Speculations peak about majors’ exit from Australian refining, retail

Rumors are swirling around the Australian petroleum industry about the exit of major companies Royal Dutch Shell PLC and BP PLC from the country’s refining and retail scene.

Sources suggest that three consortia have bid for Shell’s estimated $3 billion (Aus.) Australian service station and refinery assets.

They are speculated as an alliance of private equity firm TPG, the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, and Kuwait Investment Authority; a joint venture of oil trader Vitol and the Abu Dhabi Investment Council; and a consortium including the Macquarie Investment Bank and Thai energy company PTT.

Speculation is of a rapid agreement concluded this month for Shell’s downstream Australian assets that includes 900 service stations, the refinery in Geelong, Victoria, and several import terminals.

Speculation also surrounds BP’s downstream assets with the company said to be considering a $3 billion (Aus.) sale of its Queensland (Brisbane) and Western Australian (Kwinana) refineries and 225 service stations.

Neither company has commented on the rumours, but it is said that aging infrastructure and related expenses along with the high Australian dollar and increasingly fierce competition in the retail market and with imports of refined product from the big Asian refineries is forcing the move.

Meanwhile, ExxonMobil Corp. and the 7-Eleven chain stores have recently agreed to help return the Mobil petrol brand to the Australian east coast during 2014.

ExxonMobil sold 300 Mobil outlets to 7-Eleven in 2010. ExxonMobil continued to supply refined product to these stations, but it has been marketed as 7-Eleven.

It is now thought that the Mobil brand may be more attractive to consumers seeking quality in the premium-priced petrol market than 7-Eleven.

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