National Oilwell Varco Earnings Call Nuggets: Margins Outlook and Rig Tech Guidance

National Oilwell Varco, Inc. (NYSE:NOV) recently reported its second quarter earnings and discussed the following topics in its earnings conference call.

Margins Outlook

James Crandell – Cowen Securities: Guys one of the things I think that we’ve talked about in the past that would lead to improving margins at Rig Tech was that you were undertaking some pricing initiatives, both, I think as a part of new rig packages and then in the aftermarket. I don’t believe you mentioned pricing. But is this piece central to you’re being able to improve margins there over the, let’s say, next six to 12 months?

Clay C. Williams – President and COO: Yes, Jim, absolutely. In fact, really the beginning of the second quarter is when we begin to be more asserted on pricing, and particularly in offshore packages and its spare parts and so something in the mid-single-digit range is kind of what we’re looking at here. But that reflects – we, for the last couple of quarters, faced cost increases in equipment that we make. And so that is leading us to push pricing with the most success offshore. I think land’s going to be a little more charging. The market, as we discussed is a little softer but we’re doing what we can.

James Crandell – Cowen Securities: My second question, Pete, is that another company, Dresser-Rand, on their call talked about the pushing out of FPSO projects and they were seeing delays in a lot of the projects they were monitoring. I know you keep up with this especially closely. Can you speak to that? And can you also speak to maybe progress that you’re seeing in terms of talking about the standardization of up to a high percentage of FPSOs, which I guess would be necessary to see you develop that business similar to the way your drillship business is developed?

Merrill A. ‘Pete’ Miller, Jr. – Chairman and CEO: Sure, Jim. I think – we’ve talked a little bit in the past about kind of pushing to the right on some of these FPSO projects. And we continue to see some pushed that way. However, we are starting to get some. And I think that’s the critical point here. I mean, we would have expected probably have a few more at this point in time, but we did get some this past quarter. I think Clay mentioned in his comments or Jeremy did what the backlog was on our flexibles and FPSO business. So we’re actually pretty confident that while some will be pushing to the right, enough were coming in that it’s going to really start playing better into our backlog. But even the ones that pushed to the right, at some point in time, I would guess in 2014, they’re going to come in as well. So we’re kind of getting a little bit of both. We’re starting to get some now and we’re starting to see some push a little bit to the right. I think as far as the standardization program, we continue to push it hard. It is something that we think is really going to be key to the FPSO business. We always kind of take a look at the way that the drill ship business used to look back in the mid-90s and kind of the cost overruns and disasters that occurred, and when you kind of compare that to what’s going on today in the FPSO business, you’ve got almost a mirror image. We’ve really helped the industry solve the issue with the drillships, and now we’d like to be able to do the same thing with FPSOs and we think we are on-track to do that. It’s not a quick fix, though, that, I would be lying to say it is, but it’s something that we are pushing on every day. We are working very closely with the few shipyards on it today, and I am confident that we are going to achieve success in that arena.

Clay C. Williams – President and COO: Yeah, we’ve put together a pretty comprehensive group of products now comprising an NOV package and we are starting to get a little traction with that. We also had the opportunity to review a Douglas-Westwood study recently that went in and characterized a number of FPSO projects, that found that all of them were late, all of them were over budget, typically about a third, and all of them being late pushed back first oil more than a year on average. And so, that’s a pretty – that’s not – just not a very efficient way to build FPSOs. And so kind of our vision here is to bring in not necessarily more standardized FPSO. I’d prefer the word configurable. All FPSOs are going to have to be somewhat tailored to the fields that they produce, but it’s not going to be one-size-fit-all. So what we are trying to do or develop a series of configurable FPSOs that integrate an NOV package of equipment and fundamentally reshape how the industry builds FPSOs, and we think there’s a lot of improvements that can be made there through that approach.

Rig Tech Guidance

David Anderson – JPMorgan: I was just wondering on your Rig Tech margin guidance compared to what it was last quarter. Before you were looking for 22%, 23%. Now, you’re looking at 20%, 21%. Where was the change – where did that change come from in your view? Is it market dynamic, is it greater startup costs, is that manufacturing congestion? Can you just kind of walk through your thought process on how you got to where you are now?

Clay C. Williams – President and COO: David, it’s a realization. We haven’t done a good job forecasting these margins for the last couple of quarters. We expect that – and we’ve been guiding for a long time margins to come down in Rig Technology. You go back three years ago and we said very explicitly every quarter that margins in the low 30s, high 20s not sustainable. We expect those to march down into the mid-20s range. We got into 2012 around 24% which is where we think the long-term margins ought to be and held in the 23% range until the fourth quarter. We saw a little softness in the fourth quarter and in the first quarter those moved down to 21.2%; this last quarter 20.7%. Each quarter – each of the past three quarters costs that we felt were extraordinary. We can rank them some. Last quarter, we talked about $32 million of manufacturing costs. This quarter we ran into some unforeseen INC, insulation commissioning costs. We are doing this quarter’s same look. We know that the root cause of these things each quarter are the same. Each quarter the actual costs are a little bit transitory and different, but the root cause is this congestion and this very aggressive delivery schedule that we signed up for. So, what we’re doing this quarter is sort of just dialing back to a much more conservative stance and saying I’m not sure what all the headwinds are out there. We’re doing our best to identify those, but 20% to 21% in Q3. It’s just more realistic in view of our track record on forecasting the last couple of quarters. But let me be clear. We have a tremendous amount of talent in the manufacturing organization in Rig Technology. I cannot say enough of good things about a team that grew manufacturing and grew throughputs sevenfold over the five years between 2005 and 2009. And what we’re seeing right now is even more challenging ramp-up in activities in that group and a much more challenging delivery schedule where we’ve shaved 10 or 12 months off of the time it takes to build a rig. So what we’re running to is it’s a time dimension and it’s showing up in different parts of our organization. So if you look back at our comments in the last couple of quarters, we’ve referred to BOP manufacturing, we’ve had issues really across all the major components going into these rigs at some form or fashion. But our folks are doing a great job working through those. I think the good news this quarter is that installation and commissioning is kind of the last thing that goes on, on one of these rigs. We’re going to commission 55 offshore rigs this year. I think we’ve got about 33 underway right now. And so we’re right in the teeth of the most challenging aspects of I&C work and we’re hopeful that the turn comes here quickly. But just to add an abundance of caution, I think, we’re calling for more level margins…

Merrill A. ‘Pete’ Miller, Jr. – Chairman and CEO: And I might also add that we just delivered last quarter a rig in 26 months. I mean, we’ve got challenges, but the bottom line is we’re delivering to our customers and that’s what’s absolute and most important thing to us is making sure that we’re getting in there and getting those out. And when you start thinking about the history of drillships and getting one out in 26 months, that’s pretty herculean. I mean, that’s really pretty phenomenal. So our guys are doing a great job on that and we feel good about the future as we look at it.

David Anderson – JPMorgan: Now this manufacturing congestion has been obviously an issue that’s been lingering here for a little bit. You’ve taken a lot of steps to address this. Where do you think you are – which inning do you think you are in, in terms of addressing these manufacturing congestion issues? Can you get there in a couple of quarters? Is it a little bit longer? How do we think about how far long you are?

Clay C. Williams – President and COO: I think we are at the seventh inning stretch.

A Closer Look: National Oilwell Varco Earnings Cheat Sheet>>