Precision Drilling Trust: Offering Income & Growth

| About: Precision Drilling (PDS)
Precision Drilling Trust (NYSE:PDS) is the leading provider of energy services to the Canadian oil and gas industry.

Income-oriented investors might want to take a look at Precision Drilling, because it is an open-ended investment trust that makes monthly cash distributions. The estimated dividend yield for FY 2006 is about 12 percent. The Trust holds a 99.12% interest in Precision Drilling Limited Partnerships (which owns Precision Drilling Corp.).

Company Overview
Precision’s operations are reported in two segments. The Contract Drilling Services segment—which comprises the foundation of the Company’s oilfield services enterprise (about 77 percent of operating profits)—includes contract drilling rigs, camp and catering (LRG Catering), oilfield supply, and manufacturing divisions. The Completion and Production Services segment includes well servicing (for completions, workover, maintenance and abandonment work on any well), wastewater treatment units, rig-assist snubbing (for under-balanced drilling), and rental divisions.

Precision is Canada’s largest drilling contractor with a 30 percent market share and a modern fleet that consists of 234 rigs covering depth ranges from a few hundred meters to almost 6,700 meters.

Precision dominates in the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin [WCSB]. The WCSB has a complex mix of energy reserves—oil sands, heavy oil, conventional oil, coal bed methane, deep gas and shallow gas—as well as challenging geography and ever-changing weather conditions. As the basin matures, Precision is able to offer its customers greater efficiencies and “best-of” technology through the provision of a diversified inventory of oil-service equipment and a highly qualified and experienced technical staff.

Precision has a balanced drilling rig portfolio, with a particular strength in deep drilling. As customers turn to deeper wells to discover new reserves, Precision’s 40 percent market share in rigs with a depth capacity greater than 3,600 meters is noteworthy. Drilling opportunities for natural gas reserves is a market where the Company has an advantage, a market many expect to emerge in Canada.

Financial Overview
For the six months ended June 30, 2006, earnings from continuing operations were $312.5 million on revenue of $759.9 million, as compared to $97.6 million on revenue of $541.3 million in 2005. The 1H:06 benefited from a combination of higher equipment utilization (in part due to dry weather conditions) and continued strong pricing in both the Contract Drilling and the Completion and Production business segments.

Net earnings per unit share were $2.49 in the 1H:06 compared to $1.32 in 2005. A lower effective tax rate (as Precision converted to a Trust in November 2005) and substantively enacted tax rate reductions contributed to an increase of $0.81 per unit in the 1:06 over the same period last year. The effective income tax rate in the 1H:06 was about 8 percent compared to 37 percent last year.

In the 1H:06, the Company had a dividend payout ratio of 68.3 percent, declaring $1.70 in distributions per unit share.

Precision’s liquidity and financial health remains strong, as working capital exceeded long-term debt and other liabilities by $83.7 million at June 30, 2006. Long-term debt stood at $45.0 million, for a long-term debt to long-term debt (plus equity ratio) of 4.0 percent.

Growth Initiatives
Accretive growth is being delivered organically through the addition of new equipment lines across the organization and geographic expansion into other North American markets. Growth is anticipated, too, from value-added acquisitions.

Precision Drilling is moving forward on several growth initiatives:
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1. The geographic expansion of Precision’s Contract Drilling services segment to the United States is proceeding as planned. A drilling rig commenced work in Texas in late June 2006. Plans to construct an additional 10 drilling rigs for the U.S. market is proceeding on schedule. Precision expects to have a fleet of 11 drilling rigs operating in the U.S. by the end of the second quarter of 2008.

2. By the 4Q:07, Precision expects to have a fleet of 252 drilling rigs operating in Canada, up from the 2Q:06 end count of 234.

3. The Completion and Production Services segment has initiated several growth measures for its domestic market. The Service Rig unit secured a long-term customer commitment to construct two slant service rigs for the heavy oil market.

