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Table of Contents

 

UNITED STATES

SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION

Washington, D.C. 20549

 

FORM 10-K

 

Annual Report Pursuant to Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934

For the fiscal year ended September 24, 2022

Transition Report Pursuant to Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934

Commission File Number: 1-14222

 

SUBURBAN PROPANE PARTNERS, L.P.

(Exact name of registrant as specified in its charter)

 

 

Delaware

 

22-3410353

(State or other jurisdiction of

 

(I.R.S. Employer

incorporation or organization)

 

Identification No.)

240 Route 10 West

Whippany, NJ 07981

(973) 887-5300

(Address, including zip code, and telephone number,

including area code, of registrant’s principal executive offices)

Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(b) of the Act:

 

Title of each class

Trading Symbol

 

Name of exchange on which registered

Common Units

SPH

 

New York Stock Exchange

 

Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(g) of the Act: None

Indicate by check mark if the registrant is a well-known seasoned issuer, as defined in Rule 405 of the Securities Act. Yes No

Indicate by check mark if the registrant is not required to file reports pursuant to Section 13 or Section 15(d) of the Act. Yes No

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant (1) has filed all reports required to be filed by Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to file such reports), and (2) has been subject to such filing requirements for the past 90 days. Yes No

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has submitted electronically every Interactive Data File required to be submitted pursuant to Rule 405 of Regulation S-T (§232.405 of this chapter) during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to submit such files). Yes No

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer, a non-accelerated filer, a smaller reporting company, or an emerging growth company. See the definitions of “large accelerated filer,” “accelerated filer,” “smaller reporting company,” and “emerging growth company” in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act.

 

Large accelerated filer

 

Accelerated filer

Non-accelerated filer

 

Smaller reporting company

Emerging growth company

 

 

 

 

If an emerging growth company, indicate by check mark if the registrant has elected not to use the extended transition period for complying with any new or revised financial accounting standards provided pursuant to Section 13(a) of the Exchange Act.

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has filed a report on and attestation to its management’s assessment of the effectiveness of its internal control over financial reporting under Section 404(b) of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (15 U.S.C. 7262(b)) by the registered public accounting firm that prepared or issued its audit report.

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a shell company (as defined in Rule 12b-2 of the Act). Yes No

The aggregate market value as of March 25, 2022 of the registrant’s Common Units held by non-affiliates of the registrant, based on the reported closing price of such units on the New York Stock Exchange on such date ($16.27 per unit), was approximately $1,024,497,000. As of November 22, 2022, there were 63,485,760 Common Units of Suburban Propane Partners, L.P. outstanding.

Documents Incorporated by Reference: None

 

Total number of pages (excluding Exhibits): 130

 

 


Table of Contents

SUBURBAN PROPANE PARTNERS, L.P. AND SUBSIDIARIES

INDEX TO ANNUAL REPORT ON FORM 10-K

 

 

 

Page

 

PART I

 

 

 

 

ITEM 1.

BUSINESS

1

 

 

 

ITEM 1A.

RISK FACTORS

14

 

 

 

ITEM 1B.

UNRESOLVED STAFF COMMENTS

28

 

 

 

ITEM 2.

PROPERTIES

28

 

 

 

ITEM 3.

LEGAL PROCEEDINGS

28

 

 

 

ITEM 4.

MINE SAFETY DISCLOSURES

28

 

 

 

 

PART II

 

 

 

 

ITEM 5.

MARKET FOR THE REGISTRANT’S COMMON UNITS, RELATED UNITHOLDER MATTERS AND ISSUER PURCHASES OF UNITS

29

 

 

 

ITEM 6.

[RESERVED]

29

 

 

 

ITEM 7.

MANAGEMENT’S DISCUSSION AND ANALYSIS OF FINANCIAL CONDITION AND RESULTS OF OPERATIONS

29

 

 

 

ITEM 7A.

QUANTITATIVE AND QUALITATIVE DISCLOSURES ABOUT MARKET RISK

40

 

 

 

ITEM 8.

FINANCIAL STATEMENTS AND SUPPLEMENTARY DATA

42

 

 

 

ITEM 9.

CHANGES IN AND DISAGREEMENTS WITH ACCOUNTANTS ON ACCOUNTING AND FINANCIAL DISCLOSURE

44

 

 

 

ITEM 9A.

CONTROLS AND PROCEDURES

44

 

 

 

ITEM 9B.

OTHER INFORMATION

44

 

 

 

ITEM 9C.

DISCLOSURE REGARDING FOREIGN JURISDICTIONS THAT PREVENT INSPECTIONS

44

 

 

 

 

PART III

 

 

 

 

ITEM 10.

DIRECTORS, EXECUTIVE OFFICERS AND PARTNERSHIP GOVERNANCE

45

 

 

 

ITEM 11.

EXECUTIVE COMPENSATION

52

 

 

 

ITEM 12.

SECURITY OWNERSHIP OF CERTAIN BENEFICIAL OWNERS AND MANAGEMENT AND RELATED UNITHOLDER MATTERS

85

 

 

 

ITEM 13.

CERTAIN RELATIONSHIPS AND RELATED TRANSACTIONS, AND DIRECTOR INDEPENDENCE

87

 

 

 

ITEM 14.

PRINCIPAL ACCOUNTING FEES AND SERVICES

88

 

 

 

 

PART IV

 

 

 

 

ITEM 15.

EXHIBITS, FINANCIAL STATEMENT SCHEDULES

89

 

 

 

ITEM 16.

FORM 10-K SUMMARY

89

 

 

 

SIGNATURES

92

 

 


Table of Contents

DISCLOSURE REGARDING FORWARD-LOOKING STATEMENTS

This Annual Report on Form 10-K contains forward-looking statements (“Forward-Looking Statements”) as defined in the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995, Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended, and Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended, relating to future business expectations and predictions and financial condition and results of operations of Suburban Propane Partners, L.P. (the “Partnership”). Some of these statements can be identified by the use of forward-looking terminology such as “prospects,” “outlook,” “believes,” “estimates,” “intends,” “may,” “will,” “should,” “could,” “anticipates,” “expects” or “plans” or the negative or other variation of these or similar words, or by discussion of trends and conditions, strategies or risks and uncertainties. These Forward-Looking Statements involve certain risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from those discussed or implied in such Forward-Looking Statements (statements contained in this Annual Report identifying such risks and uncertainties are referred to as “Cautionary Statements”). The risks and uncertainties and their impact on the Partnership’s results include, but are not limited to, the following risks:

