayrate of $92,000 commencing in July 2008.
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