UPDATE 1-Seadrill expects soaring profit for years to come

Wed Aug 28, 2013 5:02am EDT

* Share hit record high

* Sees EBITDA up more than 50 pct by 2016

* Has 27 rigs on order

OSLO, Aug 28 (Reuters) - Seadrill, the world's largest offshore rig operator, expects profits to soar in the next few years as energy companies move into increasingly difficult waters and raise exploration spending to satisfy the world's hunger for oil.

The crown jewel in shipping tycoon John Fredriksen's business empire has been investing aggressively in recent years and expects to boost its fleet with 27 new rigs and drillships by the end of the decade.

The company forecasts a more than 50 percent rise in earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) to $4.5 billion between 2013 and 2016.

"The fundamental outlook for the offshore drilling industry remains positive," it said on Wednesday. "The market for harsh-environment drilling rigs remains very tight and increasing demand in northern Norway, Russia and Arctic regions is likely to tighten this further."

Seadrill's total order backlog stands at $19 billion. It also singled out Mexico, Brazil and the U.S. Gulf of Mexico as promising business areas.

In the second quarter, Seadrill's EBITDA rose 5 percent to a record $665 million, beating expectations for $631 million. The company improved its quarterly dividend by 3 cents to 91 cents and promised further increases as profits rise.

Shares in the company rose 4.2 percent to a record 279 Norwegian crowns in early trade, giving it a market capitalisation about $21.5 billion, comfortably ahead of rival Transocean's $16.8 billion. By 0840 GMT, the shares were up 3.6 percent.

Seadrill's planned fleet expansion, by nearly 80 percent on the second quarter of this year, has been aided by low shipyard prices in South Korea, Singapore and China as beleaguered shipping companies battle for business.

"Oil and gas companies continue to demonstrate their preference for newer, more capable rigs," Seadrill said.

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