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Unipet weighing options, hires GK Capital as financial advisor

Published:Thursday | May 7, 2015 | 10:48 AMNeville Graham
File A unipet service station.

The owners of Jamaica's first home-grown petro-leum marketing company, United Petroleum (Unipet), are exploring their options after some 25 years of operation, but chairman Paul Abrahams is refusing to say whether that includes sale of the business.

Abrahams redirected queries to GK Capital, which Unipet recently retained as financial adviser.

Unipet's network covers nine service stations. Three locations - Lyndhurst Road in Kingston; Gregory Park in St Catherine; and Main Street, Mandeville - are owned directly by the marketing company. Two are leased at Black River, St Elizabeth and Slipe Pen Road, Kingston, while the other four - Porus in Manchester; Seaforth, St Thomas; Linstead, St Catherine; and Summerfield in Clarendon - are owned by independent retailers. In addition Unipet also owns unspecified locations suitable for further development.

The gas marketing company is 80 per cent owned by Hagley Park Holdings, which in turn is owned by about 40-50 persons with either past or current connections to the petroleum trade. The other 20 per cent of Unipet is owned by 12 individuals, six of whom are deceased. The directors of Hagley Park Holdings are listed on Companies Office records as Roy Hutchinson, Lt Col Reginald Chin, Carmen Chen, Ronald Grubb, Errol Edwards, Aston Hobbins, Paul Abrahams and Richard Shirley.

Insiders say the passing of some former owners has forced the company to assess its options.

Managing director of GK Capital, Stephen Whittingham, refused to say when his company was engaged by Unipet, citing client confidentiality, but said the job it was retained to do should be wrapped up in three months. He confirmed the location of the stations but when asked about the company's valuation said ony that "Unipet has very valuable assets as it is now".

Whittingham also declined comment on whether the business is being divested, this time citing the need for prudence.

"I would expect that if there were to be a transaction, there would be significant interest in the assets, especially relative to the pricing relating to Petcom. As an investor, I would think that there would be significant value in Unipet on a relative value basis," he said.

French company Total SA is said to have considered acquiring the Unipet network a year ago, but stepped back after a consultant was called in.

Country manager for Total Jamaica, Dr Michael Faulkner, said on Tuesday that his company would not comment as there was a confidentiality agreement between the parties.

Unipet is one of 18 dealership networks, with the big three controlling about 72 per cent of the market - Rubis, 36 per cent; Total 19 per cent; and Texaco 17 per cent. Among the Jamaican companies, state-owned Petcom, which is up for sale, is estimated to hold 12 per cent market share, while the other 16 per cent is shared by Unipet and others, according to the latest Jamaica Public Bodies report.