4. By the 1Q:07, the Company’s Production Services segment expects to be operating a fleet of 239 service rigs compared to a current fleet size of 237.

5. In addition, the snubbing unit division has initiated plans to construct four new stand-alone units, of which two will be a rack and pinion design. By the end of the 3Q:07, Precision expects to be operating a snubbing fleet of 30 units.

6. In August 2006, Precision acquired Terra Water Group Ltd., an Alberta based company that operates 40 wastewater treatment units for the traditional drilling rig camp market in western Canada

Valuation Analysis

The oil-service industry has been in a freefall since May, as investors fled the stocks in the belief that declining energy prices meant that the current cycle in drilling activity was peaking. The Philadelphia Oil Service Sector Index [OSX] has slipped 20.2 percent in the last five-months.
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Our forward view remains that energy prices will stabilize, and possibly turn higher, because a supply imbalance (where field depletion rates outstrip new reserve additions) will put a floor on commodity prices and precipitate the continuing need for exploration and drilling activity.

Although oil and gas prices have slipped, they still remain high relative to historical benchmarks. West-Texas Intermediate [WTI] oil prices averaged US $56 per barrel during 2005, an increase of 37 percent over the 2004 average of US $41 per barrel.

North American natural gas prices are also being supported by strong fundamentals (as older, shallow wells are being depleted). North American Henry Hub natural gas prices surged 45 percent in 2005, averaging US $8.96 per mmbtu, an increase of US $2.78 per mmbtu over 2004. Demand for natural gas is increasing with economic activity while the supply from relatively mature basins is continuing to decline.

Industry fundamentals remain strong in Canada. Although the Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors has decreased its 2006 industry well count forecast from 26,070 to 23,827 wells, it has increased its estimate of average drilling rig operating days per well assumption from 6.4 to 7.2 days. This results in a net increase of 3 percent in the forecast industry operating days for 2006 from 166,849 to 171,489 days.

On a valuation basis, Precision Drilling is selling at for a forward 12-month P/E multiple and trailing EV/EBITDA of 8.73 times and 5.90 times, respectively. The Common Stock is selling at a discount to its peers: Schlumberger Ltd. (NYSE:SLB), 16.68x and 14.03x; Baker Hughes Inc. (NYSE:BHI), 13.55x and 10.54 times; and, Nabors Industries Ltd. (NYSE:NBR), 6.42x and 7.19 times, respectively.

Precision offers attractive growth prospects (and income) for value-oriented investors and a “bounce” trading opportunity for speculators (the stock has slipped about 23 percent in price since early May).

For traders, the catalysts for a positive shift in investor sentiment could be a colder-than expected winter in North America and a firming in energy prices.

Investment Risks and Considerations

Financial performance in the oilfield service industry in Canada is subject to seasonal trends. The first quarter is usually the most active and prosperous as winter ground conditions typically allow complete access to well locations [frozen lakes and compacted snow make for good roads]. In the second quarter, spring weather (rain) softens ground conditions and can slow oilfield service activity dramatically. Subject to dry weather, activity resumes and will sequentially gain momentum in the third and fourth quarters.

Volatility in oil and natural gas prices can impact Precision’s customers’ activity levels and spending for its products and services. While current energy prices are important contributors to positive cash flow for its customers, expectations about future prices and price volatility are generally more important for determining future capital spending levels. For example, almost three-quarters of the drilling activity in western Canada is targeting natural gas reservoirs, making this activity the primary driver of demand for Canadian oilfield services. A continued decline in natural gas prices could lead to capital spending cuts by the customers—with a resultant slowdown in demand for Precision’s products and services

Precision operates in a highly competitive environment, which may adversely affect the Company’s ability pricing power (e.g. rig rates).

Editor David J Phillips is long on shares of Precision Drilling Trust but has no financial interest in any other company mentioned in this posting. The 10Q Detective has a full disclosure policy.

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