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In its weekly release, Houston-based oilfield services company Baker Hughes Inc. (BHI - Analyst Report) reported a dip in the U.S. rig count (number of rigs searching for oil and gas in the country). This fall can be attributed to a decrease in the tally of gas-directed rigs, partially offset by increase in oil rig count.

The Baker Hughes’ data, issued since 1944, acts as an important yardstick for drilling contractors like Transocean Ltd. (RIG - Analyst Report), Diamond Offshore Drilling Inc. (DO - Analyst Report), Noble Corp. (NE - Analyst Report), etc. in gauging the overall business environment of the oil and gas industry.

Analysis of the Data

Weekly Summary: Rigs engaged in exploration and production in the U.S. totaled 1,752 for the week ended Mar 8, 2013. This was down by 5 from the previous week’s rig count and indicates the fourth decrease in 5 weeks.

Despite this, the current nationwide rig count is double that of the lowest level reached in recent years (876 in the week ended June 12, 2009), though it is way below the prior-year level of 1,973. It rose to a 22-year high in 2008, peaking at 2,031 in the weeks ending Aug 29 and Sep 12.

Rigs engaged in land operations descended by 4 to 1,682, offshore drilling was down by 1 to 51 rigs, while inland waters activity remained 19 units.

Natural Gas Rig Count: Natural gas rig count decreased for the fifth time in 6 weeks to 407 (a drop of 13 rigs from the previous week). As per the most recent report, the number of gas-directed rigs is at their lowest level since May 28, 1999 and is down 50% from its 2012 peak of 811.

The current natural gas rig count remains 75% below its all-time high of 1,606 reached in late summer 2008. In the year-ago period, there were 670 active natural gas rigs.

Oil Rig Count: The oil rig count – which was at a 25-year high of 1,432 in August last year – rose by 8 to 1,341. The current tally is well above the previous year’s rig count of 1,296. It has recovered strongly from a low of 179 in June 2009, rising 7.5 times.

Miscellaneous Rig Count: The miscellaneous rig count (primarily drilling for geothermal energy) at 4 remained unchanged from the previous week.

Rig Count by Type: The number of vertical drilling rigs fell by 4 to 427 while the horizontal/directional rig count (encompassing new drilling technology that has the ability to drill and extract gas from dense rock formations, also known as shale formations) was down by 1 to 1,325. In particular, horizontal rig units – that reached an all-time high of 1,193 in May 2012 – decreased by 11 from the last week’s level to 1,130.

Zacks Rank: As of now, Transocean, Diamond Offshore and Noble are all Zacks Rank #3 (Hold) stocks, implying that these are expected to perform in line with the broader U.S. equity market over the next one to three months.

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