By Mike Caggeso
High gas prices have forced Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) – the world's largest oil company – from the retail gasoline business, the company said late Thursday afternoon.
There are about 12,000 gas stations with the Exxon sign at the entrance, though the company owns about 2,220 of them. And Exxon plans to sell those over the next few years, Reuters reported.
Texas leads the states with the most company-owned gas stations with 190. Florida has 170, the Associated Press reported.
"We are in a very, very challenging market. Margins are reduced," Exxon spokeswoman Prem Nair said in a statement. "We feel the best way for us to grow and compete is through our distributor network."
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Exxon stations may be everywhere but retail gasoline sales are only a small portion of the company's revenues. And with gasoline costing 31% more than a year ago and crude oil prices at record levels, it's also one of the most unprofitable.
This doesn't mean we'll stop seeing the ubiquitous blue signage across the country. Exxon will continue selling fuel to station owners who pay to use the company's brand name.
Oppenheimer & Co. (OPY) analyst Fadel Gheit estimated the stations' profit margin was between 10% and 15% (the company doesn't release margins for its retail division), which is about one-third of its margin for crude oil production.
"I think the decision came that it's more of a headache than it's worth," Gheit said.
Gas stations can't pass higher prices onto consumers as easily as oil companies pass prices onto them. On top of that, car owners nationwide are taking serious steps to curb gasoline and energy usage, doing everything from using other forms of transportation to buying more fuel-efficient vehicles such as hybrids.
"They can actually point their attention to some other area where you can make money," Jeff Lenard, a spokesman for the National Association of Convenience Stores, told The AP. "Retail is incredibly volatile. This way, they can (sell gasoline) wholesale and count on a fairly predictable income."
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