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Date: July 6, 2022 5:00 am

The National Commission for Markets and Competition (CNMC) is narrowing the fence for gas stations after the entry into force of the bonus of 20 euro cents from April 1. Since that date, the regulator has been using a high-frequency indicator to measure STO margins in real time, comparing costs and selling prices. The purpose of the tool, agency sources say, is to try to prevent these establishments from boosting their profits with a rebate funded by public money. The high-frequency indicator allows any anomalous day-to-day evolution to be detected by comparing a “reasonably accurate estimate” of the value of the offer with the retail price.

Until Tuesday last week, CNMC detected these unscrupulous practices in 100 out of 12,000 outlets across Spain. Of these, two increased their margins by 10 to 20 cents as a result of the official bailout, compared to their usual profit percentage; another 14 in the case of gasoline and seven in the case of diesel made it five to ten cents; 69 (gasoline) and 47 (diesel) increased their margins from one cent to five cents; and 41 did so for up to one eurocent.

These results, according to regulator sources, are consistent with the conditions of continued growth in global gasoline and diesel prices – not only due to rising oil prices, but also due to a sharp increase in the cost of the refining stage – and some consumers are particularly sensitive. to the price, given that inflation has already hit the pocket. “Stations will moderate their uploads to keep competing,” they say.

Prices and competition in the fuel sector, CNMC notes, “are an ongoing concern long before last year’s strong rally and the 20 cents.” However, the concern has risen sharply recently, especially after the fuel has exceeded the threshold of two euros per liter, which was unimaginable a few months ago. “We are very good at exchanging information with those responsible for consumption in the Autonomous Communities,” they explain at the body, which has so far monitored margin changes month by month.

In recent weeks, major oil companies have opted for aggressive discounts at their gas stations. The movement allows them to compete on price head to head with inexpensive automatic gas stations. The sector believes that in the long term this commercial policy will lead customers who choose independent gas stations to return to these big brands and may limit competition after several years of low-cost gas stations making their way. speed and managed to gain a foothold in user preferences.

Prices without ceiling

This fight between big and small in the last leg of the chain, fuel prices in Spain do not find a ceiling. According to the latest EU Oil Bulletin published this Thursday, petrol now costs an average of 2,142 euros per liter, while diesel fuel costs 2,077 euros. These are amounts up to the 20-cent rebate that the government has been demanding since April. Even with this help, both fuels are more expensive (12 cents for petrol and 4 cents for diesel) than they were at the end of March, before the mandatory subsidy went into effect.

In the eleven weeks that the measure was in place, reference prices (without the discount) in Spain continued to rise and were among the highest in Europe. In fact, for four weeks in the case of petrol and three in the case of diesel, the Spanish amounts exceed the average of twenty-seven. It is striking to compare what each other has grown: since April, petrol and diesel in Spain have become three times more expensive than in the EU and the eurozone.

uneven evolution

Bulletin data shows an almost parallel rise in prices between the last week of February (when Russia invaded Ukraine) and the end of March (before the mandatory discount). During this long month, gasoline has risen in price by 14.1% in Spain and by 12.5% ​​on average in Europe. Diesel became more expensive: by 23.9% in Spain and by 23.3% in the EU. But things have changed since April. Since then, the price of gasoline at origin has become more expensive (17.8%) than diesel (13%), both percentages well above the European (5.9% and 3.6% respectively) and Eurozone averages . (4.4% gasoline and 3.3% diesel). During the same period, a benchmark barrel of crude oil in Europe (Brent) rose by 3.3%.

Jordi Perdiguero, professor of applied economics at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, ​​says the evolution of prices reflects that “in Spain, part of the subsidy did not reach consumers because the sector’s margin increased.” The reason, according to the expert, is that “there is a large concentration [empresarial] both in processing and distribution than in most EU countries.” Anthony Cunha, a collaborating professor at the UOC, agrees that “part of the subsidy was taken up by the oil companies” which would lead to higher prices, although both point out that it is impossible to know in what part of the process, from refining to distribution, there is such an increase. .

The Employers’ Association of Petroleum Product Operators AOP rejects this interpretation. A spokesman claims that there is a “margin narrowing” of companies. “Since April 1, the world price of gasoline has increased by 26.5 cents, and in Spain the price before taxes has increased by 26 cents; and in the case of diesel fuel, the price increased by 25 cents, and the price by 20 cents,” he gives an example. He also claims that “the prices in the European bulletin are useless for comparison because the way prices are reported is not uniform” which has been “further distorted” by various aids in recent months.

On the other hand, Juan Luis Jiménez, who, along with Perdiguero and another colleague, is completing a study estimating that sector margins rose by six cents for diesel and four cents for gasoline, defends the relevance of the comparisons. “What we’re looking at is change, not price levels,” he explains. While he agrees that data is lacking — “or those that exist are not public,” he adds — those that are known point to a professor at the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in an unambiguous manner: “The transfer of subsidies in Spain to consumers is less than if there was more competition.

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