The rush to restock US shelves with food, toilet paper and hand sanitizer is boosting diesel sales at TA Petro.
TA Petro is publicly traded and is therefore required in some cases, expected in others, to disclose events that are material to the company’s results. In a prepared statement released Friday, March 20, TA Managing Director and CEO Jonathan Pertchik said diesel sales in the roadside stop chain were “high year-over-year…we indicating that the U.S. supply chain remains intact and functioning in these unprecedented circumstances.” .”
Statements on diesel demand are tied to data showing higher volumes moving through the system, as evidenced by the outbound tender volume index in SONAR.
In the “forward-looking statements” section of the release, TA said the increase in diesel sales this month “may not continue and may reverse, particularly if current economic conditions continue to decline or don’t improve.”
The forward-looking statements section also notes that higher volumes do not necessarily mean better profits. After recapping the current oil price war, TA states that “Even if TA’s diesel fuel sales volume increases from prior year levels, TA may not realize an increase in fuel revenue or fuel margins.
However, based on the FUELS.USA dataset in SONAR, retailers should benefit from current market conditions. The FUELS series measures the difference between the national average retail price of diesel and the national average wholesale price. A company like TA would have several different ways of paying for diesel fuel, but the size of the FUELS gap suggests that as long as that acquisition cost is somewhere in line with the average wholesale price of diesel, current margins are far the strongest in years.
The forward-looking statement also notes that TA may “cease to be considered an ‘essential service’ despite its attempts to the contrary.” If so, TA may have to close or reduce operations at some or all of its travel centers. indefinitely.” But the National Association of Truck Stop Owners (NATSO) recently received a letter from Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Acting Chief Jim Mullen urging truck stops to stay open, so that ‘Such a loss of ‘essential service’ designation seems highly unlikely.
In response to questions from FreightWaves on Thursday, NATSO spokeswoman Tiffany Neuman said truck stops remain open. “They continue to report serving truckers as they work to restock merchandise that is quickly selling out at retail outlets as Americans stock up,” she wrote. “Truck Stops and Travel Centers are committed to serving professional drivers transporting supplies and goods in support of COVID-19 emergency relief.”
But the big chains, on their respective web pages, list all the restrictions and changes. For example, the use of reusable coffee cups is discouraged. Love’s said it was limiting sale quantities of certain items “because inventory is running low on some merchandise in store.”
But the biggest list is of states and locations where food must now be delivered or delivered, as dining rooms are closed due to government mandates or a chain decision. As TA Petro said on its webpage, “Depending on the applicable government mandate, we may need to bring the food to you.”
Meanwhile, with Pennsylvania having at least partially backed off from its plan to close all rest areas, the question is what other services drivers might miss on the road.
It seems that Pennsylvania’s decision to close rest areas, partially retracted two days later, is an outlier. There are no other reports of states where state-run rest areas have been closed, according to multiple agencies following such developments.
Norita Taylor, spokeswoman for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), told FreightWaves in an email that her organization was tracking other reports of shutdowns. “We’re trying to verify all of this as best we can,” she said. “In some cases it’s a construction issue and maybe a rumor is started because one is closed in a particular state.”
The information on the OOIDA webpage on the various measures taken by the state in response to COVID-19 does not list any other rest stop closures beyond those partially retracted in Keystone State.
The Texas Department of Transportation, in a statement outlining its plans to deal with COVID-19, said it had closed the lobbies of its 12 travel information centers.
But he said that the outhouses at these facilities will remain available and will be “regularly cleaned”. He also said rest areas on state highways remain open. “These provide important rest areas for drivers,” the statement said.
Compiled by OOIDA, the list of weight restrictions lifted by states is long. Michigan is one of the states included.
As an example of the type of waiver granted for weight restrictions, Michigan’s was relatively nonspecific, issued as an executive order by Governor Gretchen Whitmer and stating that all state and local agencies “shall exercise their authority in a manner expedited to issue permits that allow non-seasonal load restrictions to be exceeded.” However, he said the necessary permits reflected the weight tolerances of the bridge.
The reasons for the exemptions would all be related to COVID-19 needs: delivery of medical supplies; supplies and equipment “necessary for community safety, sanitation and prevention of community transmission of COVID-19”; food to replenish the shelves; and a few other uses related to the COVID-19 response.
Separately, NATSO has requested a waiver of hours of service rules for fuel deliveries. In his email to FreightWaves, Neuman also said NATSO had joined with other food service groups to seek a waiver, submitted Wednesday, March 18, on the type of food food stamp recipients via the additional nutritional assistance program could buy. The waiver would allow the purchase of hot prepared foods.