In the past 10 years the retail petroleum industry has shifted its focus from fixed margin deals to Platts-based contracts and margin share arrangements. After years of heated discussions regarding price support and haggles over where the competition lay, a solution seemed to lie in referencing an independent body to agree the ’cost’ of fuel. From this platform, negotiations were concentrated on suppliers agreeing with their customers an add-on for delivery, card-processing and the pleasure of displaying the supplier’s brand. Platts was seen as the solution. Platts is a division of The McGraw-Hill Companies, and a leading global provider of energy and metals data.

However, it is not the only company offering fuel price market data, a point that Chris Judge, senior products editor for a company called Argus Media Group, is keen to get across to the petrol retailing community.

Argus is a leading provider of price assessments, business intelligence and market data on the global coal, electricity, oil, gas, emissions and transportation industries. It was founded in 1970 and is a privately held UK-registered company.

"Argus has been covering energy markets for almost 40 years," says Judge. "It was the first company to publish a daily report on the emerging spot oil markets. The original daily report was called Petroleum Argus, and since then coverage has evolved into a broad range of market reports spanning natural gas, petroleum products, LPG, crude oil, electricity, coal and emissions. "However," he stresses, "Argus methodology is distinct from Platts. On October 1, 2005, Platts changed the methodology it used to assess gasoline and diesel prices, to Market on Close (MOC). In simple terms, that means all assessments reflect transactable values at 16.30 London time precisely, participants needing to communicate no later than 16.15. This leaves a very small window to reflect the prices of fuel during the day. Significantly, Argus prices are assessed between 8am and 17.30 London time on a daily basis."

Judge says the Argus assessments reflect a volume-weighted average of market activity therefore, he argues, the company’s prices are more representative of the market price: "We assess our prices based on a whole trading day, so the sample is broader - and sounder as it uses more statistical data." Judge says Argus considers a broad range of information - fixed price deals, formula-related price deals, premiums to futures or accepted benchmarks, discounts, reported but unconfirmed trades, netback values, bids, offers, forward markets, spreads and supply/demand fundamentals - in finally determining the assessed price of gasoline and diesel: "Argus European Products reports have become the main price reference benchmark for the European wholesale traded market," says Judge. "The openly traded spot markets now use Argus gasoline prices as the spot price reference in long-term contracts and derivative contracts.

"The suppliers of gasoline and diesel in the UK downstream market therefore trade with each other on an Argus platform upstream. However, contracts and supply agreements to the UK retailer are offered on a Platts referenced platform. We think it would be more straightforward for these oil companies if they used the Argus figures for their downstream business as well as upstream. But it needs retailers to ask for them."

Judge also believes a monopoly - such as Platts has in downstream retail fuel supply contracts - is not healthy.

"The independent UK retail fuel industry has survived thanks to the diversification on the forecourt, offering convenience, fresh food, local produce and a customer service that has exceeded that of the multiples," he says. "To stand still and accept the status quo is not an option. Moving forward, reviewing the basis on which the core expenditure of the business is reliant, has to be both necessary and sensible. We can provide detailed pricing information in a format to fit their needs. We also produce a daily biofuels price assessment. You might never know what your supplier has delivered to your tank - they have no requirement to tell you, as long as it meets British standard. However, Argus can tell you the price of FAME (Fatty Acid Methyl Ester), rapeseed, palm oil and soya - in fact we report on six products, most of which will at some point make their way to your forecourt." For more information visit [].