Competition in the U.S. refined fuels' business markets generally occurs on a local basis between large, full-service, multi-state marketers and smaller, independent local marketers. Marketers primarily compete based on price and service and tend to operate in close proximity to customers, typically within a 35-mile marketing radius from a central depot, in order to minimize delivery costs and provide prompt service.
Weather and general economic conditions affect distillates market volumes. Weather influences the immediate demand for distillates, primarily for heating, while longer-term demand declines due to economic conditions as customers trend towards conservation and supplement heating with alternative sources such as wood pellets.
The trend towards increased conservation measures and technological advances in energy efficiency may have a detrimental effect on propane and heating oil demand and Superior's sales. Further, increases in the cost of propane encourage customers to conserve fuel and to invest in more energy-efficient equipment, reducing demand. Changes in propane supply costs are normally passed through to customers, but timing lags (between when Superior purchases the propane and when the customer purchases the propane) may result in positive or negative gross margin fluctuations.
Superior offers its customers various fixed-price propane and heating oil programs. In order to mitigate the price risk from offering these services, Superior uses its physical inventory position, supplemented by forward commodity transactions with various third parties having terms and volumes substantially the same as its customers' contracts. In periods of high propane price volatility the fixed-price programs create exposure to over or under-supply positions as the demand from customers may significantly exceed or fall short of supply procured. In addition, if propane prices decline significantly subsequent to customers signing up for a fixed-price program, there is a risk that customers will default on their commitments.
Superior's operations are subject to the risks associated with handling, storing and transporting propane in bulk. Slight quantities of propane may also be released during transfer operations. To mitigate risks, Superior has established a comprehensive environmental, health and safety protection program. It consists of an environmental policy, codes of practice, periodic self-audits, employee training, quarterly and annual reporting and emergency prevention and response.
The U.S. refined fuels business, through a centralized safety and environment management system, ensures that safety practices and regulatory compliance are an important part of its business. The storage and delivery of refined fuels pose the potential for spills which impact the soil and water of storage facilities and customer properties.
Superior's fuel distribution businesses are based and operate in Canada and the United States and, as a result, such operations could be affected by changes to laws, rules or policies which may either be more favourable to competing energy sources or increase compliance costs or otherwise negatively affect the operations of Energy Services in comparison to such competing energy sources. Any such changes could have an adverse effect on the operations of Energy Services.
In 2013, Canadian propane distribution will implement an order to cash, billing and logistics IT system to replace the distribution and invoicing functions of the present enterprise system. To mitigate the risk associated with system changes, Canadian propane distribution will leverage the learnings from the U.S refined fuels organization that have been using this new system and implementation will be rolled out one region at a time.
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