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Z looks at car-sharing start-ups and more as sunset looms

Z looks at car-sharing start-ups, Amazon parcel lockers, as sunset looms for fossil fuels

By Sophie Boot

June 21 (BusinessDesk) - Z Energy is a petrol retailer in an increasingly unwelcoming world. And as fossil fuels fall further out of favour, it's looking to car-sharing start-ups and parcel collection in its next evolution.

The company readily admits that its industry is, in the medium term, in decline. In its annual report for 2018, released in March, it said it can "see the sunset coming", though it will benefit from watching how the decline plays out in other markets across the world before it happens in New Zealand.

At Z's annual shareholder meeting in Wellington this afternoon, chief executive Mike Bennetts was keen to talk about where the company's heading. Z is selling assets which don't deliver a big enough return and has picked three markets it thinks it could move into in the future: low-carbon fuels; car-sharing and future mobility in New Zealand; and using its sites as part of a delivery and sales network.

Z has invested $250,000 in Wellington-based electric car-sharing start-up Mevo, and is running a parcel collection trial with New Zealand Post at 10 service stations in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Some 80 percent of New Zealand's population live within 5 kilometres of a Z-owned site, Bennetts says. And with the "last mile" of delivery often considered the most expensive and difficult, it makes sense to leverage the company's network.

"We've got people looking at things in the US, particularly at how Amazon is doing some stuff, where you either have lockers you access through your smartphone or some other electronic device. You even have a situation with Amazon where you can earn credits for picking up your neighbour's parcel. For some communities not everybody is mobile but they may not be at home, they may use public transport, so their neighbour could pull into a service station and pick up a parcel for the pensioner next door and deliver it to their home," Bennetts said. "We are experimenting with both things we can do today as well as trying to understand things we can do in the future."

The company isn't looking at international expansion, and Bennetts shot down the suggestion Z might look at Woolworths' petrol station chain across the Tasman after BP today walked away from a A$1.8 billion deal. Z's more interested in adjacent markets in New Zealand, he said.

"We think that's a sensible thing to do for our shareholders, given potential disruptions, and if anything those disruptions may happen faster in more sophisticated markets than New Zealand," Bennetts said. "Electric vehicles are a really good example of that - there are about 8,000 electric vehicles in New Zealand out of 3.7 million light passenger vehicles. That penetration's way lower than somewhere like California or Norway, where around half the new cars sold every year are electric vehicles. At the moment in New Zealand it's something like 1 percent."

Still, Z is facing immediate local concerns. It has the regional fuel tax in Auckland to implement, along with the Commerce Commission conducting a market study into the industry when those powers are conferred on it.

"We remain confident that any study will find the market is competitive and even in the event that there are some changes mandated we are equally confident that Z will be able to compete very successfully and continue to return appropriate returns to its owners – you, our shareholders," Bennetts told shareholders at the meeting.

A number of stakeholders have asked how the company can be sure that people pay the regional fuel tax, given the mobility of the market, Bennetts said.

"It's a bit like disproving a negative, it's hard for us to demonstrate that 'yes, this is actually so'. In the Auckland market today there's a price diversity of sometimes as low as 10 cents a litre and sometimes as high as 30 cents a litre, so it's quite hard to be able to say the 11.5 cents is absolutely in that price, that's the real challenge we have. We'll stick to the law, but it's our commitment to respect the intent of the law."

In the latest financial year, to March 31 2018, Z's revenue surged 18 percent to $4.57 billion. Net profit rose 8 percent to $263 million, while replacement cost operating earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and financial adjustments - a measure Z uses to strip out the changing value of inventory - rose 13 percent to $449 million. That's within the guidance update it gave in January, which was cut by about $20 million due to the shutdown of the New Zealand Refining fuel pipeline to Auckland and the rising price of crude oil.


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