Noble Corporation reported first quarter 2009 earnings of $414 million, or $1.58 per diluted share, versus $384 million, or $1.42 per diluted share, for the first quarter of last year. Per share earnings were in line with the fourth quarter 2008 earnings of $1.58 per diluted share. The results for the first quarter 2009 include net after-tax charges of $0.04 per share primarily related to an impairment charge taken for the Noble Fri Rodli, as a result of a decision to evaluate disposition alternatives for this submersible drilling unit.
Contract drilling services revenues for the 2009 first quarter were $872 million, up 9.3 percent from the year-earlier quarter. Contract drilling margins for the first quarter 2009 were approximately 72 percent, generating $548 million in net cash provided by operating activities. Noble invested $251 million in capital projects during the quarter. Debt as a percentage of total capitalization declined to 11.7 percent at March 31, 2009, from approximately 14.9 percent at the end of the fourth quarter of 2008.
"Despite a turbulent global economy and pressure on demand for drilling services, the strength of our $10.6 billion backlog and focus on execution enabled us to deliver another great quarter," said David W. Williams, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer. "We remain committed to maintaining our financial flexibility through the disciplined execution of our capital program, continued improvement in our cost structure and the active pursuit of opportunities to create shareholder value."
During the first quarter, Noble repurchased approximately 1.7 million shares at an average cost per share of $25.28. At the end of the first quarter 2009, the Company had approximately 16.6 million shares remaining on its existing repurchase authorization.
Noble's newbuild deepwater semisubmersible Noble Dave Beard arrived in Brazil to undergo final outfitting and commissioning before commencement of a five year contract, which is expected to occur in the fourth quarter of 2009. In the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, the Company reached an agreement with Noble Energy to substitute the Noble Clyde Boudreaux for the Noble Paul Romano in fulfillment of a two year commitment at a dayrate of $605,000. This strategic substitution will accelerate earnings for the Company and allow our customer earlier commencement of its planned drilling program. The Noble Clyde Boudreaux will commence operations for Noble Energy following the conclusion of its current commitment in the fourth quarter of 2009. The Noble Paul Romano will be available in the first quarter of 2010.
The Company's newbuild jackup Noble Hans Deul commenced operations during the first quarter 2009 under its contract with Shell. Additionally, the Company's Noble Roy Butler and Noble Carl Norberg completed their moves from West Africa to Mexico, and commenced separate contracts with PEMEX in March.
During the quarter, the Company also completed its previously disclosed change in place of incorporation from the Cayman Islands to Switzerland.
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