Z profit tumbles as motorists shop around for discounts

Z Energy has cut its full-year earnings guidance after rising oil prices and a weaker New Zealand dollar slashed its first-half operating profit by 21%.

Those impacts, new taxes and weaker retail spending have prompted the company to lower its forecast earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, amortisation and changes in financial instruments (ebitdaf) to between $400 million and $435m.d

In July the company cut its forecast by $30m to a range of $420m to $455m.

"Given the volatility in crude prices and exchange rates, we are taking a cautious view on the second half of the financial year," chief executive Mike Bennetts said today.

"Margins typically come under pressure when crude prices rise steeply, as prices at the pump lag behind the increases in the price of crude oil, and customers are sensitive to new, higher price points."

The country's biggest fuel retailer today said ebitdaf in the six months through September fell to $175m on a replacement cost basis, down from $221m a year earlier. Net profit fell 31% to $72m on the same basis.

While overall fuel volumes rose 5 percent to 2.2 billion litres, due to higher exports and sales to other distributors during a refinery outage in May and June, petrol volumes fell 6% to 626 million litres as high pump prices prompted consumers to use less and to shop around more for discounts.

Z said those margin pressures slashed about $26m from its earnings, while the extended refinery shutdown trimmed another $11m from its margins and another $18m from its share of earnings through the refinery.

Reduced operating expenses and on-going business improvements lifted earnings by about $10 million.

Bennetts said the operating environment during the period – in which crude oil prices jumped 25 percent, the New Zealand dollar fell 9%, and new national and regional taxes were imposed – was the "most challenging" the company has faced in its eight-and-a-half year history.

Gross fuel margins fell by $30m to $305m – or 15.5 cents a litre from 17 cents a year earlier – due to increased price competition, the change in product mix, and having to import fuel to cover the refinery outage at "distressed" prices.

A notable reduction in impulse or discretionary spending at the chain's shops left non-fuel margin unchanged from a year earlier at $38 million, the company said.

Bennetts acknowledged the 12.5 cent dividend declared was less than the company had indicated, but reflects the tough conditions. It will be paid on December 11 to shareholders registered at November 23. Z Energy paid an interim dividend of 10.4 cents per share a year earlier.

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