Refiners' Boom Time May Be Near End
                                                                          by Ana Campoy

    One of the most profitable periods ever for the refining industry may be coming to an end.
    An increasing number of troubled refineries are coming back to full capacity at a time when greater supplies of gasoline and other fuels are coming from overseas. As a result, U.S. consumers have seen fuel prices ease.
    Analysts warn that any glitch in the refining system could drive prices higher again. At the same time, crude-oil prices are at higher levels since the beginning of the year, though they have fallen from a new record reached just last week. The two market trends have squeezed the profit that refiners get from turning oil into gasoline, diesel or heating oil.
    Lower gasoline prices mean good news for American consumers, who uncertainty from a weakening hosing market. But the shifts underscore the roller-coaster nature of the refining industry, which for years suffered from low margins and a lack of investment in aging facilities.
    Refining margins -- or the difference between the price of the crude oil that refiners buy and the price of the products that they make from it -- remain higher that their historical average, giving refiners more cash to manage the ups and downs. Still, narrowing margins could put to the test their recent efforts to make their systems more flexible to better adapt to the whims of the market.
    In the second quarter, lower imports and an unusually high number of maintenance projects decreased gasoline inventories, generating plump earnings for refiners. Valero Energy Corp., the country's largest refiner by crude capacity, posted second-quarter earnings of 2.25 billion, beating analysts' expectations. Profit at Tesoro Corp. jumped 36%, while Sunoco Inc.'s earnings rose 19%.
    Major integrated oil companies also benefited from the refining bonanza. Chevron Corp.'s overall earnings were boosted by 41% increase in the profit of its U.S. refining operations. Conoco Phillips saw its refining earnings in the U.S. go up by 31%.
    Earlier this week, Oppenheimer & Co. downgraded some refiners to neutral from buy. Amid a broadly lower market, Valero was at $67.55 a share in 4 p.m. composite trading on the New York Stock Exchange, up 26 cents but down from a 52-week high of $78.58 reached last month. Also on the Big Board, Sunco finished at $63.58, down $1.28 and down from a 52-week high of $86.40 reached in June.

refine vt. 精煉;使純淨
refinery n. 提煉廠;鍊金廠;煉油廠;煉糖廠(等)
glitch n. 小故障;小技術問題
crude adj. 未加工的;未提煉的;粗質的
squeeze vt. 壓;擠
underscore n.底線
coaster n. 沿海貿易之船
lack vi. 缺乏;不足
aging n. 衰老, 成長過程;成熟過程
facility n. 輕易, 熟練;靈巧
narrow adj. 狹窄的   vt. 使狹窄;限制;縮小
adapt vt. 使適合;使適應
whim n. 狂想;奇想;異想;一時興起之念
inventory  n. 物品清單;財產目錄
generate vt. 產;生
plump adj. 豐滿的;肥胖的
bonanza n.聚寶盆(之意)
boost vt. 提高;增加
neutral adj. 中立的;不偏袒的
amid prep. 在...當中
broad adj. 寬敞的;廣大的

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