* Transocean says 4-8 rigs expected to go to Petrobras
* Petrobras reports Q4 results on Friday
* Situation in Gulf of Mexico improving with court ruling
* Transocean shares down 3 pct on earnings, outlook
* Seadrill, Ensco shares rise
By Braden Reddall
SAN FRANCISCO, Feb 24 Leading offshore drilling
contractors expect deepwater demand to improve this year as an
impending hiring move by Petrobras (PETR4.SA) is likely to
prompt other oil executives to secure rigs while they can.
Transocean Ltd RIGN.VX(RIG.N), the largest offshore
drilling contractor, expects a marked improvement in rig demand
in the next few months on the belief that Brazil's state oil
company will hire between four and eight of them.
"(Petrobras is) very clever about going about their
strategy of contracting rigs, and I don't think this will be
any different," Terry Bonno, Transocean vice president for rig
marketing, said on a call with analysts.
But she later added: "With the expectation that Petrobras
will take off some of this supply, I think there has been an
improvement in urgency with our other customers."
Petrobras, which reports earnings on Friday, is expected to
unveil a revised five-year investment plan in the coming months
that will probably increase the $224 billion in spending slated
for 2010 to 2014. [ID:nN23297018]
Shares of Transocean, which reported lower-than-expected
fourth-quarter earnings late on Wednesday [ID:nN23175440], fell
3 percent on Thursday on a disappointing outlook from the
company, including expectations for rising costs in 2011.
Rival Seadrill (SDRL.OL)(SDRL.N) enjoyed a better share
performance on Thursday as the company declared a special
dividend in anticipation of a good year ahead. [ID:nLDE71M25X]
Seadrill, which has just one deepwater rig in the moribund
Gulf of Mexico market while Transocean has a dozen there,
posted a 25 percent rise in fourth-quarter operating profit.
Ensco Plc (ESV.N), with three deepwater rigs in the Gulf of
Mexico, reported a 36 percent decline in quarterly profit, but
said deepwater revenue would rise in 2011 to between $575
million and $625 million from $475 million in 2010.
That does not include any contribution from the company's
acquisition of Pride International Inc PDE.N, which will
create the world's second-largest offshore fleet once it is
Ensco shares were up 0.7 percent in afternoon trading.
The situation remains uncertain in the Gulf of Mexico,
where regulators are still working out how to proceed after
last year's drilling disaster, and Transocean said it was in
talks to move a deepwater rig out of the region.
But Noble Corp (NE.N), which will be No. 3 in fleet size
after the Pride deal, offered a reason for U.S. Gulf optimism.
Late on Wednesday, it announced a deal with Royal Dutch Shell
Plc (RDSa.L) to keep the Jim Day rig there at an ultimate
dayrate of $485,000, plus 15 percent bonus potential.
U.S. regulators will need to start issuing permits first,
and a federal judge in New Orleans ruled last week that it must
decide on five pending applications by Ensco. [ID:nN17641341]
"We hope this may help to restart permits being issued in
the Gulf," Ensco Chief Executive Officer Dan Rabun said on a
conference call on Thursday to discuss quarterly
Goldman Sachs analyst Daniel Boyd said he expected between
15 and 20 deepwater rigs to be working in the Gulf of Mexico by
the fourth quarter, compared with seven now and 34 before the
BP (BP.L) well blowout last April. [ID:nL3E7DO25D]
(Reporting by Braden Reddall; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)