The impact of weather conditions on the demand for propane, fuel oil and other refined fuels, natural gas and electricity;
Volatility in the unit cost of propane, fuel oil and other refined fuels, natural gas and electricity, the impact of the Partnership’s hedging and risk management activities, and the adverse impact of price increases on volumes sold as a result of customer conservation;
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the corresponding government response, including the impact across the Partnership’s businesses on demand and operations, as well as on the operations of the Partnership’s suppliers, customers and other business partners, and the effectiveness of the Partnership’s actions taken in response to these risks;
The ability of the Partnership to compete with other suppliers of propane, fuel oil and other energy sources;
The impact on the price and supply of propane, fuel oil and other refined fuels from the political, military or economic instability of the oil producing nations, including Russian military action in Ukraine, global terrorism and other general economic conditions, including the economic instability resulting from natural disasters such as pandemics, including the COVID-19 pandemic;
The ability of the Partnership to acquire sufficient volumes of, and the costs to the Partnership of acquiring, transporting and storing, propane, fuel oil and other refined fuels;
The ability of the Partnership to acquire and maintain reliable transportation for its propane, fuel oil and other refined fuels;
The ability of the Partnership to attract and retain employees and key personnel to support the growth of our business;
The ability of the Partnership to retain customers or acquire new customers;
The impact of customer conservation, energy efficiency and technology advances on the demand for propane, fuel oil and other refined fuels, natural gas and electricity;
The ability of management to continue to control expenses and manage inflationary increases in fuel, labor and other operating costs;
The impact of changes in applicable statutes and government regulations, or their interpretations, including those relating to the environment and climate change, derivative instruments and other regulatory developments on the Partnership’s business;
The impact of changes in tax laws that could adversely affect the tax treatment of the Partnership for income tax purposes;
The impact of legal proceedings on the Partnership’s business;
The impact of operating hazards that could adversely affect the Partnership’s operating results to the extent not covered by insurance;
The Partnership’s ability to make strategic acquisitions and successfully integrate them;
The ability of the Partnership and any third-party service providers on which it may rely for support or services to continue to combat cybersecurity threats to its networks and information technology;
The impact of current conditions in the global capital and credit markets, and general economic pressures;
The operating, legal and regulatory risks the Partnership may face; and
Other risks referenced from time to time in filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and those factors listed or incorporated by reference into this Annual Report under “Risk Factors.”

Some of these Forward-Looking Statements are discussed in more detail in “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations” in this Annual Report. Reference is also made to the risk factors discussed in Item 1A of this Annual Report. On different occasions, the Partnership or its representatives have made or may make Forward-Looking Statements in other filings with the SEC, press releases or oral statements made by or with the approval of one of the Partnership’s authorized executive officers. Readers are cautioned not to place undue reliance on Forward-Looking Statements, which reflect management’s view only as of the date made. The Partnership undertakes no obligation to update any Forward-Looking Statement or Cautionary Statement, except as required by law. All subsequent written and oral Forward-Looking Statements attributable to the Partnership or persons acting on its behalf are expressly qualified in their entirety by the Cautionary Statements in this Annual Report and in future SEC reports. For a more complete discussion of specific factors which could cause actual results to differ from those in the Forward-Looking Statements or Cautionary Statements, see “Risk Factors” in this Annual Report.

 


Table of Contents

PART I

ITEM 1. BUSINESS

Development of Business

Suburban Propane Partners, L.P. (the “Partnership”), a publicly traded Delaware limited partnership, is a nationwide marketer and distributor of a diverse array of products meeting the energy needs of our customers. We specialize in the distribution of propane, renewable propane, fuel oil and refined fuels, as well as the marketing of natural gas and electricity in deregulated markets and are an investor in low-carbon fuel alternatives. In support of our core marketing and distribution operations, we install and service a variety of home comfort equipment, particularly in the areas of heating and ventilation. We believe, based on LP/Gas Magazine dated February 2022, that we are the third-largest retail marketer of propane in the United States, measured by retail gallons sold in the calendar year 2021. As of September 24, 2022, we were serving the energy needs of approximately 1.0 million residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural customers through approximately 700 locations in 42 states with operations principally concentrated in the east and west coast regions of the United States, as well as portions of the midwest region of the United States and Alaska. We sold approximately 401.3 million gallons of propane and 22.8 million gallons of fuel oil and refined fuels to retail customers during the year ended September 24, 2022. Together with our predecessor companies, we have been continuously engaged in the retail propane business since 1928.

We conduct our business principally through Suburban Propane, L.P., a Delaware limited partnership, which operates our propane business and assets (the “Operating Partnership”), and its direct and indirect subsidiaries. Our general partner, and the general partner of our Operating Partnership, is Suburban Energy Services Group LLC (the “General Partner”), a Delaware limited liability company whose sole member is the Chief Executive Officer of the Partnership. Since October 19, 2006, the General Partner has no economic interest in either the Partnership or the Operating Partnership (which means that the General Partner is not entitled to any cash distributions of either partnership, nor to any cash payment upon the liquidation of either partnership, nor any other economic rights in either partnership) other than as a holder of 784 Common Units of the Partnership. Additionally, under the Third Amended and Restated Agreement of Limited Partnership (the “Partnership Agreement”) of the Partnership, there are no incentive distribution rights for the benefit of the General Partner. The Partnership owns (directly and indirectly) all of the limited partner interests in the Operating Partnership. The Common Units represent 100% of the limited partner interests in the Partnership.

Direct and indirect subsidiaries of the Operating Partnership include Suburban Heating Oil Partners, LLC, which owns and operates the assets of our fuel oil and refined fuels business; Agway Energy Services, LLC, which owns and operates the assets of our natural gas and electricity business; Suburban Sales and Service, Inc., which conducts a portion of our service work and appliance and parts business; and Suburban Renewable Energy, LLC (“Suburban Renewables”), which serves as the platform for our investments in innovative renewable energy technologies and businesses. Our fuel oil and refined fuels, natural gas and electricity, services and renewable energy businesses are structured as either limited liability companies that are treated as corporations or corporate entities (collectively referred to as “Corporate Entities”) and, as such, are subject to corporate level income tax.

During fiscal 2020, our Operating Partnership acquired a 38% equity interest in Oberon Fuels, Inc. (“Oberon”), which is a producer of an innovative, low carbon intensity renewable dimethyl ether (“rDME”) transportation fuel. Oberon is focused on the research and development of practical and affordable pathways to zero-emission transportation through its proprietary production process. Oberon's rDME fuel is a cost-effective, low carbon intensity, zero-soot alternative to petroleum diesel, and when blended with propane can reduce propane's carbon intensity. In addition, rDME is also a carrier for hydrogen, making it easy to deliver this renewable fuel for the growing hydrogen fuel cell industry.

During fiscal 2022, Suburban Renewables acquired a 25% equity interest in Independence Hydrogen, Inc. (“IH”), a veteran-owned and operated, privately held company developing a gaseous hydrogen ecosystem to deliver locally sourced hydrogen to local markets, with a primary focus on material handling and backup power applications. Also in fiscal 2022, Suburban Renewables entered into an agreement to construct, own and operate a new biodigester system with Adirondack Farms (“Adirondack Farms”) in Clinton County, New York for the production of renewable natural gas (“RNG”).

Suburban Energy Finance Corp., a direct 100%-owned subsidiary of the Partnership, was formed on November 26, 2003 to serve as co-issuer, jointly and severally with the Partnership, of the Partnership’s senior notes. Suburban Energy Finance Corp. has nominal assets and conducts no business operations.

In this Annual Report, unless otherwise indicated, the terms “Partnership,” “Suburban,” “we,” “us,” and “our” are used to refer to Suburban Propane Partners, L.P. and its consolidated subsidiaries, including the Operating Partnership. The Partnership and the Operating Partnership commenced operations in March 1996 in connection with the Partnership’s initial public offering of Common Units.

 

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We currently file Annual Reports on Form 10-K, Quarterly Reports on Form 10-Q and current reports on Form 8-K with the SEC. You may read and print copies of any materials that we file with the SEC on the SEC’s EDGAR database at www.sec.gov.

Upon written request or through an information request link from our website at www.suburbanpropane.com, we will provide, without charge, copies of our Annual Report on Form 10-K for the year ended September 24, 2022, each of the Quarterly Reports on Form 10-Q, current reports filed or furnished on Form 8-K and all amendments to such reports as soon as is reasonably practicable after such reports are electronically filed with or furnished to the SEC. Requests should be directed to: Suburban Propane Partners, L.P., Investor Relations, P.O. Box 206, Whippany, New Jersey 07981-0206. The information contained on our website is not included as part of, or incorporated by reference into, this Annual Report on Form 10-K.

