UPDATE 2-Marathon Oil says no deal reached for sale of oil sands stake

Thu May 23, 2013 11:22am EDT

May 23 (Reuters) - Marathon Oil Corp said on Thursday that negotiations to sell a portion of its 20 percent stake in the Athabasca Oil Sands Project in Canada ended without a deal.

An agreement with the prospective purchaser was not reached and the company is not engaged in any other discussions to sell the assets, Marathon said.

Marathon and a number of other exploration and production companies, including ConocoPhillips COP.N, have put billions of dollars of oil and gas properties up for sale in a bid to focus capital on projects that generate higher returns.

Marathon disclosed the Athabasca negotiations in October, but it never disclosed the identity of the potential purchaser.

More than a week before Marathon disclosed the talks, sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters that Indian state-run exploration company Oil and Natural Gas Corp planned to approach Marathon about buying half of its interest in the Athabasca project.

Its current production capacity is 255,000 barrels of synthetic crude per day.

Marathon said it still expects to raise between $1.5 billion and $3 billion from asset sales over the three-year period ending this year. So far it has raised about $1.3 billion.

Marathon's decision to step away from selling its stake in Athabasca does leave Marathon short of its asset sale goal, but one-half of 2013 remains so reaching the lower end of the range remains achievable, Roger Read, analyst at Wells Fargo said in a note to clients.

He projects that the Houston company will be cash flow positive this year and next, so it does not need big asset sales to "provide liquidity or to improve its balance sheet."

Shares of Marathon fell one percent to $35.03 in late morning New York Stock exchange trading.

Shell owns 60 percent of the Athabasca project, which includes the Muskeg River and Jackpine mines, according to Shell Canada's website. Marathon and Chevron each own 20 percent.

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