UPDATE 1-Noble Corp profit tops estimates with rig rate rise

Wed Oct 16, 2013 6:17pm EDT

Oct 16 (Reuters) - Noble Corp, an offshore drilling contractor now breaking itself up in an effort to boost its value, reported a larger-than-expected rise in quarterly profit on Wednesday as its rigs were busier and the rates paid for them improved.

Shares of Noble, ranked fourth among offshore drillers by market capitalization, rose 2.4 percent in after-hours trading.

The average rate paid for a Noble rig in the third quarter rose 15 percent from last year, while the average utilization across its fleet improved to 85 percent from 78 percent.

Chief Executive David Williams singled out reduced time in shipyards, steady costs and the startup of two new drill ships as "primary catalysts" for the strong third quarter.

"Our operational execution has improved throughout 2013 and has benefited from the implementation of processes and systems which have contributed to our improved fleet uptime," he said.

Net profit rose to $282 million, or $1.10 per share, from $115 million, or 45 cents per share, a year earlier. Revenue grew 22 percent to $1.08 billion. Excluding certain items, Noble made 85 cents per share, whereas analysts, on average, had expected 70 cents, Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S said.

The 25 cents per share in one-time items included proceeds from the sale of a rig, an acquisition-related settlement and an impairment on two old rigs.

In order to secure a better valuation for its best assets, Noble said last month it would hive off 44 lower-specification rigs into a new company. The remainder will consist of 26 more-capable units and nine more now being built.

Larger rival Transocean Ltd underlined the global demand for high-spec rigs by announcing late on Tuesday the construction of a new $725 million ultra-deepwater rig along with a five-year contract for it with Chevron Corp.

The next year will bring upheaval for Noble. Last week, Noble shareholders approved a plan to move the company's place of incorporation to London from Switzerland.

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