Our Strategy

Our business strategy is to deliver increasing value to our Unitholders through initiatives, both internal and external, that are geared toward achieving sustainable profitable growth. In advancing this strategy, we consider the interests of our employees, customers and the communities in which we operate, as exemplified by our three corporate pillars; Go Green with Suburban Propane, SuburbanCares, and Suburban Commitment to Excellence. The following are key elements of our strategy:

Strategic Investments in the Continued Build Out of Our Renewable Energy Platform. The economy-wide energy transition to a low-carbon world offers an opportunity for us to realize top-line organic growth through advancing the significant air quality and climate benefits of traditional propane, and through continued investments in the next generation of even cleaner and lower carbon renewable energy products. This dual approach has driven our engagement in particularly hard to abate segments, including heavy duty transportation and rural heating and cooking. Through our strategic investments in Oberon and IH, our collaboration with Adirondack Farms, and partnerships with key participants in the renewable energy sector, we have begun to develop an interconnected portfolio of renewable energy assets that are focused on the distribution of renewable fuels, including hydrogen and renewable natural gas. These investments and partnerships allow us to leverage our logistics expertise as local distributors of energy, support the country’s clean energy transition, and helps position the company for long-term growth and sustainability. As a company with a nearly 95-year legacy of being a trusted and reliable provider of energy and exceptional customer service, our goal is to lead the propane industry in the transition to a renewable energy future that provides value to our customers, Unitholders, employees, and the communities we serve in a way that ensures we can thrive in a carbon constrained world for the next 95 years.

Growing Our Customer Base by Improving Customer Retention and Acquiring New Customers. We set clear objectives to focus our employees on seeking new customers and retaining existing customers by providing highly responsive customer service. We believe that customer satisfaction is a critical factor in the growth and success of our operations. “Our Business is Customer Satisfaction” is one of our core operating philosophies. We measure and reward our customer service centers based on a combination of profitability of the individual customer service center and net customer growth. We have made investments in training our people both on techniques to provide exceptional customer service to our existing customer base, as well as advanced sales training focused on growing our customer base.

Selective Acquisitions of Complementary Businesses or Assets. We supplement our organic customer base growth and retention initiatives with selective acquisitions of high-quality propane businesses in strategic markets, as well as identifying and fostering new market expansion efforts to establish or extend our presence and expand market share. Our acquisition strategy is to focus on businesses with a relatively steady or predictable cash flow that will extend our presence in strategically attractive markets, complement our existing business segments or provide an opportunity to diversify our operations. We are very patient, disciplined and deliberate in evaluating both traditional and renewable energy acquisition opportunities.

Internal Focus on Driving Operating Efficiencies, Right-Sizing Our Cost Structure and Enhancing Our Customer Mix. We focus internally on improving the efficiency of our existing operations, customer support, managing our cost structure, improving our customer mix, and hardening our cybersecurity defenses. Through investments in our technology infrastructure, we continue to seek to improve operating efficiencies and the return on assets employed. We have developed a streamlined operating footprint and management structure to facilitate effective resource planning and decision making. Our internal efforts are particularly focused in the areas of route optimization, forecasting customer usage, customer onboarding and support, inventory and fixed assets control, cash management and customer tracking. We will continue to pursue operational efficiencies while staying focused on providing exceptional service to our customer base. Our systems platform is advanced and scalable and we will seek to leverage that technology for enhanced routing, forecasting and customer relationship management.

Selective Disposition of Non-Strategic Assets. We continuously evaluate our existing facilities to identify opportunities to optimize our return on assets by selectively divesting operations in slower growing markets, generating proceeds that can be reinvested in markets that present greater opportunities for growth. Our objective is to maximize the growth and profit potential of all of our assets.

 

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The Three Pillars of the Suburban Propane Experience. We execute the foregoing strategy within the framework of our three corporate pillars:

Go Green with Suburban Propane: our commitment to advancing the clean air and low-carbon benefits of traditional propane, and to invest in innovative technologies to bring the next generation of renewable energy solutions to market in support of the energy transition;
SuburbanCares: our devotion to the safety and career development of our people, and our philanthropic activities to be a critical positive contributor in the local communities we serve and in our national partnership with the American Red Cross; and
Suburban Commitment to Excellence: our value proposition for our customers, employees and the communities we serve and, in particular, the reliability, dependability and flexibility in our commitment to excellence in safety and customer service.

Business Segments

As described below, we manage and evaluate our operations in four operating segments, three of which are reportable segments: Propane, Fuel Oil and Refined Fuels and Natural Gas and Electricity. See the Notes to the Consolidated Financial Statements included in this Annual Report for financial information about our business segments.

Propane

Propane is a by‑product of natural gas processing and petroleum refining. It is a clean burning energy source recognized for its transportability and ease of use relative to alternative forms of stand‑alone energy sources. Propane use falls into three broad categories:

residential, commercial and government applications;
industrial applications; and
agricultural uses.

In the residential, commercial and government markets, propane is used primarily for space heating, water heating, clothes drying and cooking. Industrial customers use propane generally as a motor fuel to power over‑the‑road vehicles, forklifts and stationary engines, to fire furnaces, as a cutting gas and in other process applications. In the agricultural market, propane is primarily used for tobacco curing, crop drying, poultry brooding and weed control.

Propane is extracted from natural gas or oil wellhead gas at processing plants or separated from crude oil during the refining process. It is normally transported and stored in a liquid state under moderate pressure or refrigeration for ease of handling in shipping and distribution. When the pressure is released or the temperature is increased, propane becomes a flammable gas that is colorless and odorless, although an odorant is added to allow its detection. Propane is non-toxic, clean burning and, when consumed, produces virtually no particulate matter. In addition, our equity investment in Oberon is included within the propane segment.

Product Distribution and Marketing

We distribute propane through a nationwide retail distribution network consisting of approximately 700 locations in 42 states as of September 24, 2022. Our operations are principally concentrated in the east and west coast regions of the United States, as well as portions of the midwest region of the United States and Alaska. As of September 24, 2022, we serviced approximately 949,000 propane customers. Typically, our customer service centers are located in suburban and rural areas where natural gas is not readily available. Generally, these customer service centers consist of an office, appliance showroom, warehouse and service facilities, with one or more 18,000 to 30,000 gallon storage tanks on the premises. Approximately 60% of our residential customers receive their propane supply through an automatic delivery system. These deliveries are scheduled through proprietary technology, based upon each customer’s historical consumption patterns and prevailing weather conditions. Additionally, we offer our customers a budget payment plan whereby the customer’s estimated annual propane purchases and service contracts are paid for in a series of estimated equal monthly payments over a twelve-month period. From our customer service centers, we also sell, install and service heating and cooking appliances to customers who purchase propane from us and, at some locations, sell propane fuel systems for motor vehicles.

We sell propane primarily to seven customer markets: residential, commercial, industrial (including engine fuel), government, agricultural, other retail users and wholesale. Approximately 96% of the propane gallons sold by us in fiscal 2022 were to retail customers: 43% of those propane gallons to residential customers, 38% to commercial customers, 10% to industrial customers, 5% to government customers and 4% to agricultural customers. The balance of approximately 4% of the propane gallons sold by us in fiscal 2022 were for risk management activities and wholesale customers. No single customer accounted for 10% or more of our propane revenues during fiscal 2022.

