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Is It Safe? Idle Rigs Could Hurt Transocean

Stocks in this article: RIG ESV NE

"Is It Safe?" is a daily feature by TheStreet.com Ratings that looks at a company's risk and reward potential. Find out if your stocks are safe each morning at 4.

Transocean's (RIG) cheap shares and dominance in offshore oil drilling make it seem like a sure bet. But its investors might have to wait at least a year for any significant gains.

The Switzerland-based company is the world's biggest offshore driller with 136 rigs, including 34 that can run in water deeper than 4,500 feet. With demand for petroleum picking up and the price of crude oil edging higher, that seems like a favorable position.

TheStreet.com Ratings

However, Transocean rigs might sit idle as oil and gas producers cut capital spending this year. Overcapacity could stifle earnings at least though next year and potentially through 2011, according to at least one analyst. That means Transocean will collect less lease fees from customers that use its equipment, making profits elusive.

Judson E. Bailey, a managing director at Jefferies & Co. (JEF), expects the firm's net income to decline through 2011. He says the deepwater drilling industry might be "modestly oversupplied by late 2010 to 2011, thus facilitating a sharper and more prolonged dayrate and earnings downturn." He downgraded the company to "hold" from "buy" in a recent report.

Transocean, which controls 38% of the deepwater drilling market, has a history of wide stock-price swings. After falling below $20 in 2003, the stock climbed to $160 last year. When crude prices collapsed to less than $40 after approaching $150 last July, the company's shares imploded. They've since recovered, rising 61% this year as the Morgan Stanley Oil Service Index climbed 43%.

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