West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark, was up 2.35% to $44.48 at 2:59 p.m. in New York, while global benchmark Brent rose 4.37% to $55.85.
The stock is holding gains from early trading as well, when the spread widened on the two most actively traded crude contracts.
The widening spread restores high margins for Midwest refiners, such as Valero, which refines cheap U.S. crude into gasoline, diesel, and other products to be sold at prices linked to the more expensive Brent.
Insight from TheStreet's Research Team:
RealMoneyPro.com contributor Bret Jensen recently wrote about strategic plays on refiners in the current crude environment and picked Valero as his "favorite."
Here's a snippet of what he had to say:
The energy space is extremely opaque at the moment and I don't think anyone knows whether oil will be at $30 or $80 a year from now, although Goldman Sachs seems to change its price outlook on a monthly basis.
This is the first time we have seen this sort of plunge outside a global recession since 1998 and, unfortunately, the huge decline caught almost every analyst/pundit from left field.
One part of the energy complex that has held up extremely well, however, is the refinery group. Crack spreads are doing well thanks to the discrepancy between West Texas Intermediate (WTI) and Brent crude benchmark prices, something that looks like it will continue for a while as U.S. production continues to grow despite a significantly falling rig count.
This sector is relatively unlevered and still relatively cheap.
My favorite play in the refining space continues to be the largest play in the sector -- refinery giant Valero Energy. The company gets a growing portion of its revenue from exporting refined products overseas and its facilities are well-positioned to continue to benefit from America's growing energy bounty.
Valero has little debt and has been using its cash flow to increase its dividend at a prodigious rate. The stock's yield now stands at 2.7% after Valero upped its dividend payout by 45% in January. Meanwhile, the company should see its capital expenditures drop some 20% annually over the next two years, likely leading to further dividend increases.
Valero continues to drop assets into its own limited partnership, Valero Energy Partners LP (VLP), which it established in late in 2013. The company crushed expectations during its last quarterly report and was upgraded by Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank in mid-February. And the shares are not expensive, trading at 9x trailing earnings.
I have no idea what lies ahead for the energy market. Things could easily get worse before they get better. The refiners stand out as one of the few investable sub-sectors in the space and offer good value here.
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Separately, TheStreet Ratings team rates VALERO ENERGY CORP as a Buy with a ratings score of A-. TheStreet Ratings Team has this to say about their recommendation:
"We rate VALERO ENERGY CORP (VLO) a BUY. This is based on the convergence of positive investment measures, which should help this stock outperform the majority of stocks that we rate. The company's strengths can be seen in multiple areas, such as its attractive valuation levels, largely solid financial position with reasonable debt levels by most measures, notable return on equity and increase in stock price during the past year. We feel these strengths outweigh the fact that the company shows weak operating cash flow." You can view the full analysis from the report here: VLO Ratings Report