The Market Will Help Marathon Make You Money

You know the story of Phidippides: After running to Athens from a battle site on the plains of Marathon, he delivered the message of a surprising victory over the Persians by the outmanned Greeks, and promptly breathed his last.

Inappropriately, in my opinion, the market is reacting to Marathon Oil's (NYSE: MRO  ) latest earnings report as if the company and the fifth-century runner had ultimately assumed identical conditions. After falling nearly 5% on Tuesday, following a release that was affected by unplanned -- but corrected -- downtime at some of its international operations, the company's shares continued to slide on Wednesday.

For the quarter, it recorded net income of $996 million, or $1.39 per share, up 40.5% on the income line from $709 million, or $1.00 per share for the same quarter a year ago. On an adjusted basis, its income from continuing operations reached $689 million, or $0.96 per share, versus $440 million, or $0.62 per share in the prior year. On that basis, the per-share figure fell $0.03 short of the analysts' consensus and obviously was a factor in the market's cuffing of the company's shares subsequent to the release.

As the quarter wound down, Marathon successfully completed the spin-off of its refining and marketing operations to form Marathon Petroleum (NYSE: MPC  ) , a separate, Ohio-based company. Splits of this type are becoming more common among the integrated companies, with ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP  ) having announced plans for the same sort of separation a couple of weeks ago and Chevron (NYSE: CVX  ) less formally whittling away at its downstream assets.

Marathon Oil also agreed to plop down $3.5 billion in exchange for 141,000 acres in South Texas' literally and figuratively hot Eagle Ford Shale. The $21,000-per-acre cost compared with the $16,000 per acre that Korea National Oil paid in March to form a joint venture in the play with Anadarko Petroleum (NYSE: APC  ) .

For my money, far too many companies gloss over obvious softness in their quarterly results. As such, I found Marathon CEO Clarence Cazalot's candid comment during his company's call to be refreshing: "From the standpoint of our continuing operations, I'm personally not satisfied with our overall second-quarter performance, and I know our team feels the same way." At the same time, however, he noted, "Going forward, we are pursuing a more balanced, lower-risk, and, I believe, more sustainable program of investment and growth in unconventional plays."

Given the company's successful downstream divestiture, the return to normal of its international operations, and its Eagle Ford acquisition, I'm looking for its heavy-handed hammering by Mr. Market to be corrected to the benefit of its shareholders. It thereby follows that the company deserves close attention, with inclusion on our versions of My Watchlist ideal for facilitating the process.    

Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Chevron. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own shares in any of the companies named in this article. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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