Drivers on struggle street fuel Ampol's 'mega profit'

Marion RaeAAP
Ampol has posted a fall in taxable net profit despite stronger earnings. (Dean Lewins/AAP PHOTOS)
Camera IconAmpol has posted a fall in taxable net profit despite stronger earnings. (Dean Lewins/AAP PHOTOS) Credit: AAP

Service station chain and refinery operator Ampol has been accused of squeezing customers at the pump after it posted a "mega profit" amid a cost of living crisis.

Ampol on Monday reported a 25 per cent fall in taxable net profit to $549.1 million for the year to December 31 as energy markets continued to be roiled by geopolitical events.

But unions pointed to an operating profit of more than $1.7 billion, up 2.9 per cent from a year earlier, on higher margins in aviation, bigger gross retail margins at service stations and growing volumes of premium fuel sold.

"These mega profits are made on the back of working people paying more for petrol, especially in our outer suburbs and regions," ACTU Assistant Secretary Joseph Mitchell said.

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Former competition tsar Allan Fels in an inquiry report released this month found the automotive fuel sector was among the worst offenders in "price gouging and unfair pricing practices".

Known as "rockets and feathers pricing", the practice involves companies riding the volatility of fuel price rises and cuts in response to international prices, Professor Fels said.

Pump prices go up quickly like a rocket but when they fall, prices deflate slowly like a feather falling to the ground, which places a financial strain on drivers who end up paying more for longer.

Ampol said the convenience store division continued to perform strongly with operating profits up 2.1 per cent to a record $354.6 million, as improved fuel margins offset falling tobacco sales and higher electricity costs.

Massive petrol retailers should rapidly pass on oil price reductions to customers to help with the cost-of-living crisis, Mr Mitchell said.

Ampol said it would continue to extend and improve its convenience retail footprint in Australia and New Zealand, which would form the "cornerstone" of an on-the-go charging network for electric vehicles.

Managing director Matt Halliday said the take-up of EVs was modest but encouraging, with Australia still at the beginning of the rollout compared to other countries.

The future energy division started the rollout of the AmpCharge EV charging network in 2023, with 82 charging bays at 36 sites in Australia, delivered with the support of government grants.

The network is expected to extend to 300 charging bays in Australia and 150 charging bays in New Zealand by the end of 2024 to provide Ampol with the flexibility to adapt to the evolving energy transition.

UBS analyst Tom Allen said it was a "solid" result but investors would likely focus on the growing capital demands on the business, including significant EV charging growth and upgrades to premium sites.

Ampol said the rebranding of 50 MetroGo stores to Foodary had boosted earnings, Pheasants Nest in NSW has opened and the M1 northbound flagship site refresh was complete.

With the recent finalisation of new fuel standards by the federal government, Ampol said it intends to upgrade the Lytton refinery in Queensland with a final investment decision expected in the coming weeks.

The refinery will produce gasoline compliant with the new specifications for regular and premium grades and was expected to be commissioned in the second half of 2025.

"We continue to explore other low carbon transport solutions including renewable fuels," the company added.

Shares in Ampol rose 1.5 per cent or 57 cents to $38.17 in afternoon trade as investors welcomed a special dividend.

The company declared a final dividend of 120 cents per share and a special dividend of 60 cents per share, taking total dividends to 275 cents per share for the year, fully franked.

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