Oil prices are a double-edged sword for the energy industry. High prices slow demand, but they still can boost profits, though the equation looks different to a refiner such as Philadelphia's Sunoco Inc. than to oil-rich competitors.
"They like to say that they don't widen their margins, but when you've got a $100 barrel of oil and your margin is 10 percent, you're making $10. When it's $50, you're making $5," said Joel Naroff, chief economist for TD Bank N.A.
Naroff said the whole energy sector faced lingering effects from this year's spike in oil prices above $147 a barrel, even though some analysts expect prices to stay in the $40 to $50 range next year.
"People are going to be much more cautious in their use of all types of energy," Naroff said.