ECONOMY

Gas stations feeling debt squeeze

A drop in demand for gasoline recorded since the latest hike in fuel taxes has exceeded even the most downbeat market estimates. According to the Association of Oil Trading Companies (SEEPE), the consumption of fuel in the last month has fallen by between 20 and 25 percent. Demand for super unleaded, the most expensive fuel on the market, plunged even further, dropping by up to 60 percent. Sotiris Christoyannis, SEEPE’s president, described the tax hikes as being «fatal» as he pointed out that the 65 percent rise in fuel levies has created liquidity problems in the sector. Gas stations prepay these tax amounts before the fuel is pumped into their storage tanks, which means that they have increased needs for working capital at a time when cash is expensive and hard to come by. Debt levels in the sector have increased sharply. Christoyannis pointed out that this has resulted in some 350 gas stations shutting down across the country in the last few months due to their inability to meet financial obligations. According to Christoyannis, who cited data from the Environment, Energy and Climate Change Ministry, the increase in retail fuel prices is due exclusively to the tax hikes and the rise in international oil prices. The figures show that the price increase of unleaded fuel in February exceeded 0.40 euros per liter, or 37 percent. He added that the average retail price of fuel on February 5 stood at 1.101 euros per liter, rising to 1.509 euros per liter by May 14, showing an increase of 0.408 euros. Of this amount, 0.26 euros was due to to the increase in fuel tax, while an additional 0.086 euros is attributable to the rise in value-added tax. An additional 0.002-euro rise was due to other state contributions and 0.061 euros of the increase was due to a price hike by oil refineries. The gross profit margin earned by gas stations has since been reduced by 0.02 euros per liter, according to SEEPE. «We are the first people who do not want prices to rise,» he said, reflecting the low morale in the sector.