The National Commission on Markets and Competition (CNMC) is tightening the fence on gas stations after the 20 cent bonus went into effect on April 1. Since that date, the regulator has used a high-frequency indicator to measure gas station margins in real time and compare costs and selling prices. The aim of this tool, according to agency sources, is to try to prevent these facilities from increasing their profits at the expense of rebates financed with public money. The high-frequency indicator makes it possible to detect any anomalous trend from day to day by comparing a “fairly accurate estimate” of the cost of supplies to the retail price.
As of Tuesday last week, the CNMC had detected these bad practices in 100 out of a total of 12,000 points of sale across Spain. Of these, two had increased their margin by 10 to 20 cents over their usual profit percentage through government aid; another 14 for petrol and seven for diesel had done so between five and ten cents; 69 (gasoline) and 47 (diesel) had increased their margin between one and five cents; and 41 had done so for up to a cent.
These results, regulator sources reveal, are consistent with an environment of uninterrupted rises in international gasoline and diesel prices – due not only to the rise in oil prices but also to the brutal increase in refining stage costs – and some consumers are particularly price sensitive , with inflation already putting a dent in the pocket. “Stations would moderate their uploads to keep competing,” they say.
Prices and competition in the fuel sector, according to the CNMC, “have been a constant concern well before last year’s sharp rise and 20 cents”. However, concern has recently skyrocketed, especially since fuels have passed the threshold of two euros per liter that was unimaginable just a few months ago. “We are at the top and we exchange information with those responsible for consumption in the autonomous communities,” they explain from the agency that has so far monitored the evolution of margins month by month.
In recent weeks, the big oil majors have opted for aggressive discounts at their service stations. The movement allows them to compete on price with low-cost, automated gas stations. The industry assumes that in the long term this business policy will lead to the fact that customers who have opted for independent petrol stations will be redirected to these big brands and that competition after several years at petrol stations could even be reduced inexpensive They have taken off with great speed and gained a foothold in user preferences.
In this battle between large and small in the final section of the chain, fuel prices in Spain have no upper limit. After the last EU Oil Bulletin, which will be published this Thursday, the petrol engine is already at an average of 2,142 euros per liter, the diesel at 2,077 euros. These are the amounts before the 20-cent deduction that the government has been asking for since April. This also means that both fuels are more expensive (12 cents for petrol and 4 cents for diesel) than at the end of March before the subsidy obligation came into force.
In the 11 weeks that the measure has been in force, original prices (excluding discounts) have continued to rise in Spain and are among the highest in Europe. In fact, the Spanish amounts for four weeks for petrol and three for diesel exceed the average of the 27. The comparison of what has grown is striking: since April, petrol and diesel have been three times more expensive in Spain than in the EU and the euro area.
Bulletin data shows almost parallel price growth between the last week of February (when Russia invaded Ukraine) and late March (before the mandatory discount). In this long month, petrol rose by 14.1% in Spain and by 12.5% in the European average. Diesel became more expensive: 23.9% in Spain and 23.3% in the EU. But things changed from April. Since then, the original price of petrol has become more expensive (17.8%) than that of diesel (13%), and both percentages are well above the European average (5.9% and 3.6% respectively) and the euro area (4, 4% petrol and 3.3% diesel). During the same period, the reference barrel of crude oil in Europe (the brent) became more expensive by 3.3%.
Jordi Perdiguero, professor of applied economics at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, believes that price developments reflect that “in Spain, part of the subsidies have not reached consumers because the sector’s margins have increased”. The reason, says the expert, is “that there is a higher concentration [empresarial] both in refining and distribution than in most EU countries”. Antoni Cunyat, collaborating professor at UOC, agrees that “some of the subsidy was absorbed by the oil companies” which would have pushed up prices, although both point out that it’s not possible to know which Part of the process, from finishing to retail distribution, there is such an increase.
The employers’ association of mineral oil companies AOP rejects this interpretation. A spokeswoman defends that “a narrowing of the margins” of the companies is taking place. “Since April 1, the international price of petrol has increased by 26.5 cents and in Spain the pre-tax price has increased by 26 cents; and for diesel the price has gone up 25 cents and the price has gone up 20 cents,” he illustrates. It also claims that “the prices of the European Bulletin are not suitable for comparison because the nature of the price information is not uniform”, which has been “further distorted” by the different tools in recent months.
On the other hand, Juan Luis Jiménez – who is just finalizing a study with Perdiguero and another colleague that has calculated that the sector’s margin has increased by six cents for diesel and four cents for petrol – defends the relevance of the comparisons. “What we see is the change, not the price level,” he explains. Although he agrees that there is a lack of data – “or the existing ones are not public,” he adds – those who are known point to the professor from the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in an unambiguous address: “The transmission of subsidies in Spain for consumers are lower than if there were more competition.
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