Jan 22 (Reuters) - Noble Corp posted a rise in fourth-quarter profit on Wednesday, in line with Wall Street expectations, as the offshore drilling contractor successfully raised daily rates it charges clients, offsetting a decline in operating days due to repairs and other reasons.
Shares of Noble, ranked fourth among offshore drillers by market capitalization, fell 1.5 percent in after-hours trading. The company's chief executive officer said he expected slack demand for rigs in the first part of this year.
For the fourth quarter, the company posted net income of $174.1 million, or 68 cents per share, up from $127.6 million, or 50 cents per share, in the year-ago quarter.
Excluding an impairment charge for its rigship Seillean, the company posted profit of 82 cents per share. That matched the earnings analysts were expecting, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
The average rate paid for a Noble rig in the fourth quarter rose to $212,000 per day from $194,600 per day in the third quarter.
Yet the number of operating days for Noble's rigs fell slightly during the quarter, due in part to repairs in the fast-growing Middle East region.
Moving into 2014, oil and natural gas producers are likely to use fewer rigs, Chief Executive David Williams said in a statement.
"After the very robust pace of offshore activity over the past four years, our industry may be entering a short and arguably useful pause in the cycle," he said.