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Offshore driller Noble Corp. reported second quarter earnings that rose 66% to $2.16/share after a $0.08/share charge, up from $1.30 a year ago -- besting analyst forecasts of $2.13. Net income was $290 million, up 38% from $180 million last year, while revenue rose 40% to $726 million, from $517 million. "Strategic placement of the company's assets has driven the continued increases in dayrates and, when coupled with superb execution by our employees, has yielded record operating margins, earnings and shareholder returns," said CEO Mark A. Jackson. In a July 12 note, Citigroup analyst Geoff Kieburtz wrote that Noble has achieved the second highest operating margin and highest return on capital among the contract drilling peer group over the past five years, and that he believes "The company's ability to control drilling cost growth has been a key driver of NE 19 07 2007 EarningsChartits outperformance." The Sugarland, Texas-based oil and gas company said it also received a Letter of Award from PEMEX to pursue exploration and development offshore Mexico under a three-year contract at a dayrate of $484,000 beginning in the Q4 2008, while in Brazil, it secured a seven-month contract with Chevron for the Noble Leo Segerius project at a dayrate of $525,000 beginning in Q3 2008. Jefferies & Co. analyst Judson Bailey told Bloomberg the contracts probably suggest growing strength in the deepwater market, as the rate received by Noble "is probably higher than most had anticipated." Noble's shares have gained 31.79% YTD, and added another 1.6% to $101.98 Wednesday in after-hours trading following the report.

Sources: Press release, Bloomberg, Reuters
Commentary: The Long Case for Noble CorporationNoble Corporation: Every Drill Bit is Money in the BankFour Deepwater Oil Riggers With Fantastic Fundamentals
Stocks/ETFs to watch: Noble Corp. (NYSE:NE). Competitors: Diamond Offshore Drilling Inc. (NYSE:DO), GlobalSantaFe Corp. (NYSE:GSF), Transocean Inc. (NYSE:RIG). ETFs: Oil Service HOLDRs ETF (NYSEARCA:OIH), PowerShares Dynamic Oil & Gas (NYSEARCA:PXJ), iShares Dow Jones U.S. Oil Equipment & Services (NYSEARCA:IEZ)
Related: CNBC earnings tables for NE

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Source: Noble Tops Forecasts as Profits Jump 66%