Every day in the stock market is a battleground. Battles within company management, between hedge funds and between analysts can violently swing stocks up and down independent of how the broader market trades.For example, take GulfMark Offshore ( GLF), which provides offshore marine services to oil and natural gas companies. Following its strong earnings report on Wednesday, the company received both an analyst upgrade and downgrade. On Thursday, Capital One Southcoast raised its price target on GulfMark to $63 from $62 a share but downgraded shares of the company from buy to hold. Meanwhile, Jefferies raised its price target to $69 from $59 and increased its earnings-per-share outlook for the year to $5.87 from $4.86. Jefferies called the shares "undervalued," noting "continued strength in the global market and the massive demand growth potential in Brazil." It also cited "prospects for further improvements in day rates" as a catalyst to drive shares higher. So who is right? Looking back over the conference call, it seems as if Capital One raised several nonissues of concern about GulfMark's ability to get ships built and delivered in a timely manner. This problem is not specific to GulfMark; it applies to the company's competitors, too. In fact, the lack of available ships gives GulfMark pricing power, which is the main driver for its current growth. Also, raising day rates by 60%-plus in Southeast Asia is more accretive to GulfMark's bottom line. The Jefferies upgrade on GulfMark makes much more sense. Jefferies highlighted the main takeaway from GulfMark's first-quarter conference call: the potential growth in Brazil via contracts with Petrobras ( PBR - Get Report). This growth has the potential to double earnings in the next few years.
With oil at basically record prices, GulfMark has been a key beneficiary. The company's customers employ its vessels for services supporting construction, position and ongoing maintenance of offshore oil and natural gas drilling rigs and platforms. Lost in the massive amount of Federal Reserve data last Wednesday was the fact that GulfMark reported earnings of $1.40 a share vs. analysts' estimates of $1.10. This 27% earnings beat is remarkable considering the fact that the first quarter of each year is traditionally the weakest for the company. In fact, GulfMark has exceeded analysts' earnings expectations in the past seven quarters by an average margin of 38.5%. The company's gross margin for the trailing 12 months is 64.6%, compared with Seacor's ( CKH - Get Report) 38.8%, Tidewater's ( TDW - Get Report) 51.3%, Trico Marine's 50.2% and the industry's 32.8%. GulfMark's operating margin for the trailing 12 months is 39.9%, compared with Seacor's 16.57%, Tidewater's 32%, Trico Marine's 25.02% and the industry's 15.98%. GulfMark is in all of the right market segments, especially in the deep waters of the North Sea, Southeast Asia and now Brazil. In fact, one could argue that the company basically has a monopoly in the marine service sector in the three highest-margin areas of the world. Day rates in Southeast Asia have ballooned by 60%-plus year over year, and GulfMark is just starting to do business with Petrobras regarding Petrobras' new oil findings. Normally conservative, management was extremely bullish on the company's future.
Global demand for oil is huge, and the demand for oil service ships is just as voracious. Ship builders can't put them together fast enough, and GulfMark already has them in place. The downgrade addresses the weak market but completely ignores the pricing power GulfMark has to raise rates in Southeast Asia and Brazil. The upgrade takes that into account, citing massive growth ahead. For more oil-related ideas, check out oil king T.Boone Pickens' BP Capital portfolio, which includes Exxon Mobil ( XOM - Get Report) and Schlumberger ( SLB - Get Report), at Stockpickr.com.