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Private Briefingwith WILLIAM PATALON III, Executive Editor
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Shale oil production continues its upward path, increasing overall U.S. oil production and making specific groups of energy stocks among the best to buy right now.
In fact, the U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) reported last month that domestic oil production surpassed the 7 million barrel a day level, the highest point in nearly 20 years. Production this year, the EIA says, will rise by another 14%.
This is obviously good news for the companies producing that oil, and it gets even better. Many industries outside the energy sector, including chemicals and railroads, have benefited from the shale boom.
But there is one subsector in the energy industry that has reaped the rewards of plentiful oil from the Bakken and other areas more than any other, and that's the refining industry.
The refining sector has been perhaps the most scorned part of the energy industry.
Investors shunned it for many years because U.S. refiners had a difficult time making money. This was thanks in a large part to refineries (particularly on the East Coast) having to import costly foreign oil.
Even a few dollars less per barrel of oil in cost savings is huge to refiners' bottom line. Take Phillips 66 (NYSE: PSX) for example.
A spokesperson for the company, Dennis Nuss, told the Boston Globe "A savings of $1 per barrel across our entire refining system is worth several hundred million dollars of net income to Phillips 66."
With the flood of oil from North Dakota and Texas, domestic crude oil prices are much lower than the global benchmark Brent crude oil. The difference can be in the $15-$25 per barrel range.
This has made the U.S. refining industry very competitive on a global scale. The industry is now exporting record amounts of refined products such as diesel fuel to destinations overseas like Mexico.
Robin West of the energy consultancy PFC Energy said to the Financial Times, "The entire structure of the U.S. refining industry has been turned on its head. Up until recently, oil was imported and refined on the coast and then transported inland. Now the crude is being produced inland and sent to the coasts. It's a goldmine for the refineries that have access to it [domestic oil]."
That idea has not been lost on investors looking for energy stocks.
The Bloomberg S&P Supercomposite Oil & Gas Refining & Marketing Index has gained about 80% in the last year.
PFC Energy published a recent analysis that showed that in 2012 stocks of U.S. refiners jumped by between 57% and 105%. This was their best showing since the 2008-2009 decline in oil prices and collapse in refining profit margins.
Some the biggest winners so far have been the companies with refineries inland, close to where the oil is being produced, like these U.S. refiners.
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