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    Competitive Pressures Starting to Abate for TA

    TravelCenters begins to put Pilot Flying J fallout in its rearview mirror.

    By Brian Berk, Convenience Store News

    WESTLAKE, Ohio – The pressure from competitors hoping to capitalize on Pilot Flying J's assumed weakened position in the aftermath of its alleged fraud investigation has "abated" for TravelCenters of America LLC (TA), CEO Thomas M. O'Brien stated during its 2013 fiscal third-quarter earnings call this morning.

    As CSNews Online reported in August, O'Brien was "disappointed" with his company’s 2013 second-quarter earnings, which he blamed on the Pilot Flying J fallout as competitors tried to swoop in with heavily discounted promotions in an effort to grab market share from Pilot Flying J.

    On today's earnings call, O'Brien was more upbeat. In fact, he said he may have "overstated" how much competitive pressure affected his company in the prior quarter.

    As for its latest quarter, TA earned a net profit of $15.8 million, compared to net income of $18.9 million in the year-ago period. The company cited depreciation and amortization expenses and associated accounting costs related to prior acquisitions and other capital expenditures for the earnings decrease.

    On the positive side, fuel gross margins saw a healthy 5-percent increase to $91.3 million in TA's third quarter. In addition, retail fuel sales volume gallons and total fuel revenues also increased.

    As for non-fuel sales, the operator of 247 truck stop locations in the United States and Canada sold $391 million worth of goods in its third quarter ended Sept. 30, a $28-million improvement year over year.

    "Sales were down at our full-service restaurants, but that was counteracted by better results at our quick-service restaurant locations," O'Brien reported.

    In October, TA closed on acquisitions of two travel centers and another two sites are currently under contract. "The acquisition pipeline is not as robust as it has ever been," the chief executive said. "But it's not the weakest we have seen either."

    O'Brien also noted that TA is on track open five natural gas fueling stations in the first half of 2014. The project is a partnership with Royal Dutch Shell plc.

    Westlake, Ohio-based TravelCenters of America LLC operates under the TA, Petro Stopping Centers and Petro brand names.

    By Brian Berk, Convenience Store News
    • About Brian Berk Brian Berk is managing editor of Stagnito Business Information's Convenience Store News and Convenience Store News for the Single Store Owner, where he specializes in covering motor fuels, technology and financial news. He has served the magazine industry for 14 years and has also worked in the radio and newspaper fields. Berk holds a bachelor's degree in communications from the State University of New York at Cortland and a master's degree in journalism from Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn.

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