7-Eleven owner to buy Marathon’s Speedway for $21B

David Wethe

Seven & i Holdings Co., the world’s largest convenience store franchiser, agreed to buy Marathon Petroleum Corp.’s Speedway gas stations for $21 billion, forging ahead with one of the year’s biggest deals even as the pandemic depresses economic activity in the U.S.

Seven & i, which operates internationally through its U.S.-based 7-Eleven Inc. unit, said in a statement it expects the all-cash transaction to close in the first quarter of next year. The company will hold a press conference at 9 a.m. Tokyo time Monday.

Speedway is the second-largest chain of its kind in the U.S., with a store count that has tripled since 2011 to almost 4,000 across 36 states.

The deal is the second-largest purchase of a U.S. target this year and the biggest yet for Tokyo-based Seven & i, a retail giant with 69,000 stores worldwide including 7-Eleven outlets and Ito-Yokado supermarkets in Japan. Seven & i spent $3.3 billion three years ago to buy Sunoco LP gas stations and convenience stores in a push to expand its U.S. footprint. It comes as retailers look to shift their focus amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has further upended a sector already being impacted by the onset of e-commerce.

“Japan’s convenience store market is at its limit as the population ages,” said Hiroaki Watanabe, a logistics analyst and author of a book on Japan’s convenience store industry. “There will be a short-term impact from the coronavirus in the U.S., but long-term the population there will keep growing.”

Chief Executive Officer Ryuichi Isaka has overseen a broad restructuring of the Japanese firm since taking the helm in 2016, with a focus on expanding in the U.S. Seven & i has been pressured by a saturated convenience store market in Japan and a tight labor market that makes its 24-7 operating model challenging.

North America accounted for about 40% of the company’s sales in the latest fiscal year, up from about a third five years ago.

Late last year, Marathon faced months of pressure from investors including Elliott Management Corp. and D.E. Shaw & Co. for sweeping changes to improve its performance. Elliott had been pushing for Marathon to break itself up into three separate businesses: refining, retail and pipelines.

The company wrapped up a strategic review of MPLX LP, its publicly traded oil pipeline affiliate, ultimately deciding to retain its stake in the midstream business. Investor pressure also led to Gary Heminger stepping down as CEO in March after 45 years at the company.

American fuel makers like Marathon have been struggling to recover amid fears that a second viral wave will force more drivers off the road, particularly in some of the nation’s most populous states.

Marathon took a $12.4 billion charge in the first three months of this year while also suspending share buybacks and slashing spending by 30%.

Speedway is the second-largest chain of its kind in the U.S., with a store count that has tripled since 2011 to almost 4,000 across 36 states. Marathon follows a long line of energy companies that shed retail networks to focus on making fuel.

In terms of scale, the proposed deal is less than the $31.4 billion that Aon Plc is paying for Willis Towers Watson Plc, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.