As the world's third-richest person and most celebrated investor, Warren Buffett attracts a lot of attention. Thousands try to glean what they can from his thinking processes and track his investments.
We can't know for sure whether Buffett is about to buy Trransocean (NYS: RIG) -- he hasn't specifically mentioned anything about it to me -- but we can discover whether it's the sort of stock that might interest him. Answering that question could also reveal whether it's a stock that should interest us.
Consistent earnings power.
Good returns on equity with limited or no debt.
Management in place.
Simple, non-techno-mumbo-jumbo businesses.
Does Transocean meet Buffett's standards?
1. Earnings power
Buffett is famous for betting on a sure thing. For that reason, he likes to see companies with demonstrated earnings stability.
Let's examine Transocean's earnings and free cash flow history:
Tempered energy prices and the economic downturn have dampened Transocean's earnings, though the company has managed to maintain high free cash flow by cutting back on capital expenditures. (2010's earnings were also hurt by a large asset writedown.)
2. Return on equity and debt
Return on equity is a great metric for measuring both management's effectiveness and the strength of a company's competitive advantage or disadvantage -- a classic Buffett consideration. When considering return on equity, it's important to make sure a company doesn't have an enormous debt burden, because that will skew your calculations and make the company look much more efficient than it actually is.
Since competitive strength is a comparison between peers, and various industries have different levels of profitability and require different levels of debt, it helps to use an industry context.
Return on Equity (LTM)
Return on Equity (5-Year Average)
Weatherford International (NYS: WFT)
Devon Energy (NYS: DVN)
Noble (NYS: NE)
Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.
Net income was low in 2010, though historically Transocean has generated rather high returns on equity while employing moderate debt.
CEO Steven Newman has been at the job since 2010. Before that, he served as its chief operating officer and served various other positions for several years.
The drilling industry isn't especially susceptible to wholesale technological disruption, though it can be cyclical and sensitive to energy prices.
The Foolish conclusion
Whether or not Buffett would buy shares of Transocean, we've learned that to some extent it exhibits the characteristics of a Buffett investment: more-or-less consistent earnings power, fairly high returns on equity with limited debt, and a straightforward business, though it's possible Buffett would also like to watch the company to see how its CEO fares in his new role.
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At the time thisarticle was published Ilan Moscovitzdoesn't own shares of any company mentioned.You can follow him on Twitter at@TMFDada. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.
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