Transocean Moves Earnings to BP Oil Spill Trial D-Day
The change in and of itself significant -- though earnings dates tend to get pushed back rather than forward -- but it does happen that the reporting date now coincides with the scheduled start of the BP(BP) oil spill trial in New Orleans.
A recent series of court rulings by the judge overseeing the oil spill case have been viewed as favorable to Transocean(RIG) in its efforts to limit liability. Earlier this week, Transocean shares rallied when Judge Barbier ruled that it would not be held liable as an "owner" of the Macondo well, though the question of whether it is liable as an operator would only be dealt with in the trial as a reading of the Clean Water Act was vague.
Transocean hailed that decision as a major victory. However, in the game of chicken being played between BP and other companies with potential liability in the oil spill, the conventional legal wisdom is that no company wants to take the risk associated with a trial and would prefer to settle before rolling the dice in court.
Transocean began this past week by announcing that it was canceling its $1 billion dividend for 2012. Analysts argue that the company probably can afford the dividend, and the Macondo overhang and any settlement with BP wouldn't likely have required the company to shelve its shareholder payout. However, there has been market chatter of a settlement in the neighborhood of $1 billion.
Transocean shares dipped 1% in after-hours trading on Friday.
In moving up its earnings to Monday, analysts eyebrows were raised. "Curious timing. I wonder if it has anything to do with Macondo?" said Argus Research analyst Phil Weiss.
"Usually accountants are already pulling double time to get the results together. Why move up and not back? It's something to watch for on Monday morning," said John Keller, Stephens analyst.
Transocean earnings are one to watch next week, whether it's Monday or Tuesday, and whether or not there is a oil spill trial link.
Last time out the company missed the analyst consensus by 72 cents. Transocean has been put on negative credit watch by rating agencies after ratcheting up debt to pay for an acquisition, and as operational issues swiftly shifted the company's fortunes toward the end of last year.
It lost the love of some shareholders when it issued a dilutive round of equity at a multi-year low share price in the fourth quarter. After the freefall in shares, though, the stock has gained 30% year-to-date, making it a potentially volatile trade ahead of the report.