Noble Corporation has reported fourth quarter 2008 earnings of $418.6 million, or $1.59 per diluted share, versus $347.4 million, or $1.29 per diluted share, for the fourth quarter of 2007. Per-share earnings were up 23.3 percent from the fourth quarter of 2007 and up 11.2 percent from the $1.43 per share reported for the third quarter of 2008. Earnings for the full year 2008 totaled $5.85 per diluted share compared with $4.48 per diluted share in 2007.
"Our fourth quarter results capped off a record year for the Company," said Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer David W. Williams. "We held the line on costs, coming in well under our full-year guidance and delivered top-tier margins. We achieved solid improvements in safety, with Recordable Incidents down by 30 percent over 2007. Our revenue outlook remains strong, with over $11.5 billion of backlog at year-end. We are on track with our capital spending program to deliver our remaining newbuilds and we successfully executed on our opportunistic share repurchase plan."
Contract drilling services revenues for the 2008 fourth quarter were $882.5 million, up 16.0 percent from the year-earlier quarter. Contract drilling margins for the fourth quarter 2008 were approximately 70 percent, generating $560 million in net cash provided by operating activities during the quarter and $1.9 billion for full year 2008. The Company invested $351.2 million in capital projects during the quarter, bringing the year-to-date total to $1.2 billion. Debt as a percentage of total capitalization increased to 14.9 percent at December 31, 2008, from approximately 12.8 percent at the end of the third quarter due to the issuance of $250 million in unsecured notes in November 2008.
At year end 2008, approximately 79 percent of the Company's total rig operating days were committed for 2009 and approximately 40 percent were committed for 2010. The Company made a number of strategic moves within its fleet during the quarter, including the mobilization of the Noble Roy Butler and Noble Carl Norberg from West Africa to Mexico under separate contracts with PEMEX. In the Middle East, the Noble George McLeod secured a three-year bareboat contract with ONGC at a dayrate of $133,000. That unit has now been relocated to India from the Arabian Gulf. Also in the Middle East, we entered into short-term contracts for the Noble Cees van Diemen at a dayrate of $170,000 and the Noble Gene House at a dayrate of approximately $162,000. Finally, in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, we secured a four month extension on the Noble Clyde Boudreaux at a dayrate of $605,000.
The Company also took delivery during the fourth quarter 2008 of the Noble Hans Deul, an F&G JU 2000E design jackup rated for water depths of 400 feet and drilling depths of 30,000 feet. That unit is now fully crewed and undergoing inspection and customer acceptance before commencing initial drilling activities in the North Sea. This new high-specification jackup drilling unit is the second of three such rigs being built for the Company, with the final unit, the Noble Scott Marks, expected to be delivered in the third quarter 2009.
"While we believe the long-term fundamentals of our industry are sound, the condition of the global economic environment is clearly a cause of concern and a reason for caution," said Williams. "That said, the strength of our balance sheet, the extent of our contract coverage and the quality of our customer base should position us well to both weather the current economic storm and capitalize on opportunities for growth in a disciplined manner."
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