 

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Retail deliveries of propane are usually made to customers by means of bobtail and rack trucks. Propane is pumped from bobtail trucks, which have capacities typically ranging from 2,400 gallons to 3,500 gallons of propane, into a stationary storage tank on the customers’ premises. The capacity of these storage tanks ranges from approximately 100 gallons to approximately 1,200 gallons, with a typical tank having a capacity of 300 to 400 gallons. As is common in the propane industry, we own a significant portion of the storage tanks located on our customers’ premises. We also deliver propane to retail customers in portable cylinders, which typically have a capacity of 5 to 35 gallons. When these cylinders are delivered to customers, empty cylinders are refilled in place or transported for replenishment at our distribution locations. We also deliver propane to certain other bulk end users in larger trucks known as transports, which have an average capacity of approximately 9,000 gallons. End users receiving transport deliveries include industrial customers, large‑scale heating accounts, such as local gas utilities that use propane as a supplemental fuel to meet peak load delivery requirements, and large agricultural accounts that use propane for crop drying.

Supply

Our propane supply is purchased from approximately 40 wholesalers at approximately 160 supply points located throughout the United States and Canada. We make purchases primarily under one-year agreements that are subject to annual renewal, and also purchase propane on the spot market. Supply contracts generally provide for pricing in accordance with posted prices at the time of delivery or the current prices established at major storage points, and some contracts include a pricing formula that typically is based on prevailing market prices. Some of these agreements provide maximum and minimum seasonal purchase guidelines. Propane is generally transported from refineries, pipeline terminals, storage facilities (including our storage facility in Elk Grove, California) and coastal terminals to our customer service centers by a combination of common carriers, owner‑operators and railroad tank cars. See Item 2 of this Annual Report.

Historically, supplies of propane have been readily available from our supply sources. Although we make no assurance regarding the availability of supplies of propane in the future, we currently expect to be able to secure adequate supplies during fiscal 2023. During fiscal 2022, Crestwood Equity Partners L.P. (“Crestwood”) and Targa Liquids Marketing and Trade LLC (“Targa”) provided approximately 31% and 16% of our total propane purchases, respectively. No other single supplier accounted for 10% or more of our propane purchases in fiscal 2022. The availability of our propane supply is dependent on several factors, including the severity of winter weather, the magnitude of competing demands for available supply (e.g., crop drying and exports), the availability of transportation and storage infrastructure and the price and availability of competing fuels, such as natural gas and fuel oil. We believe that if supplies from Crestwood or Targa were interrupted, we would be able to secure adequate propane supplies from other sources without a material disruption of our operations. Nevertheless, the cost of acquiring and transporting such propane might be higher and, at least on a short-term basis, our margins could be affected. Approximately 85% of our total propane purchases were from domestic suppliers and 100% came from North America in fiscal 2022.

We seek to reduce the effect of propane price volatility on our product costs and to help ensure the availability of propane during periods of short supply. We enter into propane forward options and swap agreements with third parties to purchase and sell propane at fixed prices in the future. These activities are monitored by our senior management through enforcement of our Hedging and Risk Management Policy. See Items 7 and 7A of this Annual Report.

We own and operate a large propane storage facility in Elk Grove, California. We also operate smaller storage facilities in other locations throughout the Unites States and have rights to use storage facilities in additional locations. These storage facilities enable us to buy and store large quantities of propane particularly during periods of low demand, which generally occur during the summer months. This practice helps ensure a more secure supply of propane during periods of intense demand or price instability. As of September 24, 2022, the majority of the storage capacity at our facility in Elk Grove, California was leased to third parties.

Competition

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2021 American Community Survey, propane ranks as the third most important source of residential energy in the nation, with about 5% of all households using propane as their primary space heating fuel. This level has not changed materially over the previous two decades. As an energy source, propane competes primarily with natural gas, electricity and fuel oil, principally on the basis of price, availability and portability.

Propane is more expensive than natural gas on an equivalent British Thermal Unit (“BTU”) basis in locations serviced by natural gas, but it is an alternative or supplement to natural gas in rural and suburban areas where natural gas is unavailable or portability of product is required. Historically, the expansion of natural gas into traditional propane markets has been inhibited by the capital costs required to expand pipeline and retail distribution systems, and in some territories, geological and activist challenges. The increasing availability of natural gas extracted from shale deposits in the United States may accelerate the extension of natural gas pipelines in the future. Although the extension of natural gas pipelines to previously unserved geographic areas tends to displace propane distribution

 

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in those areas, we believe new opportunities for propane sales may arise as new neighborhoods are developed in geographically remote areas.

Propane has some relative advantages over other energy sources. For example, in certain geographic areas, propane is generally less expensive to use than electricity for space heating, water heating, clothes drying and cooking. Utilization of fuel oil is geographically limited (primarily in the northeast), and even in that region, propane and fuel oil are not significant competitors because of the cost of converting from one source to the other.

In addition to competing with suppliers of other energy sources, our propane operations compete with other retail propane distributors. The retail propane industry is highly fragmented and competition generally occurs on a local basis with other large full-service multi-state propane marketers, thousands of smaller local independent marketers and farm cooperatives. Based on industry statistics contained in the 2020 Annual Retail Propane Sales Report, as published by the Propane Education & Research Council in December 2021, and LP/Gas Magazine dated February 2021, the ten largest retailers, including us, account for approximately 33% of total retail sales of propane in the United States. Each of our customer service centers operates in its own competitive environment because retail marketers tend to locate in close proximity to customers in order to lower the cost of providing service. Our typical customer service center has an effective marketing radius of approximately 50 miles, although in certain areas the marketing radius may be extended by one or more satellite offices. Most of our customer service centers compete with five or more marketers or distributors at any point in time.

Fuel Oil and Refined Fuels

Product Distribution and Marketing

We market and distribute fuel oil, kerosene, diesel fuel and gasoline to approximately 33,000 residential and commercial customers primarily in the northeast region of the United States. Sales of fuel oil and refined fuels for fiscal 2022 amounted to 22.8 million gallons. Approximately 66% of the fuel oil and refined fuels gallons sold by us in fiscal 2022 were to residential customers, principally for home heating, 6% were to commercial customers, and 8% to other users. Sales of diesel and gasoline accounted for the remaining 20% of total volumes sold in this segment during fiscal 2022. Fuel oil has a more limited use, compared to propane, and is used almost exclusively for space and water heating in residential and commercial buildings. We sell diesel fuel and gasoline to commercial and industrial customers for use primarily to operate motor vehicles.

Approximately 45% of our fuel oil customers receive their fuel oil under an automatic delivery system. These deliveries are scheduled through proprietary technology, based upon each customer’s historical consumption patterns and prevailing weather conditions. Additionally, we offer our customers a budget payment plan whereby the customer’s estimated annual fuel oil purchases are paid for in a series of estimated equal monthly payments over a twelve-month period. From our customer service centers, we also sell, install and service heating equipment to customers who purchase fuel oil from us.

Deliveries of fuel oil are usually made to customers by means of tankwagon trucks, which have capacities ranging from 2,500 gallons to 3,000 gallons. Fuel oil is pumped from the tankwagon truck into a stationary storage tank that is located on the customer’s premises, which is owned by the customer. The capacity of customer storage tanks ranges from approximately 275 gallons to approximately 1,000 gallons. No single customer accounted for 10% or more of our fuel oil and refined fuels revenues during fiscal 2022.

