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

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) , Ensco plc (ESV - 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 1,776 for the week ended Mar 15, 2013. This was up by 24 from the previous week’s rig count and indicates the first increase in 4 weeks.

The current nationwide rig count is more than 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 1,984. 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 ascended by 19 to 1,701, offshore drilling was up by 2 to 53 rigs, while inland waters activity increased by 3 to 22 units.

Natural Gas Rig Count: The natural gas rig count – which recently slumped to its lowest point since May 1999 – increased for the first time in 3 weeks to 431 (a gain of 24 rigs from the previous week). Despite the weekly improvement, the number of gas-directed rigs is down by 47% from its 2012 peak of 811. In fact, the current natural gas rig count remains 73% below its all-time high of 1,606 reached in late summer 2008. In the year-ago period, there were 663 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 – remained static at 1,341. The current tally is well above the previous year’s rig count of 1,317. 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 rose by 9 to 436 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 up by 15 to 1,340. In particular, horizontal rig units – that reached an all-time high of 1,193 in May 2012 – increased by 1 from the last week’s level to 1,131.

Zacks Rank: As of now, Transocean, Diamond Offshore and Ensco 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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