Has the Market Lost Its Moorings on the Drillers?


For those of us who follow the equities markets closely, valuations -- which, after all, are simply reflections of the sentiments of those willing to put their investment money where their mouths are -- occasionally appear to represent a strange coalescence of inexplicability and folly.

For instance let's take a gander at the P/E multiple accorded to The New York Times Company , producer of the famous -- or perhaps infamous -- Grey Lady. The readership of the Times' properties, and consequently related advertising revenues, have for years tumbled like so many gold-medal gymnasts. Then let's compare that valuation to what is accorded deepwater drilling contractorDiamond Offshore .

You can buy dozens of Solyndras cheap
Despite its declining fortunes, The New York Times Company boasts a 20-times forward P/E multiple. In the face of its atrophying circumstances, its directors (appropriately) have eschewed any sort of dividend, giving its shares a yield that fluctuates between zip and nada.

By contrast, the Houston-based driller is active globally, often in water depths of 10,000 feet or more. It routinely forks over as much for a single new deepwater drilling unit as our friends in the federal government frittered away backing solar "star" Solyndra.

Diamond's board has regularly declared special $0.75 quarterly cash dividends, giving it a forward yield of an unremarkable 0.70%. But with the special dividend largesse, its trailing yield sits above 2.60%. For all this, the company's forward P/E is slightly above nine times, or less than half that of the floundering Times Company.

When the two companies reported last week, Times executives told us that their company's adjusted per-share earnings had slipped by 20%. That, despite palaver about all manner of steps to reposition (read: reinvent) the company.

But, sticking with per-share metrics, Diamond Offshore recorded $1.27 for the quarter, from $1.21 and topping the Wall Street seers' consensus forecast of $1.15. That beat works out to a commendable 10%.

Contrasting futures for the companies
There's also the important consideration of the likely futures of the two companies. I know, I know, Times' circulation grew by nearly 7% in the quarter, led by "continued strength in our digital subscription initiatives." But digital customers' brand loyalty is far more evanescent than that of readers who actually grip their daily fish wrappers between their fingers.

In noting the expanding strength of offshore drilling demand, Diamond Offshore CEO Lawrence Dickerson touched on an intriguing area of growth on his call last week. That is, numerous countries that have been on the offshore exploration sidelines heretofore are beginning to rethink their stances. For instance, Diamond is mobilizing a rig to Latvia; that's right, Latvia. The gearing up of a host of new energy entrants is bolstering what Lawrence referred to as the "mid-water market."

Think about it: 10 years ago the Gulf of Mexico was thought to be headed for oblivion, only to be revived mightily by technology that opened up the deepwater. Activity in Brazil was minimal, and now Diamond Offshore has a baker's dozen rigs working there, most in the deepwater and ultra-deepwater for Petrobras .

Beyond that, Mexico's showing signs of new life. Angola's suddenly found pre-salt reserves much like Brazil's, and the South China Sea is awakening and could become extremely active if China behaves itself geopolitically. Beyond that, the North Sea has also been revitalized.

Other examples
Do you think that, in focusing on Times and Diamond, I've carefully selected a couple of outliers to effectively propagate my thesis about relative valuations? Think again.

In the newspaper group, you could consider The McClatchy Company , the owner of such well-known metropolitan papers as The Kansas City Star, The Miami Herald, and The Charlotte Observer. Despite that august lineup, however, the company trades at slightly more than $2.00 a share, and has no forward P/E ratio. You see, at least one analyst estimate is necessary as a basis for such a calculation.

On the drillers' side, there's also Transocean the biggest of the lot, which trades at a forward P/E below nine times, probably nearing an end to its Deepwater Horizon litigation. The company's board of directors is also in the sights of activist Carl Icahn, a state of affairs that is unlikely to eventuate badly for shareholders. In any event, despite -- or perhaps because of -- that attention, the same board has proposed the initiation of a $2.24 per-share dividend, enough for a yield topping 4%.

Or there's Ensco , owner of the world's second-largest drilling fleet, which earlier this week reported a surprisingly high 20% year-over-year growth in earnings. That's what happens when dayrates climb by 15%. Despite that, the company's forward P/E sits near a paltry 7.4 times. That, despite a forward indicted dividend yield of 3.60%.

The Foolish takeaway
By now I think you get my drift: The offshore drillers are blowing, going, and undervalued. You can read about it in the newspapers.

Maybe, just maybe, most of the oil-field services providers are undervalued, including the popular National Oilwell Varco. To get the name and detailed analysis of this company that will prosper for years to come, check out the special free report: "The Only Energy Stock You'll Ever Need." Don't miss out on this limited-time offer and your opportunity to discover this under-the-radar company before the market does. Click here to access your report -- it's totally free.

The article Has the Market Lost Its Moorings on the Drillers? originally appeared on Fool.com.

Motley Fool contributor David Smith owns shares of Transocean. The Motley Fool recommends Petroleo Brasileiro S.A. (ADR). The Motley Fool owns shares of Transocean. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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