Supply

We obtain fuel oil and other refined fuels in pipeline, truckload or tankwagon quantities, and have contracts with certain pipeline and terminal operators for the right to temporarily store fuel oil at 13 terminal facilities that we do not own. We have arrangements with certain suppliers of fuel oil, which provide open access to fuel oil at specific terminals throughout the northeast. Additionally, a portion of our purchases of fuel oil are made at local wholesale terminal racks. In most cases, the supply contracts do not establish the price of fuel oil in advance; rather, prices are typically established based upon market prices at the time of delivery, plus or minus a differential for transportation and volume discounts. We purchase fuel oil from approximately 20 suppliers at approximately 45 supply points. While fuel oil supply is more susceptible to longer periods of supply constraint than propane, we believe that our supply arrangements will provide us with sufficient supply sources. Although we make no assurance regarding the availability of supplies of fuel oil in the future, we currently expect to be able to secure adequate supplies during fiscal 2023.

Competition

The fuel oil industry is a mature industry with total demand expected to remain relatively flat to moderately declining. The fuel oil industry is highly fragmented, characterized by a large number of relatively small, independently owned and operated local

 

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distributors. We compete with other fuel oil distributors offering a broad range of services and prices, from full service distributors to those that solely offer the delivery service. We are a full-service energy provider and have developed a wide range of sales programs and service offerings for our fuel oil customer base that are intended to build customer loyalty. For instance, we provide home heating equipment repair service to our fuel oil customers on a 24-hour a day basis. The fuel oil business unit also competes for retail customers with suppliers of alternative energy sources, principally natural gas, propane and electricity.

Natural Gas and Electricity

We market natural gas and electricity through our 100%-owned subsidiary, Agway Energy Services, LLC (“AES”), in the deregulated markets of New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland, primarily to residential and small commercial customers. Historically, local utility companies provided their customers with all three aspects of electric and natural gas service: generation, transmission and distribution. However, under deregulation, public utility commissions in several states are licensing energy service companies, such as AES, to act as alternative suppliers of the commodity to end consumers. In essence, the local utility companies distribute electricity and natural gas on their distribution systems and we arrange for the supply of electricity or natural gas to specific delivery points. The business strategy of this segment is to expand its market share by concentrating on growth in the customer base and expansion into other deregulated markets that are considered strategic markets.

We serve approximately 34,000 natural gas and electricity customers in New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland. An Order from the New York Public Service Commission (“NY PSC”) regarding low income consumers went into effect in 2018 and required that all energy service companies (“ESCOs”) stop serving certain low-income consumers. A similar order also went into effect in Pennsylvania in 2019. AES returned approximately 500 of its customers to local utility service in fiscal 2022 as a result of these orders. A second order (“Reset Order”) issued by the NY PSC in 2016 attempted to impose rules that would have allowed the NY PSC to regulate ESCO pricing, which was subsequently challenged and struck down by the New York Supreme Court. On appeal, the New York State Court of Appeals issued a ruling in 2019 that held that the NY PSC cannot regulate ESCO pricing, but does have the ability to restrict an ESCO’s access to the utility distribution system if the NY PSC determines that an ESCO’s pricing is not “just and reasonable.” In December 2019, the NY PSC issued an Order that imposed product, pricing, and other requirements on ESCOs (“Second Reset Order”). AES was specifically and solely exempted from complying with the criteria concerning product offerings during the pendency of further rulemaking proceedings. In September 2020, the NY PSC issued another Order reaffirming the Second Reset Order, including the exemption that allows AES to maintain its existing business model in New York while rulemaking proceedings continue. Separately, the State of New York issued a State of Emergency Order in March of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the New York State of Emergency Order for COVID-19 ended in June 2021, other state of emergency orders were issued in July 2021 and remain in effect. Under New York laws, telemarketers are prevented from making cold sales calls during states of emergency. As a result, AES halted cold call telemarketing sales efforts in New York in March 2020, and this condition continues to remain in effect as of the date of this Annual Report.

During fiscal 2022, we sold approximately 1.5 million dekatherms of natural gas and 180.3 million kilowatt hours of electricity through the natural gas and electricity segment. Approximately 87% of our customers were residential households and the remainder were small commercial and industrial customers. New accounts are obtained through numerous marketing and advertising programs, including telemarketing, direct mail initiatives, and digital marketing campaigns. Most local utility companies that AES is actively marketing have established billing service arrangements whereby customers receive a single bill from the local utility company, which includes distribution charges from the local utility company, as well as supply charges for the amount of natural gas or electricity provided by AES and utilized by the customer. We have arrangements with several local utility companies that provide billing and collection services for a fee. Under these arrangements, we are paid by the local utility company for all or a portion of customer billings after a specified number of days following the customer billing with no receivables risk to AES.

Supply of natural gas is arranged through annual supply agreements with major national wholesale suppliers. Pricing under annual natural gas supply contracts is based on posted market prices at the time of delivery, and some contracts include a pricing formula that typically is based on prevailing market prices. The majority of our electricity requirements are purchased through the New York Independent System Operator (“NYISO”) and PJM Interconnection (“PJM”) under annual supply agreements, as well as purchase arrangements through other national wholesale suppliers on the open market. Electricity pricing under the NYISO and PJM agreements are based on local market indices at the time of delivery. Competition is primarily with local utility companies, as well as other marketers of natural gas and electricity providing similar alternatives as AES.

All Other

We sell, install and service various types of whole-house heating products, air cleaners, humidifiers and space heaters to the customers of our propane and fuel oil businesses. Our supply needs are filled through supply arrangements with several large regional equipment manufacturers and distribution companies. Competition in this business is primarily with small, local heating and ventilation providers and contractors, as well as, to a lesser extent, other regional service providers. The focus of our ongoing service offerings are in support of the service needs of our existing customer base within our propane and refined fuels business segments. Additionally, we have entered into arrangements with third-party service providers to complement and, in certain instances, supplement our existing

 

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service capabilities. Our equity investment in IH and investments in biodigester systems for the production of RNG are included within “all other”.

Seasonality

The retail propane and fuel oil distribution businesses, as well as the natural gas marketing business, are seasonal because the primary use of these fuels is for heating residential and commercial buildings. Historically, approximately two‑thirds of our retail propane volume is sold during the six-month peak heating season from October through March. The fuel oil business tends to experience greater seasonality given its more limited use for space heating, and approximately three-fourths of our fuel oil volumes are sold between October and March. Consequently, sales and operating profits are concentrated in our first and second fiscal quarters. Cash flows from operations, therefore, are greatest during the second and third fiscal quarters when customers pay for product purchased during the winter heating season. We expect lower operating profits and either net losses or lower net income during the period from April through September (our third and fourth fiscal quarters).

Weather conditions have a significant impact on the demand for our products, in particular propane, fuel oil and natural gas, for both heating and agricultural purposes. Many of our customers rely on propane, fuel oil or natural gas primarily as a heating source. Accordingly, the volume sold is directly affected by the severity of the winter weather in our service areas, which can vary substantially from year to year. In any given area, sustained warmer than normal temperatures will tend to result in reduced propane, fuel oil and natural gas consumption, while sustained colder than normal temperatures will tend to result in greater consumption.

Trademarks and Tradenames

We rely primarily on a combination of trademark, trade secret and copyright laws, as well as contractual provisions with employees and third parties, to establish and protect our intellectual property rights. We utilize a variety of trademarks and tradenames owned by us, including “Suburban Propane,” and “Agway Energy Services” and related marks or designs incorporating such related logos such as “Go Green with Suburban Propane” and “Energy Guard.” All of the trademarks and tradenames used by Suburban Propane and Agway Energy Services are registered (or have applications pending for registration) with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. We regard our trademarks, tradenames and other proprietary rights as valuable assets and believe that they have significant value in the marketing of our products and services.

