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Edited Transcript of NE earnings conference call or presentation 2-May-19 1:00pm GMT

Q1 2019 Noble Corporation PLC Earnings Call

United Kingdom May 6, 2019 (Thomson StreetEvents) -- Edited Transcript of Noble Corporation PLC earnings conference call or presentation Thursday, May 2, 2019 at 1:00:00pm GMT

TEXT version of Transcript

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Corporate Participants

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* Adam C. Peakes

Noble Corporation plc - Senior VP & CFO

* Jeffrey L. Chastain

Noble Corporation plc - VP of IR & Corporate Communications

* Julie Johnson Robertson

Noble Corporation plc - Chairman of the Board, President & CEO

* Robert W. Eifler

Noble Corporation plc - SVP of Marketing & Contracts

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Conference Call Participants

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* Connor Joseph Lynagh

Morgan Stanley, Research Division - Equity Analyst

* Ian MacPherson

Simmons & Company International, Research Division - MD & Senior Research Analyst of Oil Service

* Judson Edwin Bailey

Wells Fargo Securities, LLC, Research Division - MD and Senior Equity Research Analyst

* Kurt Kevin Hallead

RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Research Division - Co-Head of Global Energy Research and Analyst

* Madhav Sanwal

UBS Investment Bank, Research Division - Director and Equity Research Analyst

* Sean Christopher Meakim

JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - Senior Equity Research Analyst

* Taylor Zurcher

Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. Securities, Inc., Research Division - Director of Oil Service Research

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Presentation

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Operator [1]

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Good morning. My name is Krista, and I will be your conference operator today. At this time, I would like to welcome everyone to the Noble Corporation plc First Quarter 2019 Results Conference Call. (Operator Instructions) Mr. Jeff Chastain, Vice President of Investor Relations, you may begin your conference, sir.

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Jeffrey L. Chastain, Noble Corporation plc - VP of IR & Corporate Communications [2]

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Thank you, Krista, and welcome, everyone, to Noble Corporation's First Quarter 2019 Earnings Call. Thank you for your interest in the company. In case you missed it, a copy of Noble's earnings report issued last evening along with the supporting statements and schedules can be found on the Noble Corporation website, that's noblecorp.com. Julie Robertson will begin the discussion this morning, but before I turn the call over to her, I'd like to remind everyone that we may make statements about our operations, opportunities, plans, operational or financial performance, the drilling business or other matters that are not historical facts and are forward-looking statements that are subject to certain risks and uncertainties. Our filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which are posted on our website, discuss the risks and uncertainties in our business and industry and the various factors that could keep outcomes of any forward-looking statements from being realized. This would include the price of oil and gas, customer demand, operational and other risks. Our actual results could differ materially from these forward-looking statements and Noble does not assume any obligation to update these statements. Also note, we are referencing non-GAAP financial measures in the call today. You will find a required supplemental disclosure for these measures, including the most directly comparable GAAP measure and an associated reconciliation on our website. And finally, as we have done for several quarters now, we will be posting our website -- to our website, a summary of our financial guidance covering -- covered on today's call. And with that, I will now turn the call over to Julie Robertson, Chairman, President and Chief Executive of Noble.

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Julie Johnson Robertson, Noble Corporation plc - Chairman of the Board, President & CEO [3]

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Thank you, Jeff, and good morning, ladies and gentlemen. We appreciate you taking the time to join us today for our first quarter 2019 (inaudible) Noble. It has been a promising start to the year, and we have a number of details and encouraging developments to review relating to Noble and the offshore drilling industry. In addition to Jeff, joining me today are Adam Peakes, our Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer; and Robert Eifler, our Senior Vice President of Marketing & Contracts. Adam will lead you through a discussion of first quarter financial results and update financial guidance for the year, and Robert will provide review of the Noble fleet and an assessment of global offshore regions and opportunities. I will then offer some closing comments before we begin taking your questions.

I'm encouraged by our strong start to 2019 and the growing evidence of steady fundamental improvement in the offshore drilling industry. With regard to the first quarter, I can speak to progress on several fronts. In February, we added a second newbuild jackup to the fleet with the purchase of the Noble Joe Knight. The rig is currently completing client-requested upgrades and commissioning and preparation for an expected third quarter commencement of a 3-year contract offshore Saudi Arabia. The Joe Knight is a sister rig to the Noble Johnny Whitstine, which was purchased last September and commenced a 3-year contract offshore Saudi Arabia in mid-April.

First quarter total fleet utilization improved to 76%. Although only modestly better than the previous quarter, it is significantly improved from total fleet utilization of 47% in the first quarter last year. Utilization of our 13-rig jackup fleet, of which 11 units were active in the first quarter remained at an industry-leading 93%, about flat with the previous quarter due to some out-of-service days in the Noble Tom Prosser while transitioning between contracts. However, utilization was meaningfully improved from the 56% we reported this time last year.

We also experienced further activity improvement among our 12 floating rigs. Utilization for this subset of the fleet reached 60% for the first time since mid-2016 and compared favorably to utilization in the fourth and first quarters of 2018 of 56% and 37%, respectively.

Marketing utilization of our floating fleet, which excludes our 3 cold stacked units was 80% in the first quarter compared to 75% and 57% during the same period in 2018. From this measure, you can see the meaningful activity improvement achieved to date. A year ago, we concluded the prospects for the industry improvement were increasingly supportive by certain leading indicators of offshore activity. Therefore, we moved decisively to reactivate our warm stacked premium capacity in order to advantageously position for pending recovery. This well-timed and cost-effective rig reactivation program has paved the way to better fleet utilization and financial achievement. The combination of increased premium rig capacity located in or near regions with emerging customer demand has allowed us to achieve important commercial successes while well positioning our fleet for future opportunities.

5 of our previously warm stacked rigs have been reactivated over the last 16 months including 4 floating units and one jackup. The last of the reactivation projects involving the drillship to Noble Sam Croft was completed during the first quarter of 2019 when the rig commenced an initial program in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico to be followed later this year by contract commitment for work offshore Suriname. All 5 of these reactivations are contracted and are currently executing our customers' drilling programs.

Equally important, these rigs and others in our fleet are beginning to assemble work programs that in some cases extend well into 2020. For example, after the initial contract award for the Noble Tom Madden covering 2 firm plus 3 option wells offshore Guyana, this January the rig secured an additional one year of work with our customer that should keep it committed into mid-2020.

