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Australasia, News

Australia’s Ampol CEO sees growth opportunities post-COVID

* No talks with Couche-Tard since April

* CEO sees potential acquisition opportunities

* Ampol to weigh restarting refinery at end August (Recasts with CEO comments)

By Sonali Paul

MELBOURNE, June 29 (Reuters) – The new boss of Australia’s Ampol Ltd, Australia’s biggest fuel supplier, sees opportunities for the company to grow coming out of the coronavirus pandemic, potentially through acquisitions, while it weighs when to reopen its lone refinery.

Matt Halliday was appointed as chief executive on Monday after taking the role on an acting basis in February while the company was fending off an A$8.8 billion ($6.1 billion) takeover proposal from Canada’s Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc and fielding other approaches.

Couche-Tard shelved its offer in April amid the coronavirus outbreak but said it would be willing to re-engage once the pandemic uncertainty abates.

Halliday said Ampol has not held talks with Couche-Tard since April and was focused on “unlocking value for our shareholders, not looking over our shoulder”.

“And then if Couche-Tard or anyone else wants to come along, they (shareholders) need to be happy they can pay an appropriate price,” Halliday told Reuters in an interview.

Halliday said he wants to build the company, formerly called Caltex, under the Ampol brand by focusing on previously announced plans to unlock value, including spinning off some of its fuel stations into a property trust.

Armed with what he said was a strong balance sheet, Halliday did not rule out acquisitions, including consolidation in Australia’s refining industry.

“There are a range of opportunities that we’re always scanning and as those opportunities come up and we see that the returns can be delivered, then we’ll look to execute them.”

Ampol shut its Lytton refinery, one of Australia’s four refineries, for maintenance in May as refining margins crashed. The company will weigh whether to restart the plant when the work is completed around the end of August.

“We’ll consider at that time what the overall economics equation looks like for the refinery and make a decision on that basis,” Halliday said.

($1 = 1.4537 Australian dollars) (Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Christian Schmollinger)

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