It is more or less true that all commodity products are the same (that's why they call them "commodities"), but it doesn't automatically follow that all commodity companies are identical. Though Wall Street often treats industries with sweeping generalizations, buying and selling them in baskets, careful investors can translate deeper research into better long-term results.

Motley Fool Income Investor pick Total SA (NYSE:TOT) is one example. While Total seems bedeviled by the same production problems as other large oil producers such as ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM), BP (NYSE:BP), or Royal Dutch/Shell (majority-owned by Royal Dutch (NYSE:RD)), the company is still managing superior margins and profit growth.

Though production volumes declined 2.7% for the first quarter, sales (measured in Euros) climbed 18%, in part because of higher realized oil/gas prices and improved refining margins. Energy production continued to decline in the North Sea and North America, and the company's efforts in newer territories such as Libya, Nigeria, and Venezuela aren't fully making up the difference yet.

Adding to the production concerns, Total is running into some difficulties in its attempt to purchase a 25% stake in Russian gas producer Novatek. Russian authorities are dragging their feet in approving the transaction, and it appears that Novatek may be trying to squeeze a better price out of Total. Should this deal fall through, management acknowledged that production levels over the next five years would likely be on the low end of the 3-4% growth target.

In the meantime, there's still plenty to like about Total. The company's margins and return on equity are quite good relative to the industry, and relative valuation is also quite reasonable. Couple this with a company that is committed to sharing its success with its shareholders through dividends and ongoing share repurchases, and you have a non-generic commodity company.

Of course, these shares will be volatile in response to moves in the oil market, so they may not be the best pick for investors focused on the short term. The long-term picture for oil and gas, though, is still favorable, with demand poised to outstrip supply. Patient investors should not ignore energy stocks just because oil might sell off this year.

For more Foolishness from the oil patch:

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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).