UPDATE 2-Marathon Petroleum loss smaller that estimate; pins recovery hopes on virus vaccines

(Compares with estimates, adds CEO comment, Q1 outlook and Q4 details)

Feb 2 (Reuters) - Marathon Petroleum Corp posted a smaller-than-expected quarterly loss on Tuesday, as its refining and marketing unit did better than analysts had estimated amid a recovery in fuel demand.

Demand for fuel has ticked up in recent months as more people traveled with many U.S. states and countries rolling back COVID-19 restrictions.

Like its rivals Valero and Phillips 66, Marathon Petroleum on Tuesday pinned economic recovery hopes on COVID-19 vaccine rollouts.

“The rollout of vaccines in 2021 provides support for the return of global mobility and transportation fuel demand, increasing optimism around steps toward economic recovery and prospects for our industry,” Chief Executive Officer Michael Hennigan said.

The refining and marketing segment posted a core adjusted loss of $702 million, much lower than Morgan Stanley’s estimate of $1.26 billion.

Margin for the segment fell nearly 15% to $6.11 per barrel from the preceding quarter and 63% from last year. The decrease was primarily due to lower crack spreads and reduced throughput.

The company’s total throughput, or the amount of crude it processed, in the fourth quarter was 2.5 million barrels per day (bpd), flat from the third quarter, and still below the 3.1 million bpd it processed in the year-ago quarter.

For the first quarter, Marathon Petroleum expects total refinery throughput of 2.6 million bpd.

Excluding idled facilities, the company’s crude capacity utilization in the fourth quarter was 82%, down from 84% in the third quarter.

Marathon Petroleum also forecast 2021 standalone capital spending of $1.4 billion, a reduction of $350 million from 2020.

The Findlay, Ohio-based Marathon said adjusted net loss narrowed to $608 million, or 94 cents per share, in the quarter ended December, from $649 million, or $1 per share, in the third quarter.

Analysts on average had expected a loss of $1.41 per share, according to Refinitiv IBES. (Reporting by Arunima Kumar in Bengaluru; Editing by Maju Samuel)