Applegreen pulls back from UK petrol stations sale

Forecourt operator was taken private last year in €718m deal

Applegreen, the petrol forecourt retailer acquired 12 months ago by its co-founders and US private equity giant Blackstone, has backed away from a potential sale of its UK petrol filling stations business, according to sources.

The company told industry magazine Forecourt Trader last June, three months after Applegreen was taken private from the stock market in a €718 million deal, that it had put the portfolio of 98 UK stations on the market, after receiving a number of approaches from interested parties.

The company’s UK service stations on motorways and sites operated by its majority-held Welcome Break were not part of the discussions.

Sources have now told The Irish Times that the talks did not result in a deal. They said the business had exceeded expectations in the past year, with its food and coffee offering benefitting from much of the UK continuing to work from home, as motorway stations remained under pressure. Representatives for the company declined to comment.

The UK petrol stations market has been the active focus of consolidation in recent years. Late last month, it emerged that US asset manager Fortress Investment Group is lining up a reported £5 billion (€5.97 billion) bid for Motor Fuel Group (MFG), the UK's biggest operator of independent petrol stations with almost 1,000 forecourts. MFG is owned by US private-equity firm Clayton Dubilier & Rice.

Petrol station operators globally have been the focus of political and public outcry in recent weeks amid a spike in fuel prices against the backdrop of extreme volatility on the oil market in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Excise duty

A spokeswoman for Applegreen said last week that the company welcomed the Government’s move to temporarily reduce fuel excise duties, but added they “do not go far enough to mitigate completely the cost price increases we have experienced as a result of unprecedented volatility in the wholesale fuel market”.

Applegreen, which was founded in 1992 with one petrol station in in Ballyfermot in west Dublin and ultimately floated on the stock market in 2015, was taken private last March in a Blackstone-backed deal that has resulted in its founder, Robert Etchingham, and long-standing executive Joe Barrett, retaining more than 40 per cent of the company.

The group’s number of sites had trebled between its initial public offering to total 559 at the time the takeover deal was announced in late 2020, including 204 locations in Ireland, 164 in the UK and 191 in the US, a market it entered in 2014.

At the time of the bid was announced in December 2020, Mr Etchingham and Mr Barrett said in shareholder documents that the business would be better off in private hands as it prepared for large investments in electric car charging facilities and US highway service areas.

The company’s independent directors at the time also unanimously recommended the takeover, highlighting the constraints in Applegreen borrowing heavily as a listed company, particularly amid Covid-19, to take advantage of “significant” growth opportunities.

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