CAPE TOWN – Plunging fuel prices, the result mainly of crashing global oil prices, and sharply lower sales as people have almost stopped driving in the lockdown, have left petrol station owners in dire financial straits.
The Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy needed to intervene urgently to assist fuel retailers in financial distress, or many service stations would close, Fuel Retailers Association (FRA) executive director Reggie Sibiya said yesterday.
The retail margin to fuel service station owners is based on a fixed cents-a-litre formula determined by the government.
The FRA has pleaded with the oil companies to assist with dealing with next month’s anticipated fuel price decrease, said Sibiya.
Under the lockdown, service stations are required to provide both fuel and groceries as an essential service, not only to the public, but also to designated services such as police and ambulances to save and protect lives.
However, their main source of income is from fuel sales.
The lower demand for fuel – as much as 90percent at some service stations – meant fuel retailers have excess stock that they had bought at higher prices, which they were going to have to sell next month at sharply reduced prices, or effectively at a loss, Sibiya said.
“Most service stations are barely surviving. Cash flow is under extreme pressure,” he added.
And fuel retailers believe their financial problems will continue after the lockdown, as most customers have adapted to working from home, thus significantly reducing the demand for fuel. Retailers have had to introduce short time for their workers due to the lower activity levels on forecourts.
“The FRA is trying to assist its members to access the Unemployment Insurance Fund. However, with demand from all businesses in the country, this process has not responded quickly enough due to backlog,” said Sibiya.
In addition, the costs of the Covid-19 lockdown requirements have escalated sharply for fuel retailers, with them having to pay for support measures such as sanitisers and masks.
The Automobile Association has said petrol prices, based on mid-month estimates, were likely to fall by almost R2 a litre for 95 octane petrol inland next month.
By Edward West