Pump prices down, but consumers still cry foul

Pump prices down, but consumers still cry foul

PUMP rates have headed south again on the back of sliding oil prices, with the cheapest 92-octane petrol falling below the $2 level for the first time since 2012.

The latest to cut its prices was Esso, which dropped two cents yesterday morning to bring its petrol and diesel prices in line with the competition.

The most popular 95-octane grade petrol is now $2 a litre before discount across all four brands: Shell, Singapore Petroleum Company, Caltex and Esso.

The premium 98-octane ranges from $2.12 to $2.18, while Shell's V-Power is still the costliest at $2.43 a litre. Diesel is $1.45 across all brands.

All petrol companies except Esso posted the new prices on their websites. The American giant put up a small "Pump price changed" sign at the entrance of its stations to inform motorists.

With the latest change, pump prices are 14 cents lower than in October and about 20 cents lower than last year.

Even so, they are still 15 to 20 per cent higher than in 2010, when Brent crude was last at the current level of US$70 per barrel, and this is infuriating consumers.

Businessman Leslie Chia, 49, said he feels "short-changed". "Pump prices never reflect real market crude prices," he said.

Company director Alan Lee, 63, said companies are "quick to adjust upwards, slow to reduce".

Industry observers said this could be partly because of recent competition for new station sites.

According to the Housing Board, which puts petrol-station sites up for bidding, Shell secured a 3,700 sq m 30-year-lease site in Hougang for a record $53.4 million in October.

But on an annual cost basis, Esso's $27 million bid for a 2,000 sq m 10-year-lease site in Ang Mo Kio in May takes the cake. That is equivalent to paying $81 million for a 30-year site.

An upcoming site up for grabs in Tampines is also expected to draw strong bids because of its historically high sales volume.

All the other sites secured in the last 10 years fetched an average of $15 million.

Oil-industry consultant Ong Eng Tong said land cost is definitely a contributing factor, but it does not fully explain why pump rates are so high when oil prices have plunged by more than a third since mid-year.

"If you ask the oil majors, they will say things like distribution costs have gone up," he said.

He added that it is also harder to compare prices now because oil companies offer "a lot of credit card-based discounts".

"It's not as transparent as before," he said.

Thia Ling Ling, Singapore retail fuels manager at ExxonMobil Asia Pacific, which sells the Esso brand of fuels, said: "Pump prices at our service-station network are in line with prevailing market conditions.

"In the last 12 weeks, we have made eight downward adjustments to pump prices."

christan@sph.com.sg

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