Imperial Oil to sell Esso stations for $2.8B

Imperial Oil says it has reached deals to sell its remaining 497 Esso retail stations in Canada to five fuel distributors for a total of $2.8 billion.

Five fuel distributors will pick up the remaining 497 gas bars across the country

The 497 Esso stations in Canada still operated by Imperial Oil will be sold off. (CBC)

Imperial Oil says it has reached deals to sell its remaining 497 Esso retail stations in Canada to five fuel distributors for a total of $2.8 billion.

Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. is set to buy 279 stations in Ontario and Quebec for nearly $1.69 billion.

Meanwhile, 7-Eleven Canada Inc. is buying 148 stations in Alberta and British Columbia, Harnois Groupe petrolier buying 36 in Quebec and Wilson Fuel Co. Ltd. buying 17 in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.

Parkland Fuel Corp. says it will buy 17 Esso stations, and is also buying Imperial's On the Run/Marche Express convenience store franchise system.

Imperial (TSX:IMO), majority owned by U.S. energy giant ExxonMobil Corp., said it would continue to supply fuel to the stations and that the distributors would be better placed to increase sales.

"We believe these agreements represent the best way for Imperial to grow in the highly competitive Canadian fuels marketing business," said Imperial CEO Rich Kruger.

Roughly two-thirds of the 1,700 Esso stations across Canada have been operated by wholesalers for about 15 years, with the remainder of the Esso stations now set to follow the same model.

Imperial said Esso's marketing and loyalty programs will continue unchanged and the sales are expected to close by the end of 2016.

A spokeswoman for Imperial said the company will use the cash to fund its dividend and growth projects, as well as return cash to shareholders through share buy backs.

Imperial Oil signalled its intention in 2015 to sell off its remaining stations.

 Keith Howlett, a consumer analyst at Desjardins Capital Markets, said the sale is not related to low oil prices.

"Imperial Oil is owned by Exxon and Exxon has a global strategy to exit retailing fuel products, so they've completed that in the U.S. and they done it in selective markets in Europe. It's really part of a global strategy to focus on upstream business," Howlett said.

Great for Couche-Tard

Couche-Tard is a savvy buyer that knows the convenience store business inside out, he told CBC's The Exchange.

The convenience store on the property is as important as the fuel in creating a profit for most stations, he added.

Each site sells on average 8.5 million litres of fuel per year and more than $1 million in non-fuel sales, excluding Tim Hortons and car washes.

"These were the best Imperial Oil sites in Canada. They'd already dispensed with most of their stations across Canada. They had 1,700 outlets. These were the final 500 in urban markets; they're very good locations," Howlett said.

Couche-Tard is expected to rebrand the convenience stores as Circle K, though the fuel will still have the Esso name.

The acquisition means Canada's largest convenience store operator will see its fuel market share increase to about 20 per cent in each jurisdiction, putting it in range of rivals Petro-Canada, Shell and Ultramar, CEO Brian Hannasch said Wednesday.

"We think we've acquired some of the best assets not just in Canada but in all of North America," Hannasch said in a conference call a day after the deal was announced.


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