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Imperial Oil exits retail gas bars

Couche-Tard, 7-Eleven among buyers; Parkland gets On the Run biz

Imperial Oil is selling its remaining 497 Esso retail stations in Canada to five fuel distributors for a total of $2.8 billion.

Alimentation Couche-Tard is set to buy 279 stations in Ontario and Quebec for nearly $1.69 billion.

Meanwhile, 7-Eleven Canada is buying 148 stations in Alberta and British Columbia, Harnois Groupe petrolier is buying 36 in Quebec and Wilson Fuel Co. Ltd. buying 17 in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.

Parkland Fuel Corp. says it will buy 17 Esso stations, and is also buying Imperial's On the Run/Marche Express convenience store franchise system.

Imperial, majority owned by U.S. energy giant ExxonMobil Corp., said it would continue to supply fuel to the stations and that the distributors would be better placed to increase sales.

``We believe these agreements represent the best way for Imperial to grow in the highly competitive Canadian fuels marketing business,'' said Imperial CEO Rich Kruger.

Roughly two-thirds of the 1,700 Esso stations across Canada have been operated by wholesalers for about 15 years, with the remainder of the Esso stations now set to follow the same model.

Imperial said Esso's marketing and loyalty programs will continue unchanged and the sales are expected to close by the end of 2016.

A spokeswoman for Imperial said the company will use the cash to fund its dividend and growth projects, as well as return cash to shareholders through share buy backs.

The sale of the Esso gas stations should benefit Couche-Tard, BMO analyst Peter Sklar wrote.

Not only is Couche-Tard getting the lion's share of Imperial's gas station fleet for sale, most of the stations Couche-Tard is buying are located in the Greater Toronto and Greater Montreal areas.

"The acquired assets are highly productive 'jewels' of the Esso chain situated in prime locations," he wrote, adding that the Toronto and Montreal areas  "should continue to experience demographic and economic growth and should be insulated from the slowdown in Western Canada."

All 279 locations acquired by Couche-Tard are corporate-owned stores.

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