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MarketWatch: Italy antitrust opens price-fixing probe on 9 oil companies

Last Update: 2:19 PM ET Jan 23, 2007

ROME (MarketWatch) — Italy’s antitrust watchdog Tuesday said it has started a probe into possible price-fixing by nine oil companies, including Eni SpA (E) and the Italian units of Royal Dutch Shell PLC (RDSA), Total SA (TOT) and Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM).

The regulator said the nine companies could have taken part since the end of 2004 in sharing information for the setting of gasoline prices in Italy’s service station network, limiting competition and keeping prices at the pump at one of the highest levels in the European Union.

The Italian antitrust regulator said in a statement that the other companies investigated are Italy’s Erg SpA (ERG.MI), Kuwait Petroleum Italia SpA, Tamoil SpA, and Italian companies Ip and Anonima Petroli Italiana SpA.

Eni declined to comment, and nobody was available to comment at Erg.

The regulator said Italy’s gasoline retail network has entry barriers, limiting newcomers. It concluded that this results in prices at the pump being “higher than abroad.”

The Rome-based regulator said Eni may have acted as a “price-leader,” with the other eight oil companies following suit.

Eni, which is Italy’s biggest oil company by revenue, changed the methodology it uses for calculating its prices in October 2004, and its prices are now less tied to the price of crude than before.

The antitrust regulator said it will conclude its probe by March 31, 2008.

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