Government Regulation; Environmental, Health and Safety Matters

Our operations are subject to numerous federal, state and local environmental, health and safety laws and regulations. Generally, these laws and regulations impose limitations on the discharge of hazardous materials and pollutants and establish standards for the handling, transportation, distribution, treatment, storage and disposal of hazardous materials and solid and hazardous wastes, which may require the investigation, assessment, cleanup, or monitoring of, or compensation for, environmental impacts, including natural resource damages. Notably, these laws include the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (“CERCLA”); Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (“RCRA”); Clean Air Act; Clean Water Act; National Environmental Policy Act, and their implementing regulations, as well as comparable state laws and regulations. Additionally, there are environmental laws and regulations specific to the sale of electricity and natural gas in the retail energy market by our wholly owned subsidiary Agway Energy Services, LLC. Under the various laws and regulations to which we are subject, we must maintain various permits and comply with various monitoring and reporting requirements.

We own real property at locations where hazardous materials may be or may have been present as a result of prior activities. We expect that we will be required to expend funds to participate in the remediation of certain sites, including sites where we have been designated as a potentially responsible party under applicable laws and at sites with aboveground and underground fuel storage tanks. We will also incur other expenses associated with environmental compliance. We continually monitor our operations with respect to potential environmental issues, including changes in legal requirements and remediation technologies. As of September 24, 2022, we had accrued environmental liabilities of $1.5 million representing the total estimated future liability for remediation and monitoring of all of our properties.

Estimating the extent of our responsibility at a particular site, and the method and ultimate cost of remediation and monitoring of that site, requires making numerous assumptions. As a result, the ultimate cost to remediate and monitor any site may differ from current estimates, and will depend, in part, on whether there is additional contamination, not currently known to us, relating to that site. However, we believe that our past experience provides a reasonable basis for estimating these liabilities. As additional information becomes available, estimates are adjusted as necessary. While we do not anticipate that any such adjustment would be material to our financial statements, the result of ongoing or future environmental studies or other factors could alter this expectation and require recording additional liabilities. We currently cannot determine whether we will incur additional environmental liabilities or the extent or amount of any such liabilities, or the extent to which such additional liabilities would be subject to any contractual indemnification protections.

 

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Certain rules and procedures imposed by the National Fire Protection Association (“NFPA”), as well as comparable state laws and regulations, govern the safe handling of propane and establish industry standards for propane storage, distribution and equipment installation and operation in all of the states in which we operate. In some states, these laws and regulations are administered by state agencies, and in others they are administered on a municipal level.

The NFPA’s rules and procedures, as well as comparable state laws and regulations govern the safe handling of distillates (fuel oil, kerosene and diesel fuel) and gasoline and establish industry standards for fuel oil, kerosene, diesel fuel and gasoline storage, distribution and equipment installation and operation in all of the states in which we sell those products. In some states these laws and regulations are administered by state agencies and in others they are administered on a municipal level.

With respect to the transportation of propane, distillates and gasoline by truck, we are subject to laws and regulations that cover the transportation of hazardous materials and are administered, respectively, by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration of the United States Department of Transportation (“DOT”), or comparable state agencies. We conduct ongoing training programs to help ensure that our operations are in compliance with these and other applicable safety laws and regulations. We maintain various permits that are necessary to operate our equipment and facilities, some of which may be material to our operations. In compliance with the DOT’s pipeline safety regulations for “jurisdictional” propane systems that serve multiple customers, we provide training and written instruction for our employees, provide customers with periodic awareness notices and safety information, have established written procedures to minimize the hazards resulting from gas pipeline emergencies and keep records of inspections.

Our operations are subject to workplace safety standards under the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (“OSHA”) and comparable state laws that regulate the protection of worker health and safety. Compliance with these standards is monitored through required workplace injury and illness recordkeeping, and reporting. We believe that our operations are in compliance, in all material respects, with applicable worker health and safety standards. We are also subject to laws and regulations governing the security of hazardous materials, including propane, under the Federal Homeland Security Act of 2002, as administered by the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”). The DHS promulgated the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (“CFATS”) to identify and secure chemical facilities that present the greatest security risk using a risk-based tiering structure. We have a number of facilities registered with the DHS, now referred to as the “Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency” or “CISA”.

Currently, we have submitted all required Top-Screens as defined by CISA and have developed approved Site Security Plans for our regulated or “tiered” facilities. Less than 5% of our facilities are designated as tiered facilities. We expect to continue to incur minor costs associated with administrative controls and enhanced cyber and physical security measures for those tiered facilities that are subject to ongoing compliance activity.

In 2009 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) issued an Endangerment Finding under the Clean Air Act, determining that emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and four other greenhouse gases (“GHGs”) threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations. Based on these findings, the EPA has implemented regulations to restrict emissions of GHGs from certain industries and require reporting by certain regulated entities. While the Partnership is not a regulated entity and propane is not a greenhouse gas, these regulations impact both our core business, as well as the retail sale of electricity and natural gas by AES. In June 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in West Virginia v. EPA, which did not preclude, but instead limited the EPA’s ability to regulate GHGs absent clear congressional authorization. The Court determined that the EPA’s emission reduction measures requiring an industry-wide shift in electricity production from coal- and natural gas-fired power plants to renewable power sources require specific congressional authorization which had not been given under the Clean Air Act. In August 2022, the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (the “Inflation Reduction Act”) was signed into law. The Inflation Reduction Act includes tax credits and other incentives intended to combat climate change by advancing decarbonization and promoting increased investment in renewable and low carbon intensity energy.

Current EPA leadership has prioritized climate change mitigation measures and has implemented regulations requiring significant reductions in GHG emissions. Changes in the EPA administration may result in changes to the EPA’s prioritization of climate change mitigation. We cannot predict the impact of future changes to EPA’s prioritization of climate change mitigation or the impact of future GHG legislation or regulations on our business, financial conditions or operations in the future.

Regardless of what happens at the federal level, numerous states and municipalities have begun to adopt laws and policies to regulate GHG emissions. These regulatory actions could require us to incur increased expenses or lost revenue. We cannot predict when, or in what form, additional climate change laws and regulations will be enacted, and what effect such laws and regulations may have on our business, financial condition or operations in the future. These local, state, and prospective federal laws and regulations have sparked a shift in our industry toward the next generation of clean energy. We are an industry leader in this regard by making strategic investments so we can be positioned to have an adequate clean energy supply as these laws and regulations become operative. For example, we have taken a 38% equity stake in Oberon, a producer of low carbon intensity, rDME transportation fuel, a 25% equity stake in IH, a veteran-owned and operated start-up company developing a low carbon intensity gaseous hydrogen ecosystem, and we entered into an agreement to produce RNG at Adirondack Farms, a family owned dairy farm in upstate New York. We have also executed agreements to purchase and distribute renewable propane, which offers a low carbon intensity alternative to traditional propane,

 

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gasoline or diesel. We are committed to increasing the availability of; rDME blended propane, renewable propane, hydrogen, and RNG in the coming years.

Our investments in Oberon and IH as well as our agreement with Adirondack Farms are expected to result in the production of rDME, hydrogen, and RNG all of which, along with renewable propane, are products that present an opportunity to generate environmental attributes. The monetization of these environmental attributes occurs under several state and federal programs. At the federal level those programs include; the renewable fuel standard program (“RFS”) which was authorized under the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and expanded through the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, and the Inflation Reduction Act. At the state level, those programs include; the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard (“CA LCFS”), the Oregon Clean Fuels Program (“OR CFP”), and the Washington Clean Fuel Standard (“WA CFS”).

