Maersk Drilling CEO Ready to Buy Used Rigs In Pricing Rejig

  • CEO says division enjoys financial buffer from parent Maersk
  • Maersk Drilling hasn't bought second-hand rigs since 1990s

Maersk Drilling is looking into buying used oil rigs to take advantage of low prices and the financial clout of its parent, A.P. Moeller-Maersk A/S.

Claus Hemmingsen, the division’s chief executive officer, says the market collapse has created new opportunities and means Maersk Drilling may shift away from a pattern over the past two decades of only expanding through new rigs.

“We’re looking at what’s happening with asset prices and a lot will come up for sale in 2016 and 2017,” the CEO said in an interview at the company’s headquarters outside of Copenhagen. “At the moment, it’s hard to read the market, and know for sure if it’s time to buy, but there will be units with good quality we would be interested in.”

“Over the last 15 years we have built our own rigs and that has been a good strategy because we could get the technology we wanted,” Hemmingsen said. “But there are others out there who own quality units that could come up for sale.”

The plunge of crude prices since the middle of 2014 has battered offshore drillers, which have been caught in a double whammy of collapsing demand from oil companies and a glut of new vessels that have inflated supply. Charter rates for the most advanced rigs have dropped by more than two-thirds and the downturn will probably last until 2018, making it “by far the worst down cycle in the history of offshore drilling,” according to a March 16 note from Pareto Securities AS.

Several drillers including Seadrill Ltd. are struggling with heavy debt loads and have either completed or are working on a financial restructuring. That’s not an issue for Maersk Drilling.

The Maersk group, a shipping an oil conglomerate that is also Denmark’s biggest company, last year generated $8 billion in cash flow. Group CEO Nils Smedegaard Andersen has said he’s looking for takeover opportunities, though he has so far identified Maersk’s oil exploration and terminal units as the main potential buyers.

“The funding situation for the Maersk group is in place, so if we went into talks with a seller we would be able to do so with secure financing,” Hemmingsen said. “That also makes us a more solid partner for clients because they know we have the Maersk group behind us. We won’t disappear overnight or run away from our responsibility and there are currently some companies in the industry about whom you can’t say that.”

Mark Mey, chief financial officer at Transocean Ltd. (the world’s biggest offshore driller by market value), said this month there are currently “fantastic prices” for distressed assets. He’d be surprised if there aren’t transactions in the next 12 months, though he declined to comment on what role his company would play, in an interview with Bloomberg.

Maersk Drilling would only be interested in buying rigs within its two main segments: ultra harsh environment jack-up rigs or ultra deepwater floaters, Hemmingsen said.

The latter category is currently hit the hardest as “oil needs to be a fair bit above $50 a barrel for that market to get traction,” he said. Meanwhile, the market for ultra-harsh environments in the North Sea “needs an oil price around the current level or perhaps slightly higher.”

Brent crude traded slightly above $40 a barrel on Friday.

The CEO says he has no regrets about the company’s strategy to position itself in what he describes as “the heavy end of the industry,” where break-even prices are higher.

“It can be a challenging place, but it can also be a lucrative place.”

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