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Nobel 4Q profit inches up but misses forecasts

NEW YORK (AP) -- Noble Corp.'s fourth-quarter profit was nearly flat, falling short of expectations, as several offshore drilling rigs spent too many days out of service.

Chairman and CEO David W. Williams said Wednesday that the results showed "inconsistent operating performance" as Noble went through the "transformation" of upgrading its fleet of drilling rigs to take advantage of worldwide demand for oil.

The company said that operations on five drilling ships were not as good as hoped. The five rigs — three were new in 2012 and two had undergone significant work before being put back into service — accounted for one-third of the company's downtime during the fourth quarter.

The company said that net income was $128 million, or 50 cents per share, compared with $127 million, or 50 cents per share, a year earlier.

Revenue rose 29 percent to $966 million.

Analysts expected 61 cents per share on revenue of $957.6 million, according to a survey by FactSet.

Operating costs and expenses jumped 27 percent from a year earlier.

Williams said demand from oil and gas companies for the rigs continued to be strong and the business "appears poised for another year of cyclical expansion."

The company said that activity in the Gulf of Mexico increased significantly from late 2011, with new contracting opportunities for rigs that operate in deep water.

Switzerland-based Nobel has a fleet of 79 rigs that operate in the Gulf, Alaska, the North Sea and off the coasts of Brazil, West Africa and other places.

The company's shares rose 27 cents to close at $39.85 before the report. In after-hours trading, they fell 20 cents to $39.65.