NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- When DryShips ( DRYS) reports results after the bell Wednesday, about a month later than expected, investors will be paying close attention to any updates the company might have on plans to spin off an oil-exploration business it's been promising to spin off for nearly four years.

Uncertainty surrounds DryShips stock, which has hovered around $5 since January, for a variety of reasons, including the prolonged wait for the company's fourth-quarter earnings announcement. Then, of course, there's the continued weakness of the dry-bulk shipping market, laid low by a glut of new ships.

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But a few company-specific issues have taxed DryShips of late. On March 16, for instance, the company's MV Oliva, a Panamax-size bulk carrier, ran aground near Nightingale Island in the South Atlantic, rupturing its fuel tanks and triggering concerns locally of an "environmental disaster," according to London's Independent newspaper. According to reports, the oil from the resulting wreck threatened a species of endangered penguins on the island.

Though obviously DryShips has insurance to cover the destroyed ship, there are questions about how much liability it might face when it comes to cleaning up the fuel spill, says Urs Dur, the shipping analyst at Lazard Capital Markets in New York.

DryShips hasn't said much about how the accident happened. According to the Independent, the ship "ran headlong into the island ... at full speed." No one was hurt. The ship broke up and sank. Oil-spill cleanup responders from South Africa, about 1,500 nautical miles from the island, were sent in.

DryShips' drillships business remains the focus for some investors. Since 2007, when the company acquired a Norwegian operator of two drillships -- mobile, exploratory drilling vessels capable of plumbing for petroleum and gas at depths up to 10,000 feet -- DryShips has been telling investors about its desire to spin the business out with an IPO. After many delays and financial obstacles, the company last year landed contracts for several new drillships it had ordered, seemingly clearing the way for the spinoff. Now, investors are looking for details.

Lazard's Dur expects the IPO to come within the next two years.

As for its fourth-quarter numbers, 13 analysts are targeting a profit of 26 cents a share on average for DryShips, up from 19 cents a year ago. The range is fairly wide, with 31 cents on the high end and 19 cents on the low.

Revenue is expected to come to $221 million, according to the consensus Wall Street estimate, up from $193 million a year ago.

DryShips stock was trading Wednesday afternoon at $4.97, up a penny from the previous session. The 52-week high came almost a year ago, in mid-April 2010, when the stock touched $6.82.

-- Written by Scott Eden in New York

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