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Originally published January 13, 2011 at 5:39 AM | Page modified January 13, 2011 at 6:33 AM

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Marathon Oil to spin off its refining business

Marathon Oil said Thursday it will split into two companies, separating its business of exploring for and producing oil from its lower-margin refining operation.

The Associated Press

HOUSTON —

Marathon Oil said Thursday it will split into two companies, separating its business of exploring for and producing oil from its lower-margin refining operation.

The company says the move will allow it to be more flexible in operational decisions. Analysts say it's a good time to divest less profitable businesses as energy markets recover. The Houston company had considered a spin-off two years ago but shelved it as prices for oil and gas plummeted in the recession.

Marathon shares surged in pre-market trading, rising 11 percent, or $4.47, to $45.

The refining company will be known as Marathon Petroleum Corp. and will be based in Findlay, Ohio. It's expected to be the nation's fifth-largest refiner with refineries in the Midwest, Gulf Coast and Southeast.

Marathon Petroleum will trade on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol "MPC" starting on July 1. Marathon Oil Corp. will maintain the company's exploration and production assets as well as a business that produces oil from oil sands in Alberta, Canada. .

The exploration and production business had revenue of $2.53 billion in the third quarter, about one-sixth that of the refining and marketing business. The exploration division received an average of about $76 for each barrel of oil it sold and had an operating profit of $510 million.

But high oil prices make it harder for the refining business to make money. Marathon earned $285 million from refining and marketing in the quarter, about 44 percent less than it did from exploration.

Marathon reported net income of $696 million, or 98 cents per share, in the quarter compared with $413 million, or 58 cents per share a year earlier.

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