I haven't covered any of the ethanol producers' quarterly results as of yet, so let's get caught up really quickly. Aventine Renewable Energy (NYSE:AVR) was first to stumble out of the gate, with a 43% drop in earnings. Next we saw The Andersons (NASDAQ:ANDE) report a record quarter. Ditto for Archer Daniels Midland (NYSE:ADM), despite its ethanol group's decimation. There seems to be no rhyme or reason here. But all ethanol companies are not created equal, Fools.

Aventine is the pure play of the three, and it has been purely punished. The Andersons and Archer, on the other hand, have other lines of business that are booming along with the record corn crop. The Andersons is a grain trader, a fertilizer distributor, and more. ADM is, of course, a diversified agribusiness giant, processing corn, soybeans, wheat, and cocoa.

The performance gap between the pure plays and the partial participants was made even more palpable on Friday, with Pacific Ethanol's (NASDAQ:PEIX) paltry profit report. Actually, there were no profits to report. Pacific sold plenty of ethanol, but its commodity spread was crushed to $0.99/gallon, down 10% from last quarter. Gross margins ran at a ghastly 4%, which left no hope for the bottom line.

On the conference call, management did their darnedest to keep listeners focused on the scary macro environment -- geopolitical tensions, global warming, that kind of thing. It's amazing to me that companies like Pacific Ethanol and VeraSun Energy (NYSE:VSE) keep beating the global warming drum, even though it's been found repeatedly that the full life cycle of corn ethanol does nothing to reduce CO2 emissions.

Also irksome was management's claim that Pacific Ethanol's rapid growth in ethanol production confirms its business strategy. Yes, they're producing more ethanol at a loss than some of their rivals. Smells like victory to me!

On second thought, I smell something different entirely.

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Fool contributor Toby Shute doesn't have a position in any company mentioned. Don't forget to stop and smell the Fool's disclosure policy.