Precision Drilling Puts Rigs to Work and Beats Expectations

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Demand for rigs in North America is still growing, but that growth rate has slowed down significantly since the first half of the year. That means rig companies like Precision Drilling (NYSE: PDS) have to fight tooth and nail for additional work and contracts. Based on the company's most recent results, which were better than expected, it looks like it is making progress. Here's a look at Precision Drilling's third quarter.

By the numbers 

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Thanks to higher drilling activity in the U.S. and Canada, Precision Drilling posted a smaller-than-expected loss for the third quarter. The company ended the quarter with a total active-rig count of 118 compared to 67 this time last year. That still puts Precision's utilization rate at 46%. That isn't great, but it is a heck of a lot better than the prior year's numbers.

The reason that a near-doubling in active rigs didn't translate into a similar increase in revenue is the rate for most of those rigs declined significantly. This time last year, a much more significant portion of its deployed fleet was under longer-term contracts that had more favorable revenue rates. As those rigs have rolled off contract, more producers are taking new rigs on a spot-pricing basis that typically leads to lower prices. This time last year, the average rig revenue in Canada and the U.S. was CA$21,046 and CA$24,343 per day, respectively. Today, those same rigs earn CA$19,980 and CA$19,026 per day, respectively.

One thing that is unique about the Canadian oil and gas industry is that it is highly seasonal, with most activity occurring in the winter months. Management anticipates that as companies mobilize rigs before the winter months, Precision will see an uptick in activity there.

With more rigs in the field, Precision's fixed costs per rig have declined, which has increased its operating margin for the quarter. That led to the company generating $CA56.7 million in cash from operations, which was more than enough to cover capital spending and allowed the company to build up some cash on the balance sheet. Over the past year, management has used available cash to pay down debt.

What management had to say

As part of his press statement, CEO Kevin Neveu discussed why Precision is well-positioned in the current oil-price market:

What a Fool believes

Even though the company is still posting losses, there are some signs that Precision's business is improving. The company's utilization rate is growing, and the company is taking market share in an environment of flat rig counts. Also, those losses are mostly non-cash expenses, and Precision is still generating free cash flow to improve its balance sheet. It may not be out of the woods yet, but at least the company is headed in the right direction.

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Tyler Crowe has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.