David W. Williams, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of Noble Corporation stated, "With the continued success of our shipyard program, Noble benefited from the earlier-than-expected commencement of operations on two new ultra-deepwater drillships, which combined with a further reduction in total operational downtime, fewer shipyard days and essentially flat operating costs, were the primary catalysts behind the excellent third quarter performance. Our global operations execution continues to trend favorably with total operational downtime in the quarter falling to 4.6 percent from 5.2 percent in the previous quarter. Also, our shipyard execution has been exceptional, providing on-time deliveries and a smooth transition of the new rigs from the yard into contract commencement. As we continue the steady addition of new ultra-deepwater drillships and high-specification jackups to our rapidly transforming offshore fleet, the improved mix of premium rigs should drive further improvement in our contract drilling margins, as we saw in the third quarter."
Contract drilling services revenues for the third quarter of 2013 improved 7 percent to $1.04 billion compared to revenues of $975 million in the second quarter. The increase was primarily driven by the commencement of operations of the new ultra-deepwater drillships Noble Don Taylor and Noble Globetrotter II, a reduction in shipyard time and lower fleet downtime. Contract drilling services costs totaled $488 million in the third quarter, a slight decrease compared to operating costs of $492 million in the second quarter. The third quarter decrease relates to an $8 million Mexico VAT settlement included in the prior quarter costs, partially offset by cost increases resulting from the operational commencement of the two newbuild drillships. Contract drilling margin for the third quarter of 2013 increased to 53.1 percent from 49.6 percent during the second quarter.
Net cash from operating activities improved to $516 million in the third quarter of 2013 compared to $443 million for the second quarter. The improvement was primarily due to the Frontier settlement and increased earnings resulting from higher daily revenues, which increased 4 percent in the quarter to approximately $194,600. For the nine months ended September 30, 2013, net cash from operations was $1.2 billion. Capital expenditures in the third quarter were $480 million, including $270 million related to the Company's newbuild construction program, which included the delivery in August of the Company's first of six JU3000N high-specification jackups, the Noble Mick O'Brien. For the nine months ended September 30, 2013, capital expenditures totaled $1.72 billion, of which $1.02 billion was related to the newbuild construction program. The Company estimates approximately $2.4 billion in capital expenditures will be required to complete the remaining nine newbuilds under construction, comprised of three ultra-deepwater drillships and six high-specification jackups. Capital expenditures for 2013 are expected to total $2.6 billion.
Total debt at September 30, 2013 was $5.3 billion, essentially unchanged from the second quarter, resulting in debt as a percentage of total capitalization of 37 percent, compared to 38 percent at June 30, 2013. During the third quarter, the Company entered into a $600 million, 364-day unsecured revolving credit facility agreement, bringing the Company's total revolver capacity to $2.9 billion. At September 30, 2013, liquidity, defined as cash and cash equivalents plus availability under revolving credit facilities, totaled $1.8 billion.
The effective tax rate for the third quarter of 2013 was 16 percent, reflecting favorable changes in the geographic mix of pre-tax income and the recognition of certain discrete benefits in the quarter.
Total contract backlog at September 30, 2013 was approximately $16.2 billion compared to $16.0 billion at June 30, 2013. The increase was primarily due to contract awards on several of the Company's jackup rigs operating in the North Sea, West Africa and in the Middle East, where the Noble Scott Marks and Noble Roger Lewis were awarded three-year contracts at a dayrate of $257,500, a new high for Middle East jackups of this class in terms of both dayrate and contract duration.
During the third quarter of 2013, utilization of the Company's floating rig fleet (semisubmersibles and drillships) was 79 percent compared to 77 percent in the second quarter. Excluding the impact of two cold stacked floaters, utilization in the third quarter was 86 percent compared to 84 percent in the second quarter. Average daily revenues in the floating rig fleet were $369,100 in the third quarter, or an improvement of 6 percent compared to $346,900 in the second quarter. The newbuild ultra-deepwater drillships Noble Don Taylor and Noble Globetrotter II began their initial contracts during the quarter, contributing to the improvement in average daily revenues.
Third quarter 2013 utilization of the Company's jackup rig fleet was 94 percent compared to 92 percent in the second quarter. The Company was successful in securing a number of contracts for its jackup fleet during the third quarter, including nine contract awards with durations of one to three years for rigs primarily located in the North Sea and Middle East regions. These nine contracts added an estimated $1.3 billion to the Company's backlog. The Company also secured a 10-month contract for the Noble Houston Colbert, one of five JU3000N jackups currently under construction. The rig will operate for Total offshore Argentina at a dayrate of $247,000, with the contract expected to commence in April 2014.
At the end of the third quarter of 2013, approximately 80 percent of the Company's available rig operating days were committed for the remainder of 2013, including 84 percent of the floating rig days and 83 percent of the jackup rig days. For 2014, an estimated 71 percent of the available rig operating days were committed, including 76 percent and 72 percent of the floating and jackup rig days, respectively. The calculations for committed operating days include available days for two floaters, two submersibles and one jackup, all of which are cold stacked.
Addressing industry activity, Williams commented, "Our view of the offshore drilling business remains decidedly positive, with jackup and floating rig contract opportunities visible in a number of regions. In the jackup rig sector, we expect to see a continuation of improving customer demand for high-specification and standard capability rigs well into 2014. Incremental customer demand is anticipated in Mexico, the North Sea, Asia and the Middle East. Many of the opportunities include contract durations ranging from one to three years, with isolated opportunities beyond three years. In the floating rig sector, ultra-deepwater capable rigs with advanced technical features are continuing to experience robust demand. Strong, sustained crude oil prices, a heightened focus by customers on exploration opportunities with an increasing interest in frontier locations, and the onset of a growth phase in field development programs are driving customer demand for the foreseeable future. Floating rigs with less sophisticated drilling features remain viable candidates for many customer needs, including opportunities in Latin America, West Africa, Southeast Asia and Australia. However, we expect to see an increase in rig mobilizations, causing interruptions in utilization, as many of these rigs seek opportunities in areas where the rig's technical features and the customer's well construction requirements are better aligned."
In closing, Williams noted, "We continue to make significant progress with the strategic transformation of the Company, putting Noble in a position to successfully compete for future opportunities, while building value for our shareholders. Our operational execution has improved throughout 2013 and has benefitted from the implementation of processes and systems which have contributed to our improved fleet uptime. We are also moving forward with the next phase of the project involving the spin-off of some of our standard assets with an expected completion in 2014. Further, eight of our final newbuild rigs are expected to be delivered from shipyards by the end of 2014, largely completing our heavy newbuild project backlog which will contribute to a growing level of free cash flow as these premium assets commence operations."
Noble is a leading offshore drilling contractor for the oil and gas industry. Noble performs, through its subsidiaries, contract drilling services with a fleet of 79 offshore drilling units (including three ultra-deepwater drillships and seven high-specification jackup drilling rigs currently under construction), located worldwide, including in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico and Alaska, Mexico, Brazil, the North Sea, the Mediterranean, West Africa, the Middle East, India, Malaysia and Australia. Noble's shares are traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol "NE." Additional information on Noble Corporation is available on the Company's Web site at http://www.noblecorp.com.
Noble Corporation press release