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    TA Benefits From Pilot Flying J Rebate Scandal

    Company earned a net profit of $12M in its 2013 fourth quarter.

    WESTLAKE, Ohio -- The continuing fallout of Pilot Flying J's fuel rebate scandal is benefitting TravelCenters of America LLC (TA), CEO Thomas M. O'Brien said Monday during the company's 2013 fourth-quarter earnings call.

    TA recently gained a client with 3,000 trucks that was a former customer of competitor Pilot Flying J, he said. In addition, the continued news headlines regarding Pilot Flying J is one reason TA reported a strong fourth quarter. The operator of TravelCenters of America, TA, Petro and Petro Stopping Centers locations earned a net profit of $12 million vs. a loss of $2.5 million during 2012's fourth quarter.

    Total fuel gallons sold rose by more than 2 million year over year to 498 million gallons. Fuel gross margins increased by more than $7 million to $84 million. Total nonfuel sales improved nearly $26 million to $350 million, and nonfuel gross margins increased $13 million to $193 million.

    The only negative on the quarterly report was nonfuel gross margin percentage, which dipped 0.2 percent year over year to 55.3 percent.

    "One place we did especially well is our Reserve-It parking service," O'Brien reported. "We had 192,000 overnight parking spaces reserved by drivers in 2013, compared to just 19,000 in 2012."

    TA's report on its 2013 fourth-quarter earnings came considerably later than normal. In fact, most companies have already filed their 2014 first-quarter earnings reports at this point. TA submitted a filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission on March 17 and made subsequent filings that its quarterly and annual reporting would be late.

    "The staffing in our accounting department was a problem and accounting for income taxes has been a problem," O'Brien acknowledged during Monday's call. "It also took a long time to work out tax loss carry forwards. We are working to fix all of these issues."

    TA hopes to report on its 2014 first-quarter earnings in July and expects to be back on a timely schedule by the third quarter of this year.

    Despite the accounting snafus, O'Brien stressed that he has great faith in the future of TA.

    "Nothing has swayed my belief in the company," he said. "I'm more excited about TA than at any other time."

    Looking ahead, the chief executive noted that the acquisition environment for travel centers is much different than for convenience stores. "The acquisition environment in travel centers is modest," he explained. "In part, that's because we've already shaken a lot of trees."

    The CEO did say that TA will continue to hunt for acquisitions, though. The company's last acquisition was its December purchase of 31 Minit Mart gas stations and convenience stores. That transaction has closed.

    O'Brien concluded Monday's call by reporting that TA opened its first liquefied natural gas (LNG) site in Ontario, Calif., in May. The site is expected to operate eight to 10 fueling lanes by the end of this year. More LNG sites are expected to open in 2015.

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