Marathon Petroleum Corp. (NYSE: MPC): The Best Way to Turn High Gas Prices into High Octane Profits

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Average gas prices currently are about $3.75 according to AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge Report.

That's higher than the average for all of 2011, which was the priciest year ever for gasoline. And what's worse is they're only going higher from here.

But if you think that investing in oil majors will help you overcome the sting of high gas prices this summer, think again.

While prices for both gasoline and crude oil have surged more than 10% this year, stock prices for oil majors like ExxonMobil Corp. (NYSE: XOM) and Chevron Corp. (NYSE: CVX) have been flat.

The dividends these companies pay won't make a dent, either.

It would take the average American something along the lines of a $20,000 investment in a stock that yields 3% to compensate for the surge we've seen in gas prices.

One reason these stocks have floundered is that the recent rise in oil prices has largely been the result of political tensions in Iran, rather than increased demand for oil.

Another is that President Obama has Big Oil subsidies in his crosshairs as he heads into this year's election.

Energy lobbyists have flooded Capitol Hill and Republicans have rallied to the defense of oil companies, but the November election will ultimately decide the fate of the $4 billion of subsidies oil majors get every year.

With so much money at stake, investors are rightfully wary of companies like Exxon and Chevron.

Still, that begs the question: If big oil stocks offer no respite from high gas prices, where can investors turn?

One solution is to invest in the United States Gasoline Fund LP (NYSE: UGA).

UGA invests in futures contracts on unleaded gasoline traded on the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX). It's already up 18% this year.

But there's still an even better option, and that's Marathon Petroleum Corp. (NYSE: MPC)

Marathon Petroleum (NYSE: MPC): Going the Distance

Marathon Petroleum is an oil refiner that was spun-off from Marathon Oil Corp. (NYSE: MRO) in July of last year.

The new company came away with all of Marathon's downstream refining and marketing assets. It has refineries on the Gulf Coast and in the Midwest, and it owns a pipeline network for crude and refined products.

Marathon Petroleum also has a profitable retail footprint.

It operates 5,100 Marathon-branded gas stations in 18 states and 1,350 Speedway-branded convenience stores in seven states. It has more than 9,600 miles of pipelines into and out of its facilities.

However, the company's greatest strength is the location of its assets.

You see, production from North Dakota's Bakken oil shale formation – the largest known reserve of light sweet crude in North America – is soaring. It went from a mere 3,000 barrels a day in 2005 to 225,000 in 2010, and could hit 350,000 barrels a day by 2035, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Currently, there aren't many ways to ship oil out of the basin, and supply in the region is outpacing refining capacity. That's helped keep the price of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude lower than the price of Brent crude in London.

Since U.S. East Coast refineries usually source Brent-priced crude oil, their input costs have skyrocketed. This is one of the reasons major integrated oil companies have shed their refining capacities.

But Midwest refineries have been able to save money by running WTI-priced oil, getting crude at significantly cheaper prices than globally sourced locations.

With the Bakken formation ramping up production in coming years to meet growing demand, the region's refineries will continue to enjoy low input costs. It also means refineries that have access to Bakken oil will have a steady supply that's cheaper than their competitors.

Furthermore, Marathon's Chief Executive Officer Gary Heminger says his company has built a strong enough refining position in the Midwest to ward off competition.

He doesn't expect new pipelines and rail yard capacity bringing oil from the Bakken to the Gulf Coast to soften his competitive edge. The oil still needs a high-volume consumer and his refineries are the most obvious choice.

"If you look at Midwest refineries, we already have plenty of pipeline capacity into our plants," Heminger said at the Reuters Global Energy and Climate Summit. "It really comes back to (West Texas Intermediate) and lighter-type crudes that are in and around Cushing [Oklahoma, where WTI is priced]. They're looking for a home."

Marathon Petroleum stock is already up 32% this year, but is still relatively cheap with a price/earnings ratio of just 6.5. It also yields 2.3%.

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  1. stuart mahabir | March 13, 2012

    Thanks for a very informative article on how to invest around the high gas prices facing the energy markets!

    Well done!

    Stuart

    Ps. Now I finally understand why the spread in oil prices between WTI crude price and Brent crude price! It's all the shale oil coming out of the US midwest!

  2. http://newfastweightlossdiets.com | March 20, 2012

    I am not very excellent with English but I line up this really leisurely to translate.

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