Marathon Petroleum announced plans Wednesday to continue to grow the Speedway segment of its business, which provides 9 percent of the company’s earnings.
Marathon expects to invest $255 million in Speedway gas stations this year, after investing $355 million last year.
Speedway — the 10th largest employer in Clark County with about 700 workers at its headquarters in Enon — earned $77 million in the fourth quarter of 2012, according to Marathon’s quarterly report released Wednesday. The company earned $310 million throughout 2012, including Speedway’s total earnings of $3.4 billion.
In 2011, Speedway earned $73 million in the final quarter and $271 million for the year.
“For 15 straight years (Speedway) has increased merchandise sales, and we commend them for that,” said Gary Heminger , president and CEO in a conference call Wednesday morning.
Speedway’s 2012 merchandise sales grew 4.6 percent over 2011, from $2.9 billion to more than $3 billion.
Speedway is “our only company-owned and operated convenience store on the market,” said Shane Pochard, Marathon spokesman. Speedway’s Speedy Rewards program is well regarded in the industry, and the company has been named the best brand in America by Equitrend, Pochard added.
“It’s doing well financially as well, so it only makes sense to continue” growing the company, he said.
Speedway has seen growth mainly because of the increase in the number of stores, said Don Templin, Marathon senior vice president and chief financial officer, in a conference call.
Speedway acquired 10 Road Ranger convenience stores in Ohio and Kentucky in June, as well as 87 GasAmerica locations in Indiana and Ohio. In 2011, the company purchased 30 Gas City locations.
Spokesman Shane Pochard said Marathon invested more in 2012 for the two major acquisitions of last year.
“And then this year we still have capital investments to grow Speedway, whether organically through smaller acquisitions or new builds or remodels. We do that every year,” Pochard said.
Meanwhile, Speedway gas sales decreased slightly, a reflection of higher gas prices, Templin said. Same store gas sales fell .8 percent from 2011 to 2012. At the conference call, Marathon executives said the average pump price of gasoline in the fourth quarter of 2012 was $3.32, compared with $3.20 in the fourth quarter of 2011.
Meanwhile, the profit per gallon sold was 13.18 cents on average for 2012, up from 13.08 cents in 2011.
Gregg Laskoski , senior petroleum analyst from Gasbuddy.com, said it is possible for a company to sell less gas in volume but make more profit. It could be because of higher gas prices, or because of when the company purchased gas wholesale versus when it sold the gas.
“Nationwide, we’ve seen the average price of gas go up 9 cents a gallon in the last week,” Laskoski said.
He said part of this is because crude oil is at the highest price it has been since May of last year at $97.65 a barrel. Also, refineries may be trying to make more money before it’s time to produce summer blend gasoline, which is more expensive to produce.
“Prices tend to drive up now through spring, well into April or May,” Laskoski said. “We could see nominal increases week after week now through April.”
Ohio gas prices were at $3.53 on average as of Wednesday afternoon, according to Gasbuddy.com.