Tue, Jan 17, 2006 - Page 10 News List

CPC mulls gas price hike after holiday

QUESTION OF TIMING The state-run firm said it won't evaluate another raise in prices until after the Lunar New Year holiday, but a hike is likely unless oil prices decline soon

By Jason Tan  /  STAFF REPORTER

State-run Chinese Petroleum Corp (CPC, 中油) said yesterday that it will start considering another hike to its gasoline prices after Lunar New Year due to high oil prices.

"We don't have any plans now to increase gasoline prices immediately after Lunar New Year. Such evaluations will only take place after the festival," Liao Tsang-long (廖滄龍), deputy director of CPC's public relations division, said in a phone interview yesterday.

Liao made the remark as Chinese-language media reported that CPC intended to raise its wholesale gasoline prices by around NT$1 (US$0.03) and diesel prices by NT$1.5 right after the Lunar New Year.

According to Liao, the nation's largest oil refiner is well aware that it would be unwise to raise gasoline prices during festive seasons such as the Lunar New Year holiday, due to the sensitive timing.

CPC will therefore only look into the matter after the New Year holiday is over, he said.

Though studies won't be car-ried out until next month, it seems inevitable that wholesale prices will eventually be increased, unless worldwide crude oil prices decline in the next few months, he said.

However, crude oil for delivery next month rose as much as US$0.56, or 0.9 percent, to US$61.60 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

As the government demanded a freeze in pump prices since late last year, CPC saw losses of NT$3 billion last month, which will deepen to NT$5 billion this month as the 25-percent exemption of gasoline commodity taxes ends.

The Ministry of Economic Affairs is currently looking into the price-hike issue as soaring crude oil prices have been a burden on both CPC and its smaller rival Formosa Petrochemical Corp (台塑石化), Minister of Economics Ho Mei-yueh (何美玥) told reporters yesterday on a visit to a factory in Kaohsiung County.

She added that local prices should be adjusted to match international levels, if the upward trend continues.

Meanwhile, Liao clarified that some of the CPC's franchised gas stations have not stopped giving out freebies such as bottled water or tissue boxes since September, but are also promoting new membership cards.

These membership cards will enable customers to accumulate bonus points that can be exchanged for free gifts, or enjoy discounts on future purchases, he added.

"We are offering consumers an alternative new reward system to improve customer services," he said.

Formosa said that it won't necessarily follow in CPC's footsteps, even if the latter decides to raise prices.

"It is still too early to comment now, and we will monitor crude oil prices closely," said Matiz Lin (林明憲), Formosa's public relations official.

In late August last year, Formosa passed on a 10 percent hike on oil products to retailers, while CPC did not pass it on as it had in the past -- triggering drivers to purchase cheaper gas from CPC.

Last year, CPC reported revenues of over NT$65 million, up from NT$55 million a year ago, while Formosa reported 27.6 percent growth in sales to NT$443.31 billion.

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