The RFS is administered by the EPA and requires the production and use of specific volumes with the goal of: increasing energy security by reducing dependence on foreign oil, establishing domestic biofuel industries, and improving environmental quality by reducing GHG emissions. The RFS seeks to achieve these goals by mandating that transportation fuels contain a minimum volume of renewable fuel. To enforce compliance, the EPA uses a credit system based on a biofuel’s renewable identification number (“RIN”). The amount of RIN credits (“RINs”) generated by each biofuel depends on the process and feedstock used to create the specific biofuel. There is a market for RINs and as we produce RFS compliant biofuel we expect to generate RINs which can be sold in the open market.

The Inflation Reduction Act will be administered by multiple federal agencies including EPA, U.S. Department of Energy (“DOE”) and the Internal Revenue Service of the U.S. Department of the Treasury (“IRS”). The goals of the Inflation Reduction Act include incentivizing the development and production of renewable energy. As of the fiscal year ending September 24, 2022, the EPA, DOE, and IRS had not commenced rule makings or issued guidance on the implementation of the Inflation Reduction Act. We cannot speculate on exactly how the Inflation Reduction Act will be implemented; however, the Act does contain numerus incentives for the production of clean energy for which certain of our renewable energy products, as well as those produced by Oberon and IH, are expected to qualify. These incentives include grants, loan guaranties, development funding, investment tax credits, and production tax credits.

At the state level, the CA LCFS, OR CFP, and WA CFS (collectively “LCFS Programs”) are administered by state agencies and have the goal of reducing GHG emissions from the transportation sector by lowering the carbon intensity of transportation fuels. While there are differences in the CA LCFS, OR CFP, and WA CFS, all LCFS Programs seek to achieve their goals through the use of a cap and trade program where low carbon intensity transportation fuels generate LCFS Program credits (“LCFS Credits”). In addition to our renewable energy product offerings, as well as those produced by Oberon and IH, traditional propane, when used as an engine fuel in LCFS Program states, also qualifies for LCFS Credits. As we sell LCFS Program compliant fuels, we generate LCFS Credits. There are individual state LCFS Credit markets under the various LCFS Programs, and we can sell our LCFS Credits in these respective open markets.

The climate change regulatory landscape is highly complex and continuously evolving. The adoption of federal, state or local climate change legislation or regulatory programs to reduce emissions of GHGs could require us to incur increased capital and operating costs, with resulting impact on product price. We cannot predict whether, or in what form, climate change legislation provisions and renewable energy standards may be enacted, and what effect such regulation may have on our business, financial condition or operations in the future. In addition, a consequence of climate change is increased volatility in seasonal temperatures. It is difficult to predict how the market for our products will be affected by increased temperature volatility, or increased temperatures generally, although if there is an overall trend of unseasonably warmer temperatures in the winter months, it could adversely affect our business.

Future developments, such as stricter environmental, health or safety laws and regulations, could affect our operations. We do not anticipate that the cost of our compliance with environmental, health and safety laws and regulations, including RCRA and CERCLA, as currently in effect and applicable to known sites will have a material adverse effect on our financial condition or results of operations. However, there can be no assurance that our financial condition or operations will not be materially adversely affected by future discovery of presently unknown, environmental liabilities or future environmental regulations.

Many of the states in which we do business have passed laws prohibiting “unfair or deceptive practices” in transactions between consumers and sellers of products used for residential purposes, which give the Attorney General or other officials of that state the authority to investigate alleged violations of those laws. From time to time, we receive inquiries or requests for additional information under these laws from the offices of Attorneys General or other government officials in connection with the sale of our products to residential customers. Based on information to date, and because our policies and business practices are designed to comply with all applicable laws, we do not believe that the costs or liabilities associated with such inquiries or requests will result in a material adverse effect on our financial condition or results of operations; however, there can be no assurance that our financial condition or results of operations may not be materially and adversely affected as a result of current or future government investigations or civil litigation derived therefrom.

 

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See the Risk Factor entitled “The ability of AES to acquire and retain retail natural gas and electricity customers is highly competitive, price sensitive and may be impacted by changes in state regulations” for a description of certain regulatory and litigation impacts on our AES business.

ESG Strategy and Initiatives

We are committed to delivering safe, reliable, affordable, and low carbon intensity (“CI”) energy to our customers and the local communities we serve. We have made significant progress on our environmental, social and governance (“ESG”) initiatives, which accelerated with the launch of our Three Pillars of the Suburban Propane Experience in June 2019. The three essential pillars are: i) Go Green with Suburban Propane, ii) SuburbanCares, and iii) Suburban Commitment to Excellence. We identified these three critical corporate pillars to emphasize our ongoing commitment to excellence for the safety and comfort of our customers, our dedication to the safety and career development of our employees, our philanthropic efforts to give back to the communities we serve, our work to advocate for the inherent environmental advantages of using propane as a clean energy solution, our focus on supporting the sustainability needs of our customers and our ongoing strategic efforts to invest in and develop innovative solutions to help lead the way to lower greenhouse gas emissions. We are committed to implementing business strategies using a holistic approach to doing what is best for our customers, employees, the communities we serve and our investors. Effective ESG management for us supports our goal to create long-term value for our Unitholders and to support the interests of all stakeholders. Our Board of Supervisors takes an active role in overseeing the management of risks facing Suburban, including those impacted by ESG issues.

In support of our efforts to successfully manage and grow our business, we will continue to identify ways to include more ESG initiatives in our strategies that support our customers, employees, investors, and the communities we serve, including initiatives that support our three-pillars strategic plan. Advancing our focus on ESG initiatives will allow for increased engagement across our business and help us to continue to identify and meet the evolving expectations of our customers, employees, investors, and other stakeholders.

Environmental Initiatives

Our Go Green with Suburban Propane corporate pillar encompasses our commitment and efforts to promote the versatile, affordable, low CI and clean air benefits of traditional propane as one solution that can contribute to our customers achieving their sustainability goals and our efforts to contribute to the goals of reducing the nation’s carbon footprint and having a positive effect on climate change. Traditional propane is an alternative fuel under the Clean Air Act Amendments. Propane can offer immediate reductions in carbon emissions and immediate improvements in air quality over other traditional fuels, particularly in the transportation sector. Propane is non-toxic, does not produce sulfur dioxide and emits 60% to 70% fewer smog producing hydrocarbons than gasoline and diesel. Several states have implemented low-carbon fuel standards that recognize the environmental benefits of using propane to power over-the-road vehicles and forklifts. Through our dedicated sales efforts, we are actively promoting the use of propane in the transportation sector, and for each of the last three fiscal years, we sold an average of more than 28.7 million gallons of propane annually to the over-the-road vehicle and forklift markets.

With advancements in new technologies for the production of propane from renewable sources, as well as other technological advances to reduce the carbon intensity of traditional propane, our Go Green with Suburban Propane corporate pillar also underscores our commitment to invest in innovative solutions that can contribute to a sustainable energy future. Starting in fiscal year 2020, the Partnership made great strides in advancing our strategic growth initiatives through our Go Green with Suburban Propane corporate pillar. Specifically, we contracted for the supply and distribution of over 1.0 million gallons annually of renewable propane, to meet customer demand for a renewable energy source. In support of our long-term strategic growth initiative to build out a comprehensive renewable energy platform, we acquired a 38% equity stake in Oberon, a 25% stake in IH, and committed to building a dairy waste anaerobic digester in upstate New York for the production of renewable natural gas. Through our investment in Oberon, we have brought to market a new blended product Propane+rDME. This new product is a blend of traditional propane and rDME and has a lower CI than the traditional propane product. We are collaborating with Oberon and others to support continued development efforts to commercialize a Propane+rDME blended product, and have the exclusive right to market and sell Oberon’s rDME in North America.

