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Transocean LTD (RIG), Noble Corporation (NE): Fir Tree Takes 8.3 % Stake in Offshore Driller

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Editor’s note: Related tickers: Noble Corp (NYSE:NE), Transocean (NYSE:RIG)

According to a 13G filed with the SEC, Jeffrey Tannenbaum’s Fir Tree owned 21 million shares of Noble Corporation (NYSE:NE), a $9.1 billion market cap contract offshore driller operating globally. This looks to have been a very big move for Fir Tree: the hedge fund had not owned any shares of Noble Corporation (NYSE:NE) as of the end of December, per its 13F filing, and the size of this new position seems to make it larger than any which Fir Tree owned at that time. See the full list of stocks Fir Tree reported owning at the end of December

Noble Corporation (NYSE:NE)

Contract drilling revenue, which is by far the largest source of revenue for Noble Corporation (NYSE:NE), grew by 31% last year compared to 2011. Costs increased as well, but with some expenses (notably depreciation and SGA) growing at considerably lower rates than revenue the company reported earnings per share of $2.05 for the year (up from $1.46 a year ago, reflecting an impressive growth rate on the bottom line). Cash flow from operations came close to doubling, though Noble did have to raise cash in order to help cover its capital expenditures (of course, the high level of capex- $1.7 billion compared to the market capitalization of $9.1 billion- would be expected to drive more growth going forward).

Noble currently trades at 18 times trailing earnings, so the company will have to continue to deliver earnings growth in order to make it a good value at these levels. Analysts are bullish with consensus for 2014 implying a forward P/E of only 8. With offshore drilling activity depending on high oil prices (since offshore wells are expensive to drill, the price of the produced oil over the life of the well must be high in order for the internal rate of return to make sense for an oil company), the stock carries a beta of 1.7.

Billionaire David Tepper’s Appaloosa Management initiated a position of 1.3 million shares in the company during the fourth quarter of 2012 (check out Tepper’s stock picks). Adage Capital Management, managed by Phil Gross and Robert Atchinson (who had previously worked at Harvard Management), reported ownership of 4.9 million shares in Noble as of the end of December (find Adage’s favorite stocks). David Gallo’s Valinor Management also liked the stock, increasing its stake by 70% to a total of 3.9 million shares. Research more stocks that Valinor was buying.

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