Noble reported fourth quarter 2009 earnings of $446 million, or $1.72 per diluted share, versus $419 million, or $1.58 per diluted share, for the fourth quarter of 2008. Per-share earnings were up 8.9 percent from the fourth quarter of 2008 and up 5.5 percent from the $1.63 per share reported for the third quarter of 2009. Earnings for the full year 2009 totaled $6.42 per diluted share compared with $5.81 per diluted share in 2008. Results for the fourth quarter include $6.5 million or $0.03 per diluted share benefit related to a settlement of tax-related issues in the Middle East.
"Noble's efforts to manage costs, advance our safety culture and deliver top-tier margins continued through the fourth quarter of 2009," said David W. Williams, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer. "In spite of a turbulent year in both the financial and drilling markets, our team's focused efforts enabled us to end the year with our best ever safety results, a strong balance sheet and record earnings per share. At the same time, we continued to fund the expansion and modernization of our fleet, repurchase shares, provide outstanding service to our customers and drive value for our shareholders."
Contract drilling services revenues for the fourth quarter 2009 were $894 million, up 1.3 percent from the year-earlier quarter. Contract drilling margins for the fourth quarter 2009 were approximately 70 percent, generating $622 million in net cash provided by operating activities during the quarter and $2.1 billion for full year 2009. The Company invested $539 million in capital projects during the quarter, bringing full-year capital spending for 2009 to $1.4 billion. Debt as a percentage of total capitalization decreased to 10 percent at December 31, 2009, from approximately 10.5 percent at the end of the third quarter 2009.
The Company repurchased 1.75 million of its shares during the fourth quarter 2009 at a total cost of $74 million and at an average price per share of $42.06. For the full year 2009, Noble repurchased approximately 5.5 million of its shares at an average price per share of $34.10 for a total cost of $187 million.
At year end 2009, approximately 54 percent of the Company's available rig operating days was committed for 2010 and approximately 26 percent was committed for 2011. The Company's total backlog at December 31, 2009 was approximately $8.1 billion.
Noble's newbuild 10,000-foot dynamically positioned deepwater semisubmersible Noble Danny Adkins, which has recently arrived in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, is expected to commence drilling operations with Shell in the first quarter of 2010.
In Brazil, the newbuild dynamically positioned deepwater semisubmersible Noble Dave Beard is undergoing acceptance trials and is expected to commence operations under its five year contract with Petrobras in February.
In Mexico, Noble executed short term extensions for the Noble Leonard Jones and the Noble Eddie Paul, currently working for Pemex. The Noble Eddie Paul has been extended until June 3, 2010 and the Noble Leonard Jones has been extended until June 22, 2010. The extensions on both units are at a rate of $127,900 per day. Additionally, Noble has commenced a dialogue regarding short-term extensions on the Noble Lewis Dugger and the Noble John Sandifer, also in Mexico.
"We expect to begin to realize the benefits of our fleet expansion program in 2010," continued Williams. "The commencements of operations of three new ultra-deepwater units, coupled with our outstanding backlog, give us positive momentum for the year ahead. At the same time, we will stay focused on fundamentals and work hard to create value for the shareholders."
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