29 Mar 2010

Shell sells assets to NZ consortium

11:03 pm on 29 March 2010

Global fuel giant Shell is selling its New Zealand retail and distribution network to a local consortium.

Infrastructure investor Infratil made the deal in partnership with the New Zealand Superannuation Fund and says customers will benefit from having local management.

Infratil says it expects to eventually pay about $750 million for Shell's 229 petrol stations and a stake in the New Zealand Refinery, in what it describes as a good deal for a strong business.

The consortium will initially pay $696.5 million for Shell's downstream assets, with the remainder to be settled on Thursday when it calculates the amount of fuel Shell holds at that date.

Shell says the sale is part of a global strategy to get out of retail and concentrate on oil exploration and production.

A Shell New Zealand spokesperson says the sale does not affect its exploration and production activities.

Kylie Reeves says with staff transferring to the new company and Shell continuing to supply products under the Shell brand, customers are unlikely to notice any difference.

The acquisition is a rare example of New Zealand investors buying local assets from an overseas company. As well, a major player in the fuel retail sector has not been in New Zealand hands since 1989, when the Todd family sold Europa Oil to BP.

Infratil shares climbed 3 cents to close at $1.68 in Monday trading.

Good fit - Infratil

Infratil chief operating officer Marko Bogoievski says the local owners will be looking to benefit New Zealand shareholders and the country as a whole with greater investment in infrastructure.

Mr Bogoievski says the purchase fits well with Infratil's existing involvement in transport, energy and managing complex commodities.

A spokesperson for the New Zealand Superannuation Fund says the investment is a good long-term prospect, with decades of excellent returns anticipated.

Mr Bogoievski says Shell is a valuable business with an excellent brand and reputation and the buyers do not intend to change that.

But he says there will be changes behind the scenes at all levels, from the crude supply chain to the retail sector.

Mr Bogoievski says there is a growing preference for New Zealand organisations generally, and he hopes the new venture will attract loyalty because of that.

Price first - MTA

However, the Motor Trade Association (MTA), which represents service station owners, says most customers are driven by price.

Its spokesperson Ian Stronach says margins in the retail sector are thin and the buyers will have to look beyond fuel to boost profits.

Mr Stronach says the MTA has been assured by the new owners that no widescale changes are planned for the business.

The association also believes other big fuel companies may follow Shell's lead in selling their petrol stations.

Mr Stronach says there seems to be a global trend for oil companies to get out of retail, but the other major players in New Zealand may be waiting to see how it goes for Shell.

Automobile Association petrol watch spokesperson Mark Stockdale says he hopes the new owners will bring pump prices down.

Forsyth Barr's head of research, Rob Mercer says Infratil has brought in people with experience of the sector, including former BP head Peter Griffiths to improve returns at Shell's underperforming convenience stores.