Also, the semisubmersible Noble Clyde Boudreaux is now expected to work until the first half of 2020 following the March 2019 extension of the rig's work program offshore Myanmar.

In April, the contract of the Noble Sam Hartley was extended by 9 months, continuing the rig's work program into April 2020 in the U.K. sector of the North Sea. With regard to our contract achievements, the Noble Don Taylor as disclosed in our April fleet status report were seeking contract extension for work in the U.S. Gulf followed by one-year drilling assignment offshore Guyana.

The rig is now expected to be committed into the second half of 2020. Once in Guyana, the Taylor will join the drillships of Noble Bob Douglas and Noble Tom Madden enhancing our role as a leader of contract drilling services and what continues to be one of the industry's most opportunity-rich offshore basins.

As a final comment on our fleet, the drillship Noble Globetrotter II completed the installation of our managed pressure drilling system during the first quarter further expanding the rig's capabilities and client appeal. The new system, which reflects the extensive involvement from Noble's subsea control engineering talent has a modular design and a smaller footprint than other MPD systems in use today that can easily be deployed for installation on other floating units and our fleet. In April, the Globetrotter II commenced joint program offshore Bulgaria in the Black Sea where the system is being utilized.

With the added MPD capability, the work will receive an enhanced effective day rate during the drilling program. As we close the first quarter of 2019, 95% of our actively marketed fleet was contracted including all 13 jackups and 8 of 9 marketed floating units. Robert will have more to say about emerging opportunities for our fleet in a moment, but first I want to turn the call over to Adam for a review of first quarter financial performance.

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Adam C. Peakes, Noble Corporation plc - Senior VP & CFO [4]

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Thank you, Julie. Good morning, and welcome to everyone. First quarter 2019 results were highlighted by further improvements in total fleet operating days with utilization for the quarter reaching 76% compared to 47% in the same quarter of 2018. Also, contract drilling services revenues finished the quarter at the high end of our guided range, while the company delivered another quarter of excellent operational performance as demonstrated by fleet uptime of 97.8%, which remained near record levels. These outcomes supported a higher than guidance level of EBITDA in the first quarter. Of greater importance and as Julie touched on, the combination of well-timed rig reactivations and strong fleet positioning has played a significant role with regards to our commercial achievements through April and leave the company favorably positioned as we reassess the financial outlook for the remainder of 2019.

I will review our updated thoughts on financial guidance in a moment. First, I want to review some important aspects of our first quarter performance. For the first quarter, Noble reported a net loss attributable to the company of $71 million or $0.29 per diluted share. As was noted on our earning report, $4 million or $0.02 per diluted share was accounted for as discontinued operations resulting from the recognition of a reserve for a Mexico Customs audit that extends back to our previous ownership of the standard specification assets that operated in that country.

The company's net loss from continuing operations was $67 million or $0.27 per diluted share on total revenues of $283 million. The result included an after-tax gain of $25 million or $0.10 per diluted share, resulting from the early extinguishment of debt following our March 2019 cash tender offer.

I'll provide some additional details on the tender offer in a moment. Excluding the impact of the gain from the early debt extinguishment, Noble would have reported a first quarter net loss from continuing operations attributable to the company of $92 million or $0.37 per diluted share.

We have included a non-GAAP supporting schedule with our press release and that schedule can be found on the Noble website at noblecorp.com. That schedule provides reconciliations of non-GAAP numbers to net loss attributable to Noble Corporation, to income tax provision and to diluted earnings per share for the first quarter of 2019 and fourth and first quarters of 2018.

Contract drilling services revenues in the first quarter totaled $271 million compared to $292 million in the fourth quarter of 2018. The 7% decline was due in part to lower average daily revenues in the floating rig fleet. More specifically, revenues from the drillship Noble Don Taylor declined in the quarter following the completion in February of a multiyear contract signed prior to the industry downturn.

Also, the Noble Globetrotter II, as I noted during our February call was at a standby rate in the first quarter while completing the installation and testing of the new managed pressure drilling system. The rig returned to a full day rate in early April following the commencement of our program in the Black Sea.

In addition, revenues in the first quarter were reduced by the fourth quarter 2018 retirement of the standard duty jackup Noble Gene House, as well as by fewer calendar days. These adverse factors were partially offset by operations on the drillship Noble Sam Croft and Noble Tom Madden and the jackups Noble Sam Hartley and Noble Tom Prosser. Contract drilling services costs declined 4% in the first quarter to $172 million compared to $179 million in the fourth quarter of 2018. Costs in the quarter were 4% below fourth quarter 2018 due to the retirement of the Noble Gene House and other previously announced rig retirements.

Also, lower expenses for repair maintenance, shore-based support costs and rig mobilization costs contributed to the decline. These favorable events were partially offset by an increase in floating rig activity.

Our margin on contract drilling services in the first quarter was 37%, down from 39% in the fourth quarter, reflecting the lower average daily revenues in the floating fleet.

EBITDA ended the first quarter at $86 million, a better than guidance outcome, due in part to favorable fleet uptime and contract drilling services costs ending the quarter at the low end of our guided range. Before I address first quarter capital expenditures and certain items on the balance sheet, I want to provide an explanation for interest expense and noncontrolling interest to P&L line items that fell outside of our range of guidance provided in February.

Interest expense in the first quarter totaled $70 million below our expected range of $72 million to $74 million. The modestly favorable result was due primarily to higher capitalized interest relating to the upgrade and commissioning projects on the Noble Johnny Whitstine and Noble Joe Knight. Concerning noncontrolling interests, we recognize expenses of $4 million compared to a range of guidance of $1 million to $2 million of expense. The higher result, which signifies increased aggregate profitability of the Noble Bully I and Noble Bully II joint ventures with Shell was due primarily to a reduced level of expenses relating to the Bully II, while the rig remains warm stacked.

Capital expenditures for the first quarter totaled $83 million, excluding $54 million in seller financing relating to the February 2019 purchase of the newbuild jackup Noble Joe Knight.

Our first quarter total capital spend was comprised of following categories: $8 million of sustaining capital; $41 million relating to major projects, which included rig reactivations and the purchase of subsea capital spares; $30 million for the upfront purchase price of the Noble Joe Knight; and $4 million of capitalized interest. Capital expenditures in the first quarter were approximately 14% below guidance due largely to lower outlays for sustaining capital in major projects, the latter due to the timing of expenditures for the Noble Joe Knight.

