UPDATE 1-Noble Corp profit hit by downtime for deepwater rigs

Wed Jan 23, 2013 5:39pm EST

Jan 23 (Reuters) - Noble Corp, owner of the world's third-largest offshore drilling fleet, on Wednesday reported a lower-than-expected quarterly profit as it struggled with maintenance for five high-end rigs, even as worldwide demand grew for such units.

Fourth-quarter net profit was $128 million, or 50 cents per share, compared with $127 million, or 50 cents per share, a year earlier, though revenue grew by 29 percent to $966 million. Analysts, on average, had expected a profit of 61 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Chief Executive David Williams said the "inconsistent operating performance" was due mainly to five rigs that just emerged from the shipyard last year, and yet accounted for a third of the downtime days last quarter. Three of them were brand-new rigs, while the other two had been retrofitted.

"Initial operations on these five rigs have not been as seamless as we had hoped, particularly with respect to certain critical components," Williams said in a statement.

Across the fleet, average rig utilization improved, rising to 83 percent from 79 percent a year earlier, though the figure for its deepwater semisubmersibles declined to 85 percent from 88 percent.

The outlook for offshore drilling in general, however, remained promising.

"We continue to see strong customer demand across all the regions in which we operate and are fortunate to have technologically advanced drilling units to offer clients as they plan exploration and production spending beyond 2013," Williams said.

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