WA's Gull Petroleum is set to change hands for the second time in two years, with global giant Puma Energy firming as the buyer of Archer Capital's Ausfuel business as early as next week.
The private equity-backed Ausfuel bought the Rae family's 98 service station network in December 2010, folding it into its broader Ausfuel business, which is now back on the block for up to $700 million.
The sale boosted the media-shy Rae family's wealth by $109 million. Speculation about Puma's purchase reached fever pitch in Perth business circles yesterday, with Archer Capital boss Peter Gold and his team said to have signed off on the deal on Wednesday. Settlement on the trade is planned for next month, sources say.
Adding to the speculation, Puma, which is run by the privately owned Swiss-based commodity group Trafigura, last week reportedly splurged more than $250 million on east-coast based Neumann Petroleum, owner of Matilda and Neumann service stations.
Neumann Petroleum boasts more than 120 service stations in Queensland and NSW, along with a bulk fuel terminal at Eagle Farm in Brisbane. Adding Gull Petroleum and the rest of Ausfuel's total 200 station network would give Puma, which has retailing operations around the globe, greater clout in the cutthroat and tight-margin fuel retailing game in this country.
Archer Capital did not return calls. A spokeswoman for Puma would not comment on specifics, but reiterated its commitment to the Australian market.
"Puma has expressed interest in the Australian market through its acquisition last week of the Neumann Petroleum business," she said. "However, we are not in a position where we can talk about any other deals in Australia."
According to national reports, the Ausfuel business is expected to make earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation of about $100 million this year. Puma is expected to grow the business and add staff.
Gull has a storied history among independent firms in WA.
Fred Rae, who left school at 14 for an apprenticeship as a carpenter, made the move into petroleum after a career building houses and grain silos around WA. He bought out his partners in the then 35-outlet operation in 1984. He handed over the reins of the business - now WA's biggest independent fuel company - to his son Neil in 2003. When they sold the firm in 2010, Neil said it was "a happy-sad day for us as a family - this is the culmination of 35 years of hard work".
"It's been a really great journey. We were the first company to . . . import fuel into Australia and break the (monopoly) of the majors, so we have a lot of highlights, things that we're proud to have done.
The family came close to selling Gull in 1987, when Fred Rae struck a deal to hand over the business to rival Mark Povey for $15.5 million but the sale was aborted.