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U.S. Fuelmakers Rise Lean and Lucrative From Pandemic Ashes

The domestic refining industry, nearly in shambles in 2020, is the most attractive it’s been in years.

The PBF Energy Toledo Refining Company facility in Oregon, Ohio.
The PBF Energy Toledo Refining Company facility in Oregon, Ohio.

Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

From indoor dining to international flights, industries battered by the Covid-19 pandemic are inching back toward normalcy, but perhaps none has turned a corner quite as definitively as the oil-refining sector.

Take PBF Energy Inc., for instance. As virus-wary Americans halted most travel in 2020, curbing everything from cross-country road trips to daily commutes, the New Jersey-based refiner, whose biggest shareholder is billionaire Carlos Slim, was forced to halt motor-fuel production in its home state due to a buildup of fuel but few buyers. Revenues were more than halved at the height of the crisis, and its notes due in 2028 plummeted below 50 cents on the dollar as recently as last summer. Executives put it particularly succinctly on an October 2020 earnings call: In terms of stockpiled gasoline and diesel, there was “too damn much inventory.”