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    Mixed Bag for Major Oil's Q4

    Marathon Oil sees earnings rise, Suncor benefits from Petro-Canada purchase and BP's earnings miss analysts' estimates.

    NEW YORK -- The fourth quarter 2009 net income for Marathon Oil Corp., parent company to the Speedway SuperAmerica chain of convenience stores, reached $355 million, compared to the net loss of $41 million seen in the year-ago period.

    When adjusted for special items, though, fourth quarter 2009 net income was $229 million vs. 2008 fourth quarter net income adjusted for special items of $1.025 billion.

    Both net income and adjusted net income for the fourth quarter of 2009 include a $139 million increase to the provision for income tax due to a foreign currency remeasurement loss related to income tax balances denominated in foreign currencies, primarily in Canada, the company stated. Conversely, fourth quarter 2008 provision for income tax was reduced by $138 million, related to the foreign currency remeasurement gains.
    Full year 2009 net income for the company was $1.463 billion, down from the $3.528 billion seen in 2008. When adjusted for special items, Marathon reported 2009 net income of $1.156 billion, compared to 2008 net income of $4.613 billion.

    "In the face of one of the most challenging economic environments in decades, Marathon successfully executed a substantial capital investment program designed to focus on profitable growth, while maintaining a solid balance sheet and strong financial position, ending 2009 with an estimated 23 percent net debt-to-capital ratio," Clarence P. Cazalot Jr., Marathon president and CEO, said in a statement.

    In its 2009 highlights, the company listed growth in its retail marketing division, along with an increase in Speedway SuperAmerica LLC (SSA) same-store gasoline sales volumes and merchandise sales of 1.1 percent and 11.4 percent, respectively, over 2008. In addition, the company noted Speedway was named best gasoline brand in the nation in its category by the 2009 EquiTrend Brand Study.

    SSA's gasoline and distillate gross margin averaged 10.40 cents per gallon during the fourth quarter 2009, down from the 18.21 cents realized in the fourth quarter 2008. For the full year of 2009, fuel gross margins averaged 11.41 cents per gallon, also down slightly compared to the 13.87 cents seen in 2008. Meanwhile, SSA same-store merchandise sales increased 9.6 percent during the fourth quarter and 11.4 percent for the full year 2009, the company noted.

    Marathon's refining, marketing and transportation segment reported a loss of $18 million in the fourth quarter of 2009, and income of $464 million for the year, compared to income of $325 million and $1.179 billion in the respective periods of 2008. The decrease in the full year 2009 segment income was primarily due to narrowing of the average sweet-sour crude oil differential by approximately $6 per barrel year to year, the company stated.

    In other earnings news, Suncor Energy Inc., Canada's largest oil company, reported a fourth-quarter profit as production more than doubled due to the purchase of Petro-Canada, Bloomberg News reported. Suncor bought Petro-Canada in August for C$19.2 billion.

    Net income for the fourth quarter was C$457 million ($431 million U.S.), compared with a net loss of C$215 million in the fourth quarter 2008. Revenue rose 9.8 percent to C$7.64 billion on higher output and refined-product sales, according to the report.

    "This is the first quarter of the merged company, and I think there were a lot of housecleaning things and accounting changes that impacted what they reported," Terry Peters, an analyst at Canaccord Capital Corp. in Toronto who has a "buy" rating on Suncor shares, said in a telephone interview with Bloomberg News.

    Meanwhile, British energy company BP plc saw profit slip in the fourth quarter 2009 compared to the previous quarter, but it was still higher than the year-ago figures, Reuters reported.

    BP reported a $4.3 billion fourth-quarter profit, compared to the $5.3 billion BP posted in the third quarter of 2009, and higher than the $3.3 billion loss in the fourth quarter 2008.

    Fourth-quarter sales were $71 billion, up 15 percent from a year earlier, according to the report.

    BP's chief executive, Tony Hayward, said in a statement 2009 results had beaten the company's own targets, showing "the progress we have made and the momentum we have established in growing our business and making it more efficient."

    BP lowered its costs in 2009 by more than $4 billion over 2008, partly by cutting roughly 7,500 jobs, Reuters reported.

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