Shares of Tesoro (NYSE: TSO ) hit a 52-week high Monday. Let's look at how it got here and whether clear skies are ahead.

How it got here
Refiners have been raking in cash lately because of an expansion in what the market calls the "crack spread." This is the difference between the price of a gallon of gas and the cost of a barrel of oil. When the spread widens, there's more profit for refiners to make, and when it narrows, refiners make less and may even begin shutting down production.

You can see by the chart below that over the past five years the spread has widened pretty dramatically.

RBOB Gasoline Futures Contract 1 (Daily) Chart

RBOB Gasoline Futures Contract 1 (Daily) data by YCharts.

This has benefited Tesoro and other refiners, particularly over the past year. As you can see below, Valero Energy (NYSE: VLO ) , HollyFrontier (NYSE: HFC ) , and Western Refining (NYSE: WNR ) are all at or near 52-week highs.

TSO Total Return Price Chart

TSO Total Return Price data by YCharts.

This performance is happening because earnings are growing rapidly even if revenue isn't.

Company 

Price/Book

Quarterly Revenue Growth

Quarterly Earnings Growth

Forward P/E

Tesoro

1.5

1.5%

77.5%

8.2

Valero Energy

1.1

10.8%

11.7%

6.8

HollyFrontier

1.6

62%

156.7%

7.9

Western Refining

2.4

-3.5%

138.3%

6.9

Source: Yahoo! Finance.

What's next?
The big question is whether these current conditions will continue.

I don't think there are market forces that will shrink crack spreads or add supply to the market, since refining capacity isn't easily added. With that said, spreads have widened far enough that I don't think there's a lot of upside from an earnings perspective. But with stocks trading at reasonable multiples, refining stocks could continue a slow and steady rise. I just wouldn't expect a market-crushing return and would consider the downside risk if oil prices jump.

The CAPS community is somewhat mixed, giving Tesoro a three-star rating, a middle-of-the-pack mark. 

If you're looking for an energy stock that isn't as tied to crack spreads, check out our report on the one energy stock you need. It's free for a limited time when you click here.


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