NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- DryShips' (DRYS) - Get Report desire to build its offshore energy-exploration business into a stand-alone company may face some new challenges.

The company has pinned many of its ambitions for growth on these energy-exploration vessels, known as "drillships." The company has long had plans to sell off a piece of that business in an initial public offering, but has had to delay the IPO because it requires $1 billion in financing to pay for two drillships currently on order at Korean shipyards.

DryShips will have trouble obtaining that financing unless it inks charter contracts to hire the rigs out; investors have been awaiting just such an announcement for months.

DryShips' Leiv Eiriksson, a deepwater oil-drilling vessel

Despite the delays, the whole

drillships adventure had been a source of growing bullishness among investors

.

But in a note to clients Friday morning, Dahlman Rose analyst Omar Nokta sounded some of the first cautious notes about the company's rig strategy. Day rates for these kinds of ships look to be weakening, Nokta warned.

Whereas some analysts had expected DryShips to fetch up to $550,000 a day for the services of these complex and highly specialized machines, which drill in super-deep waters beyond the reach of any other type of rig, Nokta wrote that evidence is gathering that actual rates will be lucky to reach $400,000 a day.

Lazard's Urs Dur also recently noted "softening" in the ultra-deepwater rig market, but he noted that DryShips' executives have argued that declining rates of late may have arisen from a specific deal and aren't "representative of the market going forward."

If that figure comes to pass, it would represent a sharp disappointment for DryShips, which has been marketing itself more and more as an oil exploration company, rather than a bland carrier of dry-bulk cargoes.

Also Friday, the company's fourth-quarter earnings were the source of a minor disagreement on the sell side after the company

released results

after the close of the previous session.

Some analysts, including

Credit Suisse's

(CS) - Get Report

Greg Lewis and Lazard Capital Markets' Urs Dur, called the company's quarter in line with expectations at 23 cents a share.

But other professional DryShips watchers, including Dahlman's Nokta and Oppenheimer & Co.'s Scott Burk, said the company fell short of expectations with a bottom line of 19 cents a share.

The issue hinged on what "special items" to exclude -- in its report DryShips listed a cargo-load of these items, totaling $64.4 million -- and which to mark down as a normal business expense.

The root of the discrepancy between the 23- and the 19-cent figures were the compensation packages, comprised of DryShips stock, that the company paid to employees -- at a total cost of $9.6 million, or 4 cents a share. Many analysts bake this item into their forecasts as a standard operating expense. Others don't. The issue arises every fourth quarter.

Nokta, for one, was expecting DryShips to post 23 cents a share (a number that includes the stock payouts).

The company missed his profit target, and others', largely because one of DryShips' two operating deepwater drilling rigs, the Leiv Eiriksson, took longer than expected to move from Brazil to the Black Sea after one exploration contract ended and another began. Thus, the rig lost out on some revenue.

Friday afternoon, shares of DryShips were trading at $5.51, down 21, cents, or 3.8%, on volume of 7 million shares. Daily turnover for the last three months has averaged 15.3 million shares. The stock was pacing the decliners among dry-bulk names Friday. Elsewhere, shares of

Navios Maritime Holdings

(NM) - Get Report

were down 2% to $5.91, while

Excel Maritime

(EXM)

was slipping 1% to $5.90.

Excel also

reported its fourth-quarter results

Thursday, inducing similar disagreement about just what the company's bottom line ought to be.

-- Written by Scott Eden in New York

RELATED STORIES:

>>DryShips Meets Views; No Word on Drillships

>>DryShips' Drill Rigs: Best in a Class of One?

>>Excel Maritime's 4Q Raises Questions

>>Diana Shipping: 'We Fear a Glut'

>>Navios Shares Sink After Earnings Miss

Follow TheStreet.com on

Twitter

and become a fan on

Facebook.

Scott Eden has covered business -- both large and small -- for more than a decade. Prior to joining TheStreet.com, he worked as a features reporter for Dealmaker and Trader Monthly magazines. Before that, he wrote for the Chicago Reader, that city's weekly paper. Early in his career, he was a staff reporter at the Dow Jones News Service. His reporting has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Men's Journal, the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, and the Believer magazine, among other publications. He's also the author of Touchdown Jesus (Simon & Schuster, 2005), a nonfiction book about Notre Dame football fans and the business and politics of big-time college sports. He has degrees from Notre Dame and Washington University in St. Louis.