NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Weak oil prices are causing energy companies to slash spending and rethink how they conduct business. But it's business as usual for Western Refining (WNR) , which processes crude oil into various usable products such as gasoline and diesel fuel.

With shares, at $43.55, up more than 15.5% for the year to date, the El Paso,Texas company has outperformed the 1.3% gain in the Energy Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLE) - Get Report , which includes Exxon Mobil (XOM) - Get Report (down 1.56%) and Chevron (CVX) - Get Report (down 1.55%).

Western is due to report fourth-quarter results Thursday, investors shouldn't even think about letting go of this winner.

Image placeholder title

WNR Year to Date Total Returns

data by

YCharts

This is because refiners like Western make their profit margins based on the difference of what it costs them produce oil products and the "rack" -- or wholesale price of what they sell out of the refinery. That margin comes from a lot of things, including the cost of crude oil, refinery capacity, product inventories, how much it cost to transport oil, and so on.

Because of these factors, Western Refining benefits from higher crude and West Texas Intermediate prices since it is able to pass the higher prices to distributors and consumers. Unlike exploration and production companies, Western can still operate profitably in low oil price environments because it can maintain its margins by passing on these costs.

In that regard, while the large oil majors are forced to trim their capital spending budgets, Western can still operate with minimal impacts to its current refining projects and cash flow, which is a good thing for current shareholders.

Cash flow growth is important because both Western pays strong quarterly dividend of 30 cents per share, yielding 2.77%, or 77 basis points higher than the average yield paid out by S&P 500 companies. And with earnings projected to grow almost 45% this year, unlike some of the large oil majors that have been forced to cut or suspend their dividends, Western investors don't have that as an overhang, either.

For the quarter that ended in December, Western is expected to report a 63% year-over-year jump in earnings per share, reaching 98 cents, while revenue if projected to grow 2% year over year to $3 billion. For the full year, earnings are expected to reach $4.45 per share, up 41% year over year, while full-year revenue is expected to surge 47% to $14.9 billion.

What's more, despite the stock's outperformance, including 20% gains in the past month, the shares are cheap, trading at just 10 times trailing earnings. This is half the trailing P/E of companies in the S&P 500. Analysts understand this, giving the stock a consensus buy rating and an average target of $49, suggesting 13% gains from current levels.

TheStreet Ratings team rates WESTERN REFINING INC as a Buy with a ratings score of B+. TheStreet Ratings Team has this to say about their recommendation:

"We rate WESTERN REFINING INC (WNR) a BUY. This is driven by some important positives, which we believe should have a greater impact than any weaknesses, and should give investors a better performance opportunity than most stocks we cover. The company's strengths can be seen in multiple areas, such as its robust revenue growth, attractive valuation levels, good cash flow from operations, increase in net income and increase in stock price during the past year. We feel these strengths outweigh the fact that the company shows low profit margins."

You can view the full analysis from the report here: WNR Ratings Report

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.