This forecast does not bode well for an industry suffering from weak oil prices. Investors in rivals such as Nabors Industries (NBR - Get Report) (down 10% this year), Precision Drilling (PDS - Get Report) (down 14%) and Patterson-UTI Energy (PTEN - Get Report) (down 8.8%) are now on close watch. All three companies saw their stock prices sink following Helmerich's announcement.
On Wednesday, Tulsa, Okla.-based Helmerich said its dayrates for its high-tech rigs have plummeted 10% since the last quarter. And due to the continued decline of crude oil prices, the company expects more softness to continue.
In a presentation filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Helmerich said, "Drilling activity and spot dayrate pricing are now expected to significantly decline in the U.S." The company said that the available number of FlexRigs has climbed to 26, up from 15 since Dec. 11. And from its total of 287 FlexRigs, it projects possibly 40 to 50 more will become idle in the next 30 days.
Dayrates, a closely-watched metric in the drilling industry, are the lifeblood of oil producers. The amount of money a drilling contractor such as Helmerich gets paid is based on the number of days its rig stays in operation. And to the extent its entire fleet of rigs remains operable each day, Helmerich makes more money. On the flip side, it loses money when its rigs are idle.
In this case, Helmerich is saying that its rigs may be idle for an extended period of time.
Part of the reason is the glut of oil that's already in the market. There isn't enough demand to warrant more drilling. Making matters worse, to keep with its stance of "letting the market fix itself," the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries won't cut back on output, forcing industry analysts to predict a bottom in oil prices won't be reached until around $40 per barrel.
Analysts at SunTrust didn't waste any time, slashing Helmerich's 2015 earnings-per-share estimates by 53%. Though Helmerich said its idle FlexRigs are now at 26, SunTrust expects that number to rise to the mid-30s sequentially. This means things are going to get worse before they get better.
SunTrust now expects the company to earn just $2.60 per share, below consensus estimates of $5.56. At the same time, SunTrust lowered its 12-month price target for the stock to $56 from $70.
Nabors, Precision Drilling and Patterson-UTI are in same situation. None have issued dayrate updates. But why wait until they do?
On Wednesday James Wicklund, analyst at Credit Suisse, said the best thing to do is to avoid oilfield stocks altogether. Wicklund says industry rig counts will decline every week for the next three months. And regarding the upcoming earnings reporting period, he said, "We expect the conference calls will be ugly, as will the business. Sentiment then, by definition, will get worse."