What happened?

Shares of oil refiner Calumet Specialty Products Partners (NASDAQ:CLMT) are up 11% as of 12:30 p.m. EDT today. The stock-price gain is attributed to its first-quarter earnings release, which showed the company posted a loss much lower than expected.

So what?

For the quarter, Calumet posted a per-share loss of $0.08, which was much better than consensus analyst estimates that had Calumet losing $0.71 per share in the quarter.

Aerial view of an oil refinery

Image source: Getty Images.

It appears that, based on the company's results, those gains came from improving performance at its refineries and cutting costs. Even though the average per-barrel product margin for its specialty products division decreased 25% compared to this time last year, segment-adjusted EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization) was only down 22%. That's rather impressive, considering that earnings typically swing more than product margins because of the high fixed costs to run refineries and petrochemical facilities. Furthermore, Calumet was able to produce a positive adjusted EBITDA figure for its traditional fuel-refining business, despite the challenging refining market today.

So what?

This suggests that CEO Timothy Go's plans to improve operational performance and cut costs are taking hold. Those are things the company has sorely needed for some time, as its operations have fallen to the wayside and debt has continued to pile up.

That said, the company is still producing quarterly losses, burning through cash on the operations side, and adding more debt to its already heavy load. It is making steps in the right direction -- and Wall Street is rewarding shares today -- but the company still has a long way to go before it can be considered a worthy long-term investment.