In an investigation into the refinery business in Germany, the Federal Cartel Office has so far found no signs of illegal price fixing by the mineral oil companies. This emerges from an interim report published on Monday. The reason for the investigation, which was launched in the spring, was what the authorities say was a "sustainable decoupling" of petrol station prices from the development of crude oil prices in the weeks and months after Russia's attack on Ukraine.
"Our investigation shows that this development cannot be attributed solely to cost increases," said the President of the Authority, Andreas Mundt, according to a statement. This is contradicted above all by the fact that most mineral oil companies had made very large profits with their refineries during this time.
Mundt: "Structural problems in the market"
"We continue to see structural issues in the market, such as the fact that many companies are active at all levels of the value chain, from well to tap." However, one can only intervene if there is an initial suspicion of antitrust violations. "But high prices and high corporate profits are not in themselves sufficient evidence for this," emphasized Mundt.
Abuse of market power can only be considered if the companies are actually dominant. There are a multitude of different players at the refinery and wholesale level. Whether joint market dominance at the refinery level is an option requires further investigation. "Even if the Federal Cartel Office were to determine market dominance relevant to antitrust law, the legal hurdles for determining abusively excessive prices would be extremely high."
A decisive factor for the price development in recent months could be shortages due to the war and crisis-related turmoil on the markets. "As the demand for refined fuels increases, this leads to rising prices." A final assessment of this cannot be made at this point in time.
Tank discount "predominantly" passed on
The investigation also looked at last summer's three-month tank rebate. Result: The petroleum industry "mostly" passed on the rebate. In this context, the Cartel Office referred to other studies that had also come to the conclusion that the tax relief had largely been passed on.
The so-called tank discount was valid from June 1st to August 31st. It was introduced for three months together with the 9-euro ticket to relieve consumers in view of high energy prices. At that time, the energy tax for petrol was reduced by almost 30 cents per liter and for diesel by a good 14 cents per liter. Whether and to what extent this reduction was passed on to consumers was discussed intensively.
The cartel office announced that it intends to continue the investigation. The investigations would now be extended primarily to the competitive situation at the fuel wholesale level.