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Energy merchants are wrapping up the year with a flurry of last-minute deals.

El Paso

( EP) rang up the latest transaction by finalizing a refinery sale -- at a fresh markdown -- on Tuesday to


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. Meanwhile,



paid off some old bills so it could gear up for a shopping spree next year.


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restructured some looming debts of its own. And

American Electric Power

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reportedly found a buyer for two European power plants by selling them at half-price.

The fresh wave of deals offered small pops for most of the companies involved. Similarly, earlier transactions last week -- carried out by

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-- "created headlines but little stock movement," Prudential analyst Carol Coale noted on Monday.

Williams shares, down 8 cents to $9.92, have mostly held steady since the company closed on the sale of three midstream assets for $120 million last week. Meanwhile, Coale has credited Duke's recent surge to excitement about the company's new turnaround plan -- scheduled to be unveiled next month -- instead of its $79.7 million sale of a power facility in northwestern France.

Duke's stock, which recently broke through $20 for the first time in six months, added another 18 cents to hit $20.65 on Tuesday.

El Paso, also a strong performer in recent weeks, continued to climb as well. The stock inched up 7 cents to $8.18 after regulators cleared the company's sale of its Eagle Point refinery to Sunoco for $111 million.

Last year, when it first started shedding assets to pay down debt, El Paso had hoped to snare as much as $500 million for the New Jersey refinery. Instead, it settled for a closing price that's even lower than the $130 million Sunoco agreed to pay during negotiations in April. Even then, Sunoco analysts had celebrated the deal as a great bargain for the big refiner.

Although El Paso is expected to report a loss on the transaction, the company will preserve up to $150 million in cash -- otherwise headed for environmental upgrades -- by ridding itself of the refinery. El Paso is in the process of selling billions of dollars worth of assets in an effort to slash its heavy debt load over the next two years.

Meanwhile, Reliant is actually planning to buy some new assets. The power company -- which has a huge debt burden of its own -- announced Monday that it has restructured its credit arrangements to allow for power plant purchases "when opportunities arise in the future."

Reliant secured this new flexibility after prepaying $917 million worth of debt and canceling an unused $300 million credit facility entirely. The company had previously been saving up the cash to buy Texas Genco, a generation company owned by its former parent, but has decided to pursue individual assets instead. The company plans to spend up to $1 billion -- just over half of what Texas Genco would have cost -- on power plants in Texas.

Earlier, Burnham analyst Ali Agha had expressed a combination of relief and concern when Reliant canceled the Texas Genco deal. He said Reliant's balance sheet, liquidity and earnings stability would benefit from the decision. But he also noted that the acquisition would have been "significantly accretive" to earnings, boosting profits by at least 15 cents or 20 cents a share next year alone. He also warned that, without Texas Genco, Reliant might find itself shopping elsewhere for expensive electricity to supply its retail customers.

Agha maintained his neutral rating on Reliant's shares due partly to its large merchant exposure and generous valuation. But Reliant's stock -- sitting at $6.16 at the time of Agha's report -- has only continued to climb, tacking on another 20 cents to hit $7.23 on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, AES continues to post some gains of its own. A day after restructuring a $1.2 billion debt agreement in Brazil -- and surging 4.1% on the news -- AES jumped another 1.9% to $9.47 Tuesday morning.

AEP also extended gains racked up on Monday, following news of a pending asset sale.

The Independent

of London reported on Sunday that AEP had agreed to sell two English power plants to U.K.-based International Power for $530 million. AEP paid more than twice that amount for the coal-fire plants in 2001 but has since written down their values significantly.

Still, at least one industry expert questioned whether International Power had really landed a deal. He said the company is buying "completely merchant" power plants -- with no contracted power sales -- at a time when it already has plenty of distressed assets of its own.

"How can the board of directors of IP approve such an acquisition price with the company falling apart around them?" he asked. "IP is clearly desperate for a deal."

And AEP was eager enough to offer one. The company's stock rose 31 cents to $30.57 Tuesday, adding to Monday's small gain, after reports of the transaction surfaced.