U.S. Markets closed

Ahead of the Bell: McMoRan Exploration

NEW YORK (AP) -- Shares of McMoRan Exploration jumped nearly 50 percent before Wednesday's opening bell, after the Financial Times reported on its front page that the company could be the target of a buyout

Citing people familiar with the matter, the paper reported that Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. wants to return to its roots as an energy producer and that in addition to buying McMoRan Exploration, an oil and gas driller, it wants to acquire a large oil and gas group. That would potentially give Freeport two companies that operate oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.

The result would be a big shift in strategy for Freeport and create a natural resources conglomerate worth close to $50 billion including debt, the newspaper said.

New Orleans' McMoRan Exploration was spun off from Freeport in 1994 and has a market capitalization of about $1.37 billion.

In premarket trading, McMoRan Exploration Co. shares jumped $4.04 to $12.50, while Freeport shares rose 12 cents to $38.40.