Give This Marathon a Run

Even among active oil and gas companies, Marathon Oil (NYSE: MRO  ) brings to mind the old saw about a one-armed paperhanger, the cat in a sandbox, or … well you get the picture.

First, the Houston-based company managed to more than double its third-quarter profit, as higher crude oil and natural gas prices upped the company's U.S. and international exploration and production income to lofty new levels. At the same time, its refining and marketing unit benefited -- as did those of its peers -- from the steady decline in commodities prices during the quarter. And Canadian oil sands mining, which was not a factor in the year-ago quarter, contributed $288 million in income to the company in the quarter.

So Marathon earned $2.06 billion, or $2.90 a share, compared with $1.02 billion, or $1.49 a share, a year ago. Revenue in the quarter was 38% higher, reaching $23.45 billion. Expectations had been for the EPS line to reach $2.33 on revenue of $23.4 billion.

Along with its earnings results, Marathon management announced that it is still "evaluating a potential separation of Marathon's business, and we're on course for a decision by the end of this year." That would likely involve a breakup of the upstream and the downstream units. It could have interesting ramifications, including making Marathon's upstream operations attractive to the likes of ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM  ) -- with its $39 billion in cash -- Chevron (NYSE: CVX  ) , or perhaps ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP  ) .

In addition to its quarterly information, Marathon also has announced two deepwater development projects in the Gulf of Mexico. One, the Droshky project, will occur in about 2,900 feet of water in Green Canyon, about 140 miles off Venice, Louisiana. It will ultimately be tied into Royal Dutch Shell's (NYSE: RDS-A  ) Bullwinkle platform. The other, the Ozona project, will take place in about 3,000 feet of water about 175 miles southeast of Sabine, Texas, and near Shell's big Augur platform. The company has contracted with Noble (NYSE: NE  ) for a pair of rigs to be used on the projects.

As is not uncommon among energy companies today, Marathon's shares are trading more than 55% below their 52-week high. The company's solid operating results, interesting prospects if a unit is sold off, and willingness to go deep should be enough to put a gleam in the eye of energy-investing Fools everywhere.

Marathon has been granted four stars by Motley Fool CAPS members. I think it deserves another star, and am giving it a thumbs-up.

For related Foolishness:

Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't have financial interests in any of the companies mentioned. He does welcome your questions or comments. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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