* Offers dividend $0.80/share vs 0.76 seen in Reuters poll
* May hike future dividend payouts due to good prospects
* Q4 net loss $82 mln, v $348 mln forecast excl. writedown
* Shares up 0.6 percent
By Gwladys Fouche
OSLO, Feb 29 (Reuters) - Seadrill, the world’s largest offshore oil driller by market value, may hike its future dividend payouts as it continues to benefit from a booming market for oil exploration and a modern rig fleet highly in demand after the BP oil spill.
Seadrill, whose main owner is shipping tycoon John “Big Wolf” Fredriksen, has enjoyed good times in recent months despite global economic uncertainty, with high oil prices sustaining demand for offshore rigs used by energy firms to drill for oil and gas deposits under the seabed.
Its rigs are more modern than those of previous market leader Transocean, which Seadrill overtook in market value last year, as Transocean struggles with the continuing fallout from the accident on its Deepwater Horizon rig.
On Wednesday the Oslo-listed firm proposed a quarterly dividend of 0.80 crown per share, compared to analysts’ median forecast for 0.76 crown in a Reuters poll, but reported a net loss for the fourth quarter of $82 million, due to a $463 million writedown announced on Monday.
It also saw its operating profit in the first quarter slightly better or in line with the one for the fourth quarter.
“The board is excited about the developments in the market and the way the company is positioned to benefit from recent trends and market developments,” the firm said in a statement.
“The board is confident that this growth will contribute to growth in earnings and potential for increasing the cash dividend going forward.”
The prospects of higher dividend payouts drove Seadrill’s shares upwards, said analysts.
“The dividend was higher than expected. Seadrill indicates strong markets will continue to distribute quite solid dividends going forward of 80 cents or above,” said Sondre Stormyr, an analyst at Oslo-based firm Swedbank First Securities.
Shares in Seadrill were up 0.61 percent at 1236 GMT, outperforming an European oil and gas index up 0.49 percent and an Oslo benchmark index up 0.3 percent.
Seadrill gave no further detail on Wednesday about its planned billion-dollar listing of its Brazilian unit Seabras, whose share offering is expected in April.
But it said it would post a $68 million profit in the first quarter from the sale of its 3.5 percent stake in fellow driller Ensco, owner of the world’s No.2 offshore drilling fleet. Last year Seadrill and Ensco battled for the control of drilling firm Pride, a battle Ensco won.
Like some of its peers, Seadrill warned that costs in the red-hot rig industry were rising, particularly in countries that are attracting record activity by oil majors keen to tap rich oil and gas reserves.
“Seadrill observes that there are increases in cost levels particularly in regions like Angola and Brazil,” it said.
U.S.-based Noble saw its overall costs associated with contract drilling in the fourth quarter increased by 15 percent to $383 million, the owner of the world’s third-largest offshore drilling fleet said in January.
“All in all (Seadrill‘s) underlying earnings are lower due to higher costs we see across the industry,” said Stormyr.
Seadrill posted a net loss for the fourth quarter of $82 million, compared with a $254 million profit in the same period last year, lagging a mean forecast of a $348 million profit, which excluded a $463 million writedown announced on Monday.
Higher costs played some part in the lower-than-expected profit, but the main factor was the $463 million writedown related to its investments in well company Archer.
Seadrill owns nearly 40 percent of Archer, whose share value has dived 59 percent in a year. Its chief executive was replaced in January.