In further support of the Partnership’s efforts to advance its Go Green with Suburban Propane corporate pillar, we have officially registered the Go Green with Suburban Propane logo with the United States Patent and Trademark office. As part of our commitment to innovating for a sustainable energy future, and in support of our strategic growth initiatives to build out a renewable energy platform, the Partnership also created an executive-level position (reporting directly to our President and Chief Executive Officer) entitled Vice President, Strategic Initiatives – Renewable Energy. This position focuses on identifying, analyzing and developing opportunities within the renewable energy space for potential future acquisitions, partnerships or collaborative arrangements that support the Partnership’s efforts to grow its overall business through investment in, and development of, innovative solutions that will help pave the way to lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

 

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We present information about our commitment to sustainable and environmentally sound practices on the “Go Green” page on our website, which may be accessed at www.suburbanpropane.com/suburban-propane-experience/go-green. The information included on our “Go Green” page is not intended to be incorporated by reference into this Form 10-K Annual Report.

Social Initiatives

The Partnership has an almost 95-year legacy of an unwavering commitment to the highest standard for safety and outstanding customer service. From our origins as a family-owned business in 1928, we have maintained a family-oriented culture with deep roots in each of the local communities we serve. Our SuburbanCares corporate pillar highlights our continued dedication to philanthropic endeavors through the Partnership’s national partnership with the American Red Cross and countless local community sponsorships and events, as well as the many employee-focused initiatives that differentiate the Partnership as a great place to work. This pillar is supported by the tagline, “Suburban cares about our people and the communities we serve.”

During the fiscal year ending September 24, 2022, the Partnership placed a specific focus on partnering with organizations that provide much needed assistance in underserved communities throughout our operating footprint with food, shelter, educational supplies and many other essential items. We also entered into a partnership with the United States Army’s Partnership for Youth Success (“PaYS”) program, which guarantees soldiers an interview and possible employment within the Partnership upon completion of their service, and includes the Partnership in recruiting functions, community events and various outreach initiatives undertaken through the PaYS program. This year, our SuburbanCares activities were recognized by S&P Global - Platts Global Energy Awards as a finalist for Corporate Impact - Sustained Commitment. We also continued our ongoing support of the American Red Cross.

Safety

Embedded in our culture and the Partnership’s mission statement is our commitment to safety. We believe that the safety and well-being of our employees, customers, and communities is of the utmost importance. Safety is the top priority for our business and we continue to invest in programs, technology, and training to improve safety throughout our operations. We believe that the achievement of superior safety performance is both an important short-term and long-term strategic initiative in supporting our business and managing our operations.

Human Capital Management

Our Board, and our management, consider effective talent development and human capital management to be critical components to the Partnership’s continued success. Our Board is involved in leadership development and actively oversees the Partnership’s succession planning, which includes periodic reviews of our talent management strategies, leadership pipeline and succession planning for key executive positions. Our Board oversees the process of succession planning and the Compensation Committee of our Board implements programs to compensate, retain and motivate key talent.

In further support of our SuburbanCares corporate pillar, and our commitment to building a diverse and inclusive culture, we have developed many employee-focused initiatives to support employee career development and hiring, such as our “Steer Your Career” program, which encourages and supports employees to further their education and enhance their knowledge and skills to prepare them for expanded opportunities and responsibilities; our “Heroes Hired Here” program, in which we take pride in our efforts to attract and employ military veterans in recognition and appreciation for the values, leadership, dedication and unique skills that they bring to the Partnership, and support provided to their family members; and our “Apprentice Program,” which provides company-paid, on-the-job training for apprentices to develop their careers and provide them the necessary skills and tools to prepare them for a successful career within the Partnership.

Governance Initiatives

The Board believes that sound corporate governance practices and policies provide an important framework to assist the Board in fulfilling its duty to Unitholders. Our corporate governance practices and policies, which are periodically reassessed, are reflected in our committee charters, Code of Business Conduct and Ethics, and our Corporate Governance Guidelines & Principles. A copy of each is available from our website at www.suburbanpropane.com.

The Partnership was one of the first publicly traded partnerships to eliminate the “incentive distribution rights” of its general partner, which we completed in 2006. This removed the potential for conflicts of interest between our general partner and limited partners, and simplified our capital structure. The general partner of both the Partnership and our Operating Partnership is Suburban Energy Services Group LLC (the “General Partner”), a Delaware limited liability company, the sole member of which is the Partnership’s Chief Executive Officer. Other than as a holder of 784 Common Units that will remain in the General Partner, the General Partner does not have any economic interest in us or our Operating Partnership. Accordingly, and unlike many publicly traded partnerships, the Partnership is controlled by our Unitholders through the independently elected Board.

 

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Governance Highlights

Several highlights that demonstrate our commitment to sound corporate governance include:

Supervisor and Committee Independence
o
Six of our seven Supervisors are independent, as of September 24, 2022
o
Our Audit, Compensation and Nominating/Governance Committees are fully independent
o
Independent Supervisors chair each of our Committees
Board Leadership and Engagement
o
An independent Supervisor chairs our Board
o
Independent Supervisors conduct executive sessions at meetings without the presence of members of management
o
Supervisors attended more than 75% of the total number of meetings of the Board and of the Committees of the Board on which such Supervisor served in fiscal 2022
Board Evaluations and Effectiveness
o
Our Board conducts annual self-assessments to evaluate Board and Committee effectiveness, and identify opportunities for improving our Board and Committee operations
Clawback, Insider Trading and Anti-Hedging Policies
o
Performance-based incentive awards or payments for our officers are subject to our Incentive Compensation Recoupment Policy, which permits the Partnership to recoup incentive compensation in the event of a material restatement of financial results, or other events that negatively impact the Partnership, including fraudulent or intentional misconduct that results in an adverse impact on our financial performance
o
Our Insider Trading Policy prohibits our Supervisors, executive officers and certain other key employees from engaging in insider trading, or in hedging transactions or derivative investments involving the Partnership’s equity securities
Share Ownership
o
Our Equity Holding Policy establishes guidelines for the level of equity holdings in the Partnership that Supervisors and our executive officers are expected to maintain
o
Supervisors are required to hold Common Units, the value of which is equivalent to 4x the cash portion of their annual retainer (including additional fees to Committee chairs) no later than the measurement date next following the second anniversary of the date upon which the Supervisor joined the Board
o
Our CEO is required to hold Common Units, the value of which is equivalent to 5x base salary
o
Other named executive officers are required to hold Common Units, the value of which is equivalent to 2.5x to 3x their base salary, depending upon their position

Board Diversity Highlights

Our Supervisors have extensive and diverse experience relevant to our business and strategy that enhances the knowledge of our Board and the insight that they provide the Partnership, including significant experience in the following industries:

Retail distribution of energy and other products;
Energy infrastructure and logistics;
Chemical processing and refining;
Energy consulting;
Public policy and government relations;
Mergers and acquisitions;
Investment banking and financial management; and
Business assurance.

Our Supervisors also currently hold, or have held, a diverse range of leadership positions, including:

Chairman;
President;
Chief Executive Officer;
Chief Financial Officer;
State governor;
General external auditor; and
Business owner/entrepreneur.

 

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If a vacancy on our Board arises, then our Nominating/Governance Committee is instructed by its charter to consider candidