Competition tsar Rod Sims has fired a shot across the bow of US oil titan Chevron, saying he will closely watch its petrol pricing should it enter the Australian market.
Chevron surprised the nation’s petrol sector by last month announcing that it would spend $425 million to buy fuel retailer Puma Energy.
The deal hands Chevron 360 petrol stations, a fuel distribution business and import terminals.
It will return the US oil and gas major to the Australian market four years after it left by selling its half stake in Caltex Australia for $4.6 billion.
Chevron’s looming arrival risks lifting prices for motorists, given that petrol stations backed by oil majors are generally more expensive than those run by smaller operators.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission does not have grounds to block the transaction because Chevron does not own any existing petrol stations here.
But Mr Sims said he was aware fuel majors tended to charge more for petrol than independent operators.
The ACCC would be highly vocal in calling out any price increase Chevron might usher into the market, he said.
“We will certainly be looking closely at their pricing and comparing it to Puma, and calling it out if their entry results in higher prices,” Mr Sims told Business Daily.
“Our monitoring role is to help consumers get the best prices and if we think Puma prices are going up under Chevron’s ownership, we will certainly let consumers know about it.
“It’s (Chevron) a major player and the majors generally price higher than the independents.”
The ACCC’s most recent petrol monitoring report, released in November, shows Coles Express, whose Shell-branded petrol is supplied by Viva Energy, was consistently the most expensive place to outlet up with.
Major chains such as BP and Caltex generally had higher-than-average market prices while smaller chains offered the lowest prices across all the capital cities.
United consistently offered the cheapest petrol in Melbourne and Brisbane while Speedway was the cheapest in Sydney.
The ACCC report does not detail Puma’s price gap in Melbourne.
But in Brisbane it was 1.9c a litre cheaper than the city’s average and 1c a litre cheaper in Perth.
Mr Sims urged motorists to shop around for petrol and reward low-priced outlets.
“I do get letter and emails from people pointing out one petrol retailer is charging 20c more a litre than another one and asking why the ACCC isn’t doing something about it,” he said.
“There is nothing we can do about someone pricing apples higher than somebody else, any more than there is when someone prices petrol higher than somebody else.
“The advice that we give is buy petrol from the cheaper place and keep going back so that the one who is trying to charge more loses sales and that will be the best discipline on them.”
A Chevron spokeswoman said it was “premature and speculative to comment on pricing at this point”.
The change of ownership at Puma comes at a time of considerable flux within the nation’s fuel retailing landscape.
Caltex is fielding an $8.6 billon takeover offer from Canadian convenience store operator Alimentation Couche-Tard. It also plans to rebrand itself as Ampol after Chevron declined to extend its licence to use the Caltex name.
Woolworths sold its 540 petrol stations for $1.72 billion to British petrol station operator EG Group, or Euro Garages, in late 2018.
That deal only happened after the ACCC blocked BP from buying Woolworths’ fuel business.
Chevron aims to complete its Puma buyout, which must be approved by the Foreign Investment Review Board, by the middle of the year.
Extracted from Daily Telegraph