NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Slumping oil prices still have the entire stock market on tenterhooks. The price of crude oil Tuesday fell to less than $45, an important psychological benchmark. Energy investors are desperate for some good news, but they shouldn't hold their breath.
Brent crude is down 3.3% Tuesday to $45.86, while the price of West Texas Intermediate breached $45, reaching $44.66, a six-year low.
There's still money to be made in in energy stocks, however, if investors know where to look.
Take, for example, Northern Tier Energy (NTI) and Holly Energy Partners (HEP) - Get Holly Energy Partners, L.P. Report , two oil-refining companies that offer strong protection against slumping oil prices.
Not only do they offer above-average dividend yields of 17.7% and 6.77%, respectively, both stocks are outperforming the broader stock market so far this year. Northern Tier is up 1.5%, while Holly Energy is up 3.2%. The S&P 500 has slipped 0.3% in the new year.
What's more, both companies have outperformed the Energy Select Sector ETF (XLE) - Get Energy Select Sector SPDR Fund Report and Vanguard Energy Index Fund ETF (VDE) - Get Vanguard Energy ETF Report over the past six months. Holly has lost 9.8%, while Northern Tier has lost 14%. But those losses are far less than those suffered by the Energy Select Sector ETF (24%) and the Vanguard ETF (26%).
The ETFs have gotten punished because of the glut of supply in the market and because OPEC has refused to cut back on output. Industry analysts are predicting that a bottom in oil prices won't be reached until around $40 per barrel. So there's possibly another 10% downside in oil prices before the market stabilizes, meaning things will get worse before they get better.
But here's the thing. Weak oil prices mean nothing to Northern Tier Energy or Holly Energy Partners. Their respective year-to-date and one-month stock performances have shown that. Take a look at the chart.
Both companies have beaten the market over the past month because they are refiners. In their business model, what matters most is the spread, or price difference between crude oil and refined products, not the absolute price of crude. This means their business can still perform and create cash flow, despite the decline in oil prices.
And as drillers and production companies are forced to cut back on drilling and exploration costs -- and in some cases, their dividends -- Northern Tier and Holly Energy can continue to invest in their operations. They also can continue buying back shares and increasing their dividends.
In other words, the reasons that made them sound investments to begin with are still intact, regardless of the direction of oil prices.
Holly Energy Partners has an average 12-month price target from Wall Street analysts of $34, suggesting 10% gains are possible. Northern Tier Energy has an average 12-month price target of $26.75, suggesting potential gains of 18.46%.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.