Finally, in March, we completed cash tender offers for certain of our outstanding senior notes, resulting in the purchase of $441 million aggregate principal amount of notes for $400 million plus accrued interest.

We used cash on hand and the $300 million of available capacity on our 2015 credit facility to fund the tender. This opportunistic transaction modestly reduced debt maturities through 2024, while also reducing annual interest expense by approximately $10 million. We closed the first quarter with cash and cash equivalents of $187 million and $350 million outstanding on our revolving credit facilities.

Next, I'll provide an updated financial guidance covering both the second quarter and the remainder of 2019. Although our fleet uptime has remained at near record levels including 97.8% during the first quarter of 2019, we are maintaining an assumed fleet uptime factor of 96% or 4% downtime for now.

New contract awards and extensions secured to date are expected to result in a 16% increase in 2019 total fleet operating days, compared to the same measure in 2018 driven in part by the floating fleet. We believe our fleet uptime guidance reflects a prudent expectation given a high level of sophistication and complexity found in our floating fleet. We are raising guidance for our contract drilling services revenues in 2019, with the new range at $1.04 billion to $1.07 billion up from the previous range of $1 billion to $1.03 billion. The favorable revision is driven largely by an expected increase in days under contract on the Noble Sam Croft and the Noble Joe Beall.

Revenues from client reimbursables are revised slightly higher to a range of $35 million to $45 million in 2019. In the second quarter of 2019, revenues are expected to range from $255 million to $265 million compared to $271 million in the first quarter of 2019. The modest decline is due primarily to lower average daily revenues in the floating fleet led by the late February conclusion of a legacy contract on the Noble Don Taylor, which was partially offset by higher activity on the Noble Sam Croft, Noble Tom Prosser and Noble Johnny Whitstine, which commenced operations in Middle East on April 19. In addition, revenues for the Noble Globetrotter II are expected to increase in the quarter following the installation and utilization of its managed pressure drilling capabilities. Revenues from client reimbursables are expected to remain in the range of $7 million to $12 million in the second quarter. Guidance for contract drilling services costs is modestly increased to a range of $710 million to $730 million in 2019, compared to a previously stated range of $705 million to $725 million. The increase is driven by the continued growth in total fleet operating days including increased contract coverage for the Noble Don Taylor and Noble Clyde Boudreaux and an improving outlook for the Noble Sam Craft following the rig's mobilization in June to South America where incremental prospects continue to emerge. Client reimbursables for 2019 are expected to range from $25 million to $35 million.

For the second quarter of 2019, contract drilling services costs are expected to range between $175 million and $185 million compared to actual results of $172 million in the first quarter of 2019. The increase is due largely to the commencement of operations on the Noble Johnny Whitstine. Costs associated with client reimbursables in the second quarter are expected to remain in the range of $5 million to $10 million.

DD&A guidance for 2019 is unchanged in the range of $445 million to $460 million. Also we do not anticipate a change in DD&A for the second quarter when compared to the previous quarter. Our range of guidance remains $110 million to $115 million compared to actual expense in the first quarter of $110 million.

SG&A expense guidance for 2019 remains at $65 million to $75 million while the second quarter range will remain at $16 million to $20 million. Actual expense in the first quarter was $16 million.

Interest expense guidance for 2019 is lowered to a range of $290 million to $296 million compared to our previous range of $295 million to $300 million. The decline is primarily driven by our March 2019 tender offer and is net of an estimated $9 million in capitalized interest relating to projects for the Noble Johnny Whitstine and Noble Joe Knight. Interest expense for the second quarter is expected to total between $71 million and $75 million net of an expected $3 million in capitalized interest.

Interest expense in the first quarter was $70 million. Noncontrolling interest on our P&L representing the Bully I and Bully II 50-50 joint ventures with Shell are now expected to range from $8 million to $12 million of expense in 2019, compared to a previous guided range of $5 million to $10 million. The increase which represents higher joint venture profitability is due to a reduction in project operating costs especially on the Bully II. We expect noncontrolling interest of $2 million to $3 million of expense in the second quarter compared to actual expense of $4 million in the first quarter.

Capital expenditures for 2019 are unchanged from our previous guidance of $250 million. The major components of capital spend include $91 million for sustaining capital, $120 million for major projects including reactivations and subsea spares, $30 million relating to the purchase of the Noble Joe Knight and $9 million relating to capitalized interest.

Capital expenditures for the second quarter are expected to total $90 million, including sustaining capital of $33 million, major projects of $54 million, which includes projects associated with the Noble Johnny Whitstine and Noble Joe Knight and $3 million for capitalized interest.

Finally, we now expect our full year 2019 effective tax benefit to be in the low single digits driven largely by the geographic mix of revenues.

Estimated cash taxes to be paid in 2019 remain at $20 million and relate entirely to our international operations.

In summary, it should be clear from my comments this morning that industry recovery is underway and that Noble capturing the benefits of an improving cycle. We continue to leverage our premium fleet and attractive regional exposure to secure further commercial, operational and financial successes.

Total fleet operating days, which are now conservatively expected to increase 16% this year continue to expand as we witness a broadening industry recovery and we secure contracts and extensions across our floating and jackup fleets. The growth in our days under contracts and an improving day rate environment provides support to our revenue backlog, which closed the first quarter at $2.3 billion and are driving positive revisions to our expected 2019 revenues and EBITDA.

As Robert will confirm, the steady rise in contract opportunities is improving the prospects for our fleet and driving the potential for additional positive revisions to our 2019 outlook as the year progresses. I'll now turn the call over to Robert for more commentary on the improving offshore drilling environment.

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Robert W. Eifler, Noble Corporation plc - SVP of Marketing & Contracts [5]

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Thank you, Adam. Good morning and welcome to everyone on the call. Like Julie and Adam, I am also encouraged by the steady evidence of improvement in the market for offshore drilling services. Only a quarter ago, we cited concern about the ways in operator drilling plans following what proved to be a short-lived decline in crude prices during late 2018. That concern has largely been dismissed due to mounting evidence of an industry that continues a sturdy and broadening climb off a cyclical bottom, and there is no better evidence of fundamental industry gain then rigs returning to work.

