Total interested in exploring Saudi petrol station market with Aramco

Total and Aramco are considering the joint acquisition of petrol station operators in Saudi Arabia, two sources familiar with the matter said. (Reuters)
Updated 26 April 2018

Total interested in exploring Saudi petrol station market with Aramco

LONDON: Total is exploring options to enter Saudi Arabia’s petrol station market in conjunction with Saudi Aramco, as international interest in the Kingdom’s fuel distribution sector hots up.

A spokesman for the French energy major told Arab News that “several possibilities (are) under evaluation” for entering the sector, following the signature of an MoU with Aramco earlier this month “to evaluate the feasibility of jointly acquiring a retail service station network in Saudi Arabia.”

Bloomberg reported yesterday that the two firms are considering jointly acquiring Tas’helat Marketing Company, which operates petrol stations in the Kingdom under the “Sahel” brand, citing people with knowledge of the matter.

The Total spokesman declined to comment on the report.

Aramco is the sole distributor to Saudi Arabia’s petrol stations, but has no stations of its own, despite announcing plans to enter the sector in 2014.

Total and Aramco’s evaluation of the sector follows an uptick in interest from regional distributors.

Dubai-based ENOC in February opened what it described what it described as Saudi Arabia’s largest petrol station in the Modon industrial area of Riyadh, its 10th in the Kingdom. The company said at the time it planned to open further distribution facilities in the country later this year, giving no further details.

Abu Dhabi’s ADNOC Distribution meanwhile plans to open its first petrol station in Saudi Arabia later this year, following the award of an operating license last week.

Expansion into Saudi Arabia is a key strategic initiative of the fuel retailer, which operates nationwide in the UAE apart from in Dubai, and contributed to the success of its IPO on the Abu Dhabi stock market at the end of last year.
But a big play into the sector by Total and Aramco may well disrupt ADNOC Distributions plans, analysts have cautioned.

“In the pre-IPO presentation, ADNOC Distribution did not provide sufficient details for analysts to work in the potential for (Saudi operations) into their models,” Sanyalak Manibhandu, head of research at FAB Securities, told Arab News.

“Much was made of the potential of improving the standard of KSA service stations.  If Aramco/Total are really going to compete on the service station forecourt and the adjacent grocery store, the potential will not be so good for competitors.”

Oman Oil Marketing Company earlier this month announced plans for a petrol station in Saudi Arabia, its first outside the Sultanate, after receiving an operating license in the Kingdom in 2015.

BMI Research last month forecast that Saudi car sales will rise by 4 percent in 2018, after having fallen by over 20 percent in 2016 and 2017.

But last year’s lifting of a ban on female drivers will have only a moderate impact on the market, the research firm said, coming into effect only in June, with many families already owning cars for use by women but are currently driven by paid drivers.

The agreement by Total and Aramco to explore options in the fuel distribution sector was signed on April 10, alongside the signing of an MoU between the two firms to build a large petrochemical complex in Jubail, integrated downstream of Aramco’s SATORP refinery.

China’s real estate investment slows as caution sinks in

Updated 19 October 2018

China’s real estate investment slows as caution sinks in

  • Property increases downside risks to economy
  • September new construction starts up by a fifth

BEIJING: Growth in China’s real estate investment eased in September and home sales fell for the first time since April, as developers dialled back expansion plans amid economic uncertainties and as additional curbs on speculative investment kicked in.
A cooling market could increase the downside risks to the world’s second-largest economy, which faces broader headwinds including an intensifying trade war with the United States.
However, while analysts acknowledge increasing caution in the property market, they say investment levels are still relatively high, suggesting a hard landing remains unlikely.
Growth in real estate investment, which mainly focuses on residential but also includes commercial and office space, rose 8.9 percent in September from a year earlier, compared with a 9.2 percent rise in August, Reuters calculated from National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) data out on Friday.
“I think overall, China’s real estate market is still resilient, and the decline in sales is within our expectations,” said Virginia Huang, Managing Director of A&T Services, CBRE Greater China.
“There is no sign that the government has relaxed their control, but it still has many methods and tools to support the market if the economy deteriorates rapidly,” Huang said.
Real estate has been one of the few bright spots in China’s investment landscape, partly due to robust sales in smaller cities where a government clampdown on speculation has been not as aggressive as it is in larger cities.
The market has struggled as authorities continued to keep a tight grip over the sector, ramping up control in hundreds of cities. Transactions fell sharply over the period dubbed “Golden September and Silver October,” traditionally a high season for new home sales.
Property sales by floor area fell 3.6 percent in September from a year earlier, compared with a 2.4 percent gain in August, according to Reuters calculations, the first decline since April. In year-to-date terms, property sales rose 2.9 percent in the first three quarters.
China’s central bank governor Yi Gang said last week he still sees plenty of room for adjustment in interest rates and the reserve requirement ratio (RRR), as downside risks from trade tensions with the United States remain significant.
The government has implemented four RRR cuts this year, releasing hundreds of billions in new liquidity to the market.
China has for several years pushed a deleveraging campaign to reduce financial risks, clamping down on shadow banking and closing many “grey” financing channels for real estate firms.
For many highly leveraged developers, there are already signs of increasing caution as exemplified by a surge in failed land auctions due to tight liquidity and thinning margins.
New construction starts measured by floor area, an indicator of developers’ expansion appetite, rose 20.3 percent in September from a year earlier, compared with a 26.6 percent gain in August, Reuters calculations showed.
That’s against the backdrop of seemingly looser funding conditions for China’s real estate developers, who raised 12.2 trillion yuan ($1.76 trillion) in the first nine months, up 7.8 percent from the same period a year earlier, the NBS said.
The growth rate compared with a 6.9 percent increase in January-August period.
“Many developers will face lots of maturing debt by the end of this year, and there are perceived risks in the economy, so they will be more cautious,” Huang said.
China’s housing ministry is considering putting an end to the pre-sale system that developers use to secure capital quickly, in an effort to crack down on financial risks in the property sector.
China’s home prices held up well in August, defying property curbs. But analysts expect additional regulatory tightening and slowing economic growth will soon take the wind out of the property market’s sails.
The National Bureau of Statistics will release September official home price data on Saturday.