A Big Upgrade for Marathon Oil

Every day, the sun rises on Wall Street, and a plethora of professional analysts wake to issue new opinions on stocks. Here at the Fool, we use our "This Just In" column to examine some of these picks-- and the track records of the firm behind them -- so individuals can make better investing decisions.

In addition to following professional banks, anyone can use Motley Fool CAPS to monitor the collective opinions of more than 130,000 members, many of whom demonstrate better investing insight than published analysts do.

Enough top-performing CAPS members have turned bullish on Marathon Oil (NYSE: MRO  ) recently to upgrade it from the four-star rank it's held for many months to a more formidable five stars. A total of 1,362 members have given their opinion on Marathon Oil, with many of them offering analysis and commentary explaining the recent optimism.

Even to the chagrin of Warren Buffett, Marathon and peer energy companies like Apache (NYSE: APA  ) and Buffett-held ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP  ) have lost roughly half their value since last year's highs. But many investors have noted that the stock losses don't necessarily speak to the quality of their businesses, or the outlook for the energy sector as a whole. The low share prices have prompted many to curtail investments, though, and some exploration and production (E&P) companies such as Contango Oil & Gas (NYSE: MCF  ) and Brigham Exploration have even launched antitakeover measures, lest money-stuffed rivals pick the firms up on the cheap.

Marathon's fourth-quarter earnings fell in between BP's (NYSE: BP  ) large loss and ExxonMobil's (NYSE: XOM  ) record profit. The E&P side struggled with lower crude and gas prices, but Marathon's refining, marketing, and transportation arm saw income jump from $4 million to $325 million, helped by a big increase in margins. Marathon's decision not to split the company in two earned it a boosted outlook from Standard & Poor's, which expects the firm to navigate its way prudently through the downturn. And while many oil sands projects have stalled, the Athabasca Oil Sands Project in Canada -- a partnership between Marathon, Chevron (NYSE: CVX  ) , and majority partner Royal Dutch Shell -- is moving forward with expansion plans.

To see what the very best CAPS analysts are saying now about Marathon Oil -- as well as other winning stocks they are picking -- head on over to CAPS and have a look. The community research and resources in CAPS are totally free, unlike analyst opinions reserved for paying clients.

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Fool contributor Dave Mockrecently upgraded his hot dog with mustard, ketchup and -- oh yeah -- pickle relish. He owns shares of ExxonMobil. The Fool's disclosure policy plumps when you cook it.


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