Surging oil prices might be sapping consumer enthusiasm, but they're doing wonders for the corporate profit picture. Excluding the energy sector, Wall Street's third-quarter earnings estimates call for year-over-year growth of 10.9%, according to Thomson First Call. Expectations outside of energy were lowered after companies from a variety of other sectors slashed their forecasts in recent weeks in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Meanwhile, energy companies have quietly watched their stocks soar while analysts cranked up their quarterly estimates for the sector. Wall Street, which was expecting overall earnings growth of 21% from energy companies as recently as last month, now pegs it at 73%. "We typically don't see jumps that big in estimates during the course of a quarter," says Thomson First Call analyst John Butters. "You've got to go back a ways to find an improvement on that scale." Thanks to that spectacular rise, overall profits for the S&P 500 are expected to rise by 17.6%, up from the 16.8% pace set in the same quarter last year. That figure marks an increase from late August, before the hurricanes struck the Gulf Coast, when analysts were expecting a gain of 15.1%. Most people attribute the energy sector's success of late to the run-up in crude oil prices that has been a focus for market watchers this year and last. But crude has actually declined after a brief spike when Katrina made landfall in New Orleans. Since then, the biggest boost to energy companies has been gains in so-called crack spreads -- the spread between the price of refined oil products (gas, diesel, jet fuel or heating oil) and crude. That spread represents profit margins for refining companies. Fadel Gheit, an analyst with Oppenheimer & Co., estimates that average crack spreads for major refiners have increased more than 50% in the third quarter from the second quarter. Strains on the nation's capacity to refine crude oil are responsible for the jump, he says, and those strains aren't likely to abate anytime soon.