During the first quarter, the industry's floating rig fleet was awarded a total of 59 contracts, including an impressive 45 awards in the month of February. The inflection in customer awards drove utilization of the industry's marketed floaters at the end of the first quarter to 80%, the highest measure reported since September 2015. Also, the same utilization measure was matched by the industry's jackup fleet, which closed the first quarter at 80% marketed utilization while a subset of the jackup fleet representing premium rig designs approached 100% marketed utilization.

Over the initial 4 months of 2019, we have seen an estimated 44 rig years awarded to jackups with more contract awards imminent. Before I close my comments today, I'll provide some perspective on where floating and jackup demand is most apparent, and more importantly, where we could experience further contracting success as the year progresses.

Some interesting trends are gaining strength early on in 2019 and these movements are expected to play a significant role in elevating rig activity over the near to intermediate term.

First, we have begun to experience a lengthening of contract duration for jackups with the measure over the first 4 months of 2019 improving to an average of just over 400 days compared to under 350 days during the last 6 months of 2018. Recall that the industry's jackups were first to reach a cyclical bottom in late 2017. Average contract lengths among the industry's floating fleet has remained static for now when measured over the same period at approximately 220 to 240 days. However, 11 of the 59 floating rigs contract awards during the first quarter had a primary term of 1 year or longer. An addition of 6 contracts of a year or longer were awarded in the first -- in the month of April. Also, transactions among operators continued to transfer ownership of offshore production assets into portfolios of companies with a greater likelihood of drilling the prospects. We have already seen a number of examples in 2019 in regions such as the U.K. North Sea and U.S. Gulf of Mexico.

Furthermore, access to promising offshore basins both mature and frontier is expanding as licensing rounds are offered by an increasing number of host countries. Many of these regions including numerous countries in South America are attracting heightened interest from operators following an evaluation of resource potential. Finally, many offshore programs are being extended as customers increasingly exercise option wells that are included in the commercial terms of the contract. The practice is adding divisible rig days under contract and tightening fleet capacity. Referencing again data pertaining to the industry's floating fleet, an estimated 32 rigs or 25% of the average number of rigs under contract solid drilling programs scope expand through April following the decision by customers to exercise well options.

In the Noble fleet through April, our customers exercise options on 4 different rigs, including 3 floating units and one jackup and we expect the trend to continue. On that note, I want to update you on the current status of the Noble floating and jackup fleets.

Julie has already mentioned our strong commercial achievements over the first 4 months of the year, including contract awards covering one year for both the ultra-deepwater drillship Noble Tom Madden and Noble Don Taylor. Both programs cover drilling services in the Guyana basin. Also, we secured the addition of a year of work for the semisubmersible Noble Clyde Boudreaux offshore Myanmar following the exercise of option wells. And most recently, a 9-month extension for the jackup Noble Sam Hartley in the U.K. North Sea, and an 8-month extension for the standard-duty jackup Noble Joe Beall in the Middle East.

In our floating fleet, the ultra-deepwater drillship Noble Sam Croft and the semisubmersible Noble Paul Romano represent the only available capacity in 2019 among our 9 marketed units. Following the completion of its current drilling program in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico in May, the Noble Sam Croft will mobilize to Suriname where the rig will drill one firm well and possibly 3 more optional wells. In the event that all option wells are drilled, the rig would be available in early 2020 to address other customer needs in the Western Hemisphere. The Noble Sam Croft is one of 4 Gusto designed drillships in the Noble fleet. All 4 of these high-specification units are currently under contract for the first time since mid-2016. Also, given its conventional mooring capability, the Noble Paul Romano is under consideration for opportunities in both the Western and Eastern Hemispheres, and we are increasingly optimistic that the rig will return to work in 2019.

Our 3 inactive floaters, the semisubmersibles Noble Jim Day and Noble Danny Adkins and the drillship Noble Bully I remain cold stacked as we search for work programs that would provide suitable returns on our reactivation costs. Similar to our floating rigs, open capacity in 2019 among our jackups is limited. Following the recent extensions for the Noble Sam Hartley and Noble Joe Beall, available days are restricted to the Noble Hans Deul in the U.K. North Sea and the Noble Mick O'Brien in the Middle East. Although the Noble Hans Deul is expected to be available in July, 2 option wells remain as part of the program executed in early 2018, which, if exercised, could consume the remaining days in 2019. The Noble Mick O'Brien is expected to complete its current well assignment offshore Qatar in August. We are evaluating additional customer needs in and outside of the region and remain confident that our premium rigs such as the O'Brien should attract ample client interest given its technical sophistication and history of proven performance.

Our jackup fleet remains largely consolidated in the U.K. North Sea and Middle East regions where 11 of 13 units currently or will soon reside. I now want to provide an update on regional market developments and opportunities beginning in the Western Hemisphere. In the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, the marketed supply of floating rigs continued to decline through the first quarter of 2019 and is now down 50% over the last 3 years.

The steady decline in supply coupled with the modest increase in customer demand has pushed marketed utilization in the region above 80%. Due to the tighter capacity, day rates for premium floaters in the region are increasing.

The U.S. Gulf of Mexico continues to hold the priority status with a number of exploration and production companies due in part to ample deepwater infrastructure and a steady level of geologic success, with 28 announced deepwater discoveries since 2015. The Noble Globetrotter I is in the process of relocating to the region following the completion of a drilling campaign in the Eastern Mediterranean.

A steady increase in jackup rig needs is expected in Mexico as the country looks to arrest steadily declining production, which fell to a 40-year low in January of 2019. Demand for as many as 15 jackups is expected over the next 2 years and Pemex awarded 3 jackup contracts in the first quarter. We continue to expect floating rig needs in the region to increase in 2020 and beyond. South America is home to an increasing number of attractive locations. In Brazil, recent lease awards associated with the fourth and fifth pre-salt bid rounds indicate the country could absorb 3 to 5 floaters over the near to immediate term. 3 more lease rounds are scheduled for 2019 covering acreage in pre-salt, post-salt and in open acreage round. These pending rounds are expected to drive additional interest from international exploration and production companies who collectively have under contract just 2 of the total of 16 floating rigs in Brazil. Following recent contract awards for 3 ultra-deepwater floaters, Petrobras now has tenders outstanding for 3 shallow water semisubmersibles and 2 or more ultra-deepwater floaters. We anticipate rig demand by both Petrobras and international operators to ramp up through 2020 and beyond.

