UPDATE 1-Transocean profit tops estimates as fleet keeps busier

Fri Mar 1, 2013 6:48pm EST

By Braden Reddall

March 1 (Reuters) - Transocean Ltd, the world's largest offshore drilling contractor, reported on Friday a rise in revenue and higher-than-expected profits for the fourth quarter as more of its fleet was working compared with a year ago.

The results come as Transocean battles through a long-awaited court case in New Orleans to determine civil liability for the oil spill from BP Plc's Macondo well, which was drilled by a Transocean rig.

Transocean said on Friday that revenue efficiency, or how much it earned compared with what it could have made, rose to 94.7 percent from 91.8 percent in the same quarter in 2011. The company aims to stay at least about 93 percent.

On the conference call on Monday, analysts will look forward to hearing from the new chief financial officer, Esa Ikaheimonen, whether he plans to pull off asset restructurings like he did at rival Seadrill.

Transocean's fourth-quarter net income was $456 million, or $1.26 per share, compared with a $6.2 billion loss a year before due to writedowns and its estimated Macondo liability. Excluding items, it made 91 cents per share, compared with the average 82 cents expected by analysts on Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Revenue in the quarter grew 9 percent to $2.33 billion.

For 2013, Transocean sees lower operating and maintenance costs at between $5.7 billion and $5.9 billion, versus $6.1 billion in 2012, while capital expenditure is set to double to $3 billion. The company is delivering three new shallow-water rigs this year, and a deepwater rig early next year.

On Thursday, Seadrill posted a 5 percent rise in underlying earnings, below estimates, but it expects rapid growth this year as more new rigs go to work.

London-based Ensco Plc posted stronger-than-expected profits last week, but its prediction of rising drilling costs weighed down its shares.

Rising costs and rig downtime have led to struggles for smaller competitors Noble Corp and Diamond Offshore Drilling Inc.

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