Exploration offshore Guyana continues with exceptional results, driving the likelihood for additional floating capacity as resource potential and development opportunities expand. 2019 will see at least 5 ultra-deepwater drillships operating offshore Guyana, 3 belonging to Noble. Also exploration offshore Suriname is set to continue in mid-2019 with the Noble Sam Croft.

Operators are also expressing interest offshore Trinidad and Tobago, Colombia, Peru and Nicaragua. In the Eastern Hemisphere, North Sea jackup demand remains robust with 9 new contracts announced over the first quarter. Day rates for high-specification jackups increased over the quarter and continue to rise as capacity for these units remains tight. 7 premium jackups in the region are expected to have concluded contracts in 2019 and most are likely to be extended, including our Noble Hans Deul.

Recently, the lead time between tendering and contract start has increased notably. And we believe that it -- that, that is a sign of operators growing cognizant of securing rigs in the tightening market.

In the Middle East, jackup opportunities remain plentiful. Over the first quarter, Saudi Arabia awarded 23 rig years of work, including 3 years to the Noble Joe Knight. Despite these awards, an additional 50 rig years of open demand remains under evaluation in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait. Marketed utilization of the jackup fleet has risen above 80% and few high-specification units are available, creating an environment that is conducive for day rate appreciation.

West Africa and the Mediterranean regions continue to experience muted tendering activity, while rig availability in the regions remains high. Although the capacity and balance is expected to persist for another year, demand is expected to increase in 2020.

Finally, opportunities remain encouraging in the Far East and Oceania. Jackup rig demand is trending higher in Malaysia and fleets owned by local drilling contractors are expected to reach full capacity during 2019, creating greater opportunity for international contractors. Contract durations are expanding and day rates have begun to appreciate as confirmed by recent contract awards in Malaysia and Vietnam.

Offshore Australia, an increase in development drilling programs and an improving natural gas production has resulted in several contract awards for both jackups and semisubmersibles in the region.

For example, the Noble Tom Prosser was awarded a series of contracts in late 2018 that should keep the rig employed into mid-2020 and is a strong candidate for additional customer needs in the region that could extend the rig into 2021. Floating rig needs in the region have improved and day rates have shown progress as well.

As I noted earlier, the Noble Clyde Boudreaux has added a year to its primary term and we already see several opportunities for follow-on work in the region.

In closing, the early days of steady industry recovery are underway. More rigs are returning to work, leading to rising utilization among the industry's marketed floating and jackup fleets. And rig operating margins are once again improving as day rates begin to appreciate. Sustainability of the cycle seems more likely when we consider our customers' noted improvements in offshore project economics. A growing list of projects to be sectioned for development are particularly encouraging increase in exploration activities worldwide and growing interest among our customers for greater access to promising offshore basins. I believe the Noble fleet is in excellent position for this early stage of the cycle. With 21 of our 22 marketed rigs contracted, we are embedded in some of the industries most active regions for floating and jackup rigs.

More importantly, many of these regions such as the Guyana and Suriname basins, the U.K. North Sea, Middle East and Australia possess excellent long-term opportunity for our fleet, as the operator needs expand in exploration and field development. Thank you, and I look forward to addressing your questions. I'll now turn the call back over to Julie.

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Julie Johnson Robertson, Noble Corporation plc - Chairman of the Board, President & CEO [6]

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Thank you, Robert and Adam. Before we begin addressing your questions, I want to offer some final thoughts. We have many reasons this morning for our positive tone: first, we note undeniable improvement and enthusiasm toward our industry. After 48 months of very challenging conditions, we can refer to an industry that is now on a positive trajectory. The firming the fundamental indicators, as noted by Robert, strongly suggest a broadening industry recovery as the year progresses and we enter 2020. Our customers are increasingly turning to projects in their offshore portfolio as they evaluate economically attractive programs with a potential to significantly augment future production and reserves. Marketed utilization of the industry's offshore fleet has begun to tighten, and as Robert noted, evidence continues to appear in support of further rig demand for both floating and jackup units. The tightening of capacity is increasingly evident in the Noble fleet. Among our floating rigs, the company has 57% of the days available over the next 12 months currently committed to contracts, up from only 49% at the beginning of the year. In our jackup fleet, 81% of the available days over the next 12 months are contracted compared to 75% as the year began. Further tightening is increasingly likely in both areas of the business. As I said in my opening comments, I'm very encouraged by our achievements over the first 4 months of 2019 and believe Noble has established an enviable competitive position as prospects for a healthier industry cycle unfold. Another opportunistic rig purchase, a highly successful reactivated position strategy, newest contract awards and extensions in key offshore basins along with a strong revenue backlog in value-adding fleet enhancements collectively fortify our industry position as recovery and offshore activity progresses and new opportunities emerge. The regional positioning of our diversified fleet of jackups and floating rigs is exceptional and combined with our high standards for consistently safe and efficient operations, Noble has the attributes for long-term success.

As always, I want to thank the Noble team around the globe for their continued dedication, commitment and hard work, which combine for superior operating performance for our customers. These men and women continue to exemplify the Noble culture, which sets us apart from our peers and I'm grateful for the unwavering loyalty and support. I'll now turn the call back over to Jeff.

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Jeffrey L. Chastain, Noble Corporation plc - VP of IR & Corporate Communications [7]

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Okay, Julie, thank you. Krista, we have a number of questions in the queue today, so let's go ahead and get started. If you begin assembling the queue, I'll remind everyone to please limit their questioning to one and a follow-up so that we can take as many questions to the top of the hour as possible. Krista, go ahead with the first question, please.

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Questions and Answers

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Operator [1]

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Our first question comes from the line of Kurt Hallead with RBC.

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Kurt Kevin Hallead, RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Research Division - Co-Head of Global Energy Research and Analyst [2]

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It sounds like there's more positive momentum building, which is good to know after a number of challenging years. So in that context, you guys have, I believe, 4 rigs that are currently idle. Given the backdrop of improving demand dynamics, I was wondering if you give us some perspective on how many of those 4 rigs you think could potentially find some work before maybe the end of 2019, and if you're still willing to make the assessment as well of how many of those 4 rigs could find their way back into the market? And then as part of that process, what are the cost dynamics of potentially getting those rigs to get ready and get back to work?

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Robert W. Eifler, Noble Corporation plc - SVP of Marketing & Contracts [3]

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Sure, Kurt, I'll take that one. So the Paul Romano I think has very good chance of getting back to work this year. We're evaluating a number of opportunities right now all over the globe. There are only a few more rigs available out there and we think that fits nicely into a couple of different opportunities. The cold stacked rigs, I think it's a bit of a different story. The -- as we've said before, in order to reactivate those, we'd be looking for significant recruitment of cost during the initial contract, and that hasn't changed at all. We are bidding certainly the Danny Adkins into a number of opportunities. We continue to believe those rigs have a few unique capabilities including their size, hook load, DP3 status and the fact that they're upgradable to add mooring and potentially some off-line efficiency activities. We believe those have a place in a couple of different regions around the world. We need the market to catch up and allow us to justify the reactivation costs. So we're not there yet, but we do think that those rigs have the potential to offer some efficiencies to some customers around the world.

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Kurt Kevin Hallead, RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Research Division - Co-Head of Global Energy Research and Analyst [4]

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I appreciate that. What's the cost of bringing the Romano and getting that ready to work? And what's the cost of maybe getting one of those cold stacked rigs back into working order?

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Robert W. Eifler, Noble Corporation plc - SVP of Marketing & Contracts [5]

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We'll say $3 million to $5 million, and I think probably at the lower end of that range depending on where we take the rig. And then the cold stacked rigs, we've said previously is $50 million to $100 million and that depends largely on the customer requirements and again where we would put them to work.

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Adam C. Peakes, Noble Corporation plc - Senior VP & CFO [6]

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And, Kurt, this is Adam, I guess I'd just add to it. Our CapEx guidance assumes the Romano is back working, so that's already embedded in the CapEx that we put forward as our 2019 guidance. It does not have anything as it relates to the Danny Adkins. I think from Robert's comments, I think sitting here in the room, we think it's highly unlikely that that's a 2019 event for the Danny Adkins.

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Kurt Kevin Hallead, RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Research Division - Co-Head of Global Energy Research and Analyst [7]

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I appreciate that color. Maybe one additional follow-up just in the context of as you are -- as the market is improving and as you most likely are going to have a number of opportunities to bring at least one of those cold stacked rigs back to work over the next year, 1.5 years, what kind of contract duration would you be willing to entertain? And what kind of cash margin would you require in order to get the return necessary to bring that rig back into service or one of those rigs back into the service?

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Robert W. Eifler, Noble Corporation plc - SVP of Marketing & Contracts [8]

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Sure. So multivariable equation there. I think -- really we just want significant payback of the reactivation cost during the term of the first contract. So margins aren't there today. We think that we get to a place here sometime next year where that becomes a possibility and we're marketing the rigs as such. So I think mainly, we're looking for a return on the investment and we want to see a significant portion of that during the first -- term of the first contract.

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Operator [9]

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And your next question comes from the line of Sasha Sanwal with UBS Securities.

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Madhav Sanwal, UBS Investment Bank, Research Division - Director and Equity Research Analyst [10]

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Yes, just wanted to start off kind of following up on your commentary on the industry recovery. On the last earnings call, you spoke about how Noble is looking at, I guess, indexing type mechanisms to kind of bridge the gap to a more resilient day rate environment that we could have in 2020, and so kind of given the focus and discipline in near-term bidding strategy, could we get an update on your thinking there, and maybe what you're seeing in the market place today?

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Robert W. Eifler, Noble Corporation plc - SVP of Marketing & Contracts [11]

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Sure, I think one of the biggest changes in the last few months has been, I think along the lines of priced options, we're a lot less willing to give out priced options today. And when a customer really needs some level of certainty we have been looking at indexing mechanisms to address options. I think that's an effective way to bridge the gap. We continue to think that this market is changing quickly and evolving both on the jackup side and on the drillship side. And we continue to entertain measures that would allow us to bridge that gap and allow us to maintain what we think right now is a good exposure to a rising day rate environment. So that's top on our list right now.

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Madhav Sanwal, UBS Investment Bank, Research Division - Director and Equity Research Analyst [12]

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Thank you, that's helpful. And maybe if we can get an update on your thinking on the floater market in Brazil and West Africa and how that's shaping up? So, Robert, you highlighted the uptick in demand, right, and one of your peers referenced a potential doubling of the rig count in Brazil by 2022, right, so Noble isn't present in either Brazil or West Africa at this point, right, although clearly you've operated there in the past. You've built a very strong presence in Guyana and turning on the cycle. So maybe how much of a strategic imperative is rebuilding your presence in those 2 markets, especially as we think about the Danny Adkins?

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Julie Johnson Robertson, Noble Corporation plc - Chairman of the Board, President & CEO [13]

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Sasha, as Robert noted in his comments, we do expect a great deal of further tendering in Brazil towards the end of this year and certainly into 2020, not only with Petrobras obviously but obviously IOC. And we do think it's important. As you know that we had a strong presence in Brazil in the past as well as West Africa, and we certainly believe that the Brazil market is important for us to return to and we fully intend to work toward that. We do think that's a good opportunity for some of the cold stacked rigs, which we've been asked about this morning. But yes, we do think it's important to get back into at least one or not both of those markets. Robert, do you want to add anything.

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Robert W. Eifler, Noble Corporation plc - SVP of Marketing & Contracts [14]

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No, I think in the very near term, West Africa is less likely for us than Brazil just by -- because of where we're located today. But we're starting to see a few term opportunities there and that's really encouraging really from kind of a macro supply view. So...

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Operator [15]

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And your next question comes from the line of Sean Meakim with JPMorgan.

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Sean Christopher Meakim, JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - Senior Equity Research Analyst [16]

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So maybe staying in that part of the world. Could you maybe give us a sense of what you think is the capacity for Noble rigs you put to work over the long-term? And I guess part of what I'm trying to get at in the term is, how much are you able to extract synergies, shore-based cost of absorption with the 3 rings in Guyana and then the one in Suriname? And just thinking about how does that overlap with what shore-based fixed assets you have today in Brazil? I'm just trying to think about how your footprint looks today? And as the opportunity set evolves, your ability to drive value and margin through that footprint?

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Julie Johnson Robertson, Noble Corporation plc - Chairman of the Board, President & CEO [17]

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Well, Sean, as you may know, we still actually have a yard facility in Brazil remaining from our former operation down there, so we are well positioned to be able to quickly put rigs back to work in that market. We know that market well. We are very comfortable working there and look for the opportunities. You are right, we already have some infrastructure setup there. In terms of the massive rigs, the 3 rigs that we have working in Guyana, you're spot-on, I mean it's a great set up to have, and great to be able to have 3 like drillships in that same market so you can share spares, et cetera, and between the rigs it's a wonderful setup for us and we're glad to be able to operate like that. Obviously, we have some one-off operations, which are not ideal and not what we -- not our goal, but certainly, Guyana is exactly very much what we want to see going forward. And the rig in Suriname actually, obviously, will be very close and can benefit from some of those same synergies. Robert, do you want to add anything?

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Robert W. Eifler, Noble Corporation plc - SVP of Marketing & Contracts [18]

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The only thing I'd add is that synergies cut both ways and we think that it's effective for our customer there too to be able to move rigs around and share technology. And so we're really pleased to be the current contractor of choice there. And we see a great deal of work there moving forward.

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Madhav Sanwal, UBS Investment Bank, Research Division - Director and Equity Research Analyst [19]

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Okay, thank you for that feedback. And maybe moving to the Eastern Hemisphere. Could we maybe get a little bit more feedback on the market opportunity in Australia? We've talked in the past about I think you guys have appetite -- at least you believe there's appetite for jackup -- jackups in the region. What kind of assets would make sense there? Is demand -- the market conditions sufficient for a newbuild purchase and placement like you've done in other markets? And also I just thought to add to the side, maybe the appetite for more semis in that market looks pretty good and so how does that opportunity set look for the Boudreaux as a next stop?

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Julie Johnson Robertson, Noble Corporation plc - Chairman of the Board, President & CEO [20]

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We've got Robert comment further, but we agree that there's a lot of opportunity in the Australian market and it is a great market for more semis, without a doubt. And to your point about would we be interested in doing a newbuild purchase in that market? Sean, as you know we're always looking for ways to grow our fleet and grow our company, and if that made economic sense for shareholders, we would certainly look -- certainly consider that as an opportunity. Robert, do you want to comment on anything?

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Robert W. Eifler, Noble Corporation plc - SVP of Marketing & Contracts [21]

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I'd just say, there's a limited supply in Australia because of the safety case regime there. And I think on the jackup side, it's been about 1.5-rig market for quite some time and -- which is difficult because the costs of getting in and out are quite high. But we see that improving now with some of the gas projects that need to be delivered. Tom Prosser is going to move over to the east coast of Africa -- of Australia, excuse me. And so we think there's room -- we think it's built a great brand for the JU-3000, and we think there's potentially room for another JU-3000 in there. Certainly, there's competition, but again the spots are more limited. And then on the more rigs, Clyde Boudreaux has worked there before, we've maintained the safety case there, so Australia is absolutely a target for us in the future.

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Operator [22]

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And your next question comes from the line of Ian McPherson with Simmons.

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Ian MacPherson, Simmons & Company International, Research Division - MD & Senior Research Analyst of Oil Service [23]

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I wanted to first ask about the MPD contract enhancement for the Bulgaria well and you said that you'll get a day rate uplift. I was wondering if you could describe that a little bit more in terms of the size or just ballpark that? And also, how long that uplift goes for?

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Julie Johnson Robertson, Noble Corporation plc - Chairman of the Board, President & CEO [24]

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Ian, it's -- when we said effective day rate increase, it's because it's a lump sum amount that we have received from Shell for the MPD system and installation on the rig. So it's just a lump sum so that's what we referred to as the effective day rate increase.

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Ian MacPherson, Simmons & Company International, Research Division - MD & Senior Research Analyst of Oil Service [25]

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So for modeling purposes, would we see that on a lumped basis or going forward for the term of the well?

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Robert W. Eifler, Noble Corporation plc - SVP of Marketing & Contracts [26]

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Yes, it was phased out over a -- over some incremental payments. It is only applicable to this specific well. And then we just got that it's non -- insubstantial payback on the cost of the system.

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Ian MacPherson, Simmons & Company International, Research Division - MD & Senior Research Analyst of Oil Service [27]

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Okay, okay. Picking up Adam. I wanted to ask about the working capital movement, which has been a volatile lately the past few quarters and it moved against you in Q1. I just want to get your perspective on working capital movements for the balance of this year? If we could put some light on that, please?

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Adam C. Peakes, Noble Corporation plc - Senior VP & CFO [28]

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Yes, it's a good -- happy to, Ian, it's a good question. I think there's a little noise in first quarter that is shown in the numbers. I've seen a few people comment on it. I think the receivables balance, it's really a timing issue as much as anything else, and so I think it very much will normalize over the course of the year. In fact, in April alone, we've cleaned up some of that. So there've been some onetime issues that happened to -- we closed out the quarter where there was still receivable balances pending. But nothing in terms of being worried about, it's largely corrected itself in April and I think will be normalized going forward.

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Ian MacPherson, Simmons & Company International, Research Division - MD & Senior Research Analyst of Oil Service [29]

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Normalized, meaning, essentially neutral would be the bogey for the full year?

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Adam C. Peakes, Noble Corporation plc - Senior VP & CFO [30]

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Yes, I think that's right. I mean, look, we will certainly as we turn to the upturn and start growing the business, you'll have the normal working capital that results from that, but I think as we look at 2019, I think it's basically flat.

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Operator [31]

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And your next question comes from the line of Connor Lynagh with Morgan Stanley.

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Connor Joseph Lynagh, Morgan Stanley, Research Division - Equity Analyst [32]

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I was wondering if you guys could -- you mentioned the Middle East as a strong market in light of the contracts that we just saw from Qatar, I'm wondering if you could speak to what you see as opportunities for the Mick O'Brien? And just generally, where you see it rigs serving incremental demand in that market? I mean are you going to have pull from yards or you're going to have to pull from other regions? What sort of the knock-on effect that you see from strength in that market?

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Robert W. Eifler, Noble Corporation plc - SVP of Marketing & Contracts [33]

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Yes, sure, Connor. This is Robert. So I think it's widely publicized at this stage that we were not given the final award for the Qatar gas tender. So the Mick O'Brien will be searching for work elsewhere. We do have several opportunities that we've been tracking and you can expect just in changing customers a small gap there. But we do anticipate picking up some work fairly quickly for that. To the second part of your question, that's was an exciting tender in large part because of the high specification on the rigs. We hear they may even need a few more rigs. And so I think you're probably going to have to move rigs in from outside the region to service any additional rigs that they might award.

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Connor Joseph Lynagh, Morgan Stanley, Research Division - Equity Analyst [34]

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Got it. And beyond the gas work there, are you -- have you generally seen a shift in the preference for higher-spec rigs in that market? Or is that unique to that contract opportunity?

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Robert W. Eifler, Noble Corporation plc - SVP of Marketing & Contracts [35]

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Yes, I think that's been one of the major stories is in if not -- if we don't say higher-specification I think we could at least say newer. There's been a shift into the more -- into a preference for the more modern rigs by a number of the biggest jackup consumers there. And we think that's an important trend that's only going to gain momentum. The Middle East has 200 rigs right now, a number of them continue to be legacy assets and standard assets. And I think as that market shifts into the newer, more efficient rigs that, that's going to be a meaningful shift in the demand equation on the jackup side.

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Operator [36]

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And your next question comes from the line of Jud Bailey with Wells Fargo.

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Judson Edwin Bailey, Wells Fargo Securities, LLC, Research Division - MD and Senior Equity Research Analyst [37]

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Most of my questions were answered, but I have kind of a big picture question. If I look at your fleet, it's not that dissimilar from some of your peers where you're starting to build nice backlog into 2020. A lot your better rigs now don't have availability until the middle of next year. As that has happened, have you -- or is the customer tone starting to change at all? I mean is there more of a sense of urgency that now some of the better rigs just simply aren't available this year and into early next year? I'll just be curious if the tone from the customer base is starting to change as backlog begins to build here just the last few months?

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Julie Johnson Robertson, Noble Corporation plc - Chairman of the Board, President & CEO [38]

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Jud, I'll let Robert answer that, but yes, definitely, customer sentiment is changing. We feel like we're incredibly well positioned with our contracts on our deepwater units where they are right now and when they're rolling off so that we can hopefully take advantages of and then continuing to improve the market. But yes, it's definitely -- there's starting to be some tightening in the higher-end deepwater market and operators are sensing that. I'll ask Robert to add anything he'd like.

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Robert W. Eifler, Noble Corporation plc - SVP of Marketing & Contracts [39]

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No, I think that's it. I think the only other note I'd make is that we think rates are off bottom now for the high end of the drillship segment. We spent a lot of effort reactivating the fleet and getting it positioned, and we're very proud going into this kind of mid-2020 time frame that you've quoted to have some availability and hopefully take advantage of the rate movement that we have already seen.

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Judson Edwin Bailey, Wells Fargo Securities, LLC, Research Division - MD and Senior Equity Research Analyst [40]

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And then my follow-up would just be on the Croft. I know it's got some option wells that can take it into early next year, but where would you anticipate that rig ultimately? Would you think it stays in kind of Central America? Or do you -- how do you think about that rig and its kind of the next contract? Does it stay well to wells? Or are you looking at term opportunities? Just help us think about that rig and its next opportunity?

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Robert W. Eifler, Noble Corporation plc - SVP of Marketing & Contracts [41]

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Sure, so I think it stays in the Western Hemisphere, although that's not guaranteed, but we're focusing most of our marketing efforts in the Western Hemisphere right now. I think when you look at kind of late '19 and early '20, there are a lot of shorter-term prospects out there, and that's part of what we think is going to drive the utilization in the early part of 2020. So we're more than happy to continue to take short-term jobs for that rig, as we watch the market. We think longer-term opportunities will continue to develop and we'll evaluate those on a case-by-case basis and measure that against the broader market throughout the Western Hemisphere. And that includes what country we bidded into and certain economic factors that go along with that. Certainly, we'd would be happy to have it in that -- in the region where it will end in Suriname, but we think also that we had a bunch of opportunities north and south of there.

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Operator [42]

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Our final question comes from the line of Taylor Zurcher with Tudor, Pickering and Holt.

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Taylor Zurcher, Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. Securities, Inc., Research Division - Director of Oil Service Research [43]

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One question on Don Taylor. You've clearly developed a pretty close relationship with Exxon down in Guyana and so I'm curious if that contract was privately negotiated or competitively bid? And then secondarily, if you could help us think about the best way to think about the rate for that contract, either relative to its previous rate or relative to the other 2 drillships you have currently working down in Guyana for Exxon?

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Robert W. Eifler, Noble Corporation plc - SVP of Marketing & Contracts [44]

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Yes, sure. It was -- that was a direct negotiation. We were seeing direct negotiations across the world. Right now, we've certainly seen an uptick that's been benefiting, I think, our industry across the board. On the rate, we're not disclosing the rate, couple of points, we -- it's off bottom and it does involve 2 different rates and it goes higher during the second 6 months of that contract.

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Taylor Zurcher, Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. Securities, Inc., Research Division - Director of Oil Service Research [45]

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Okay, fair enough. Maybe a follow-up there. Guyana is clearly going to be a healthy source of floating rig gears for probably years to come. And so I'm curious just from a marketing perspective, 2 of the rigs or really all 3 of the rigs are contracted into mid-2020 or early 2021, and so when you have a wealth of opportunities developing around the globe, from a marketing perspective, are you already having to bid those rigs into their next contracts? Or are those sort of a kind of wait and see approach as they near the contract end dates as it relates to finding a follow-on work?

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Robert W. Eifler, Noble Corporation plc - SVP of Marketing & Contracts [46]

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Well, I think it's a little too early right now for -- really for 2020 work and certainly 2021 work. Obviously, we're in close communication with the customer there daily mainly on operational basis. There -- you're right, there's tons of work there. And we're really focused on staying competitive in providing the service to the customer there so that they'll want us back.

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Jeffrey L. Chastain, Noble Corporation plc - VP of IR & Corporate Communications [47]

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Okay. With that, we're going to close today's call. And again, thank you for your participation. And, Krista, we also thank you for coordinating the call today. Good day, everyone.

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Operator [48]

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And this concludes today's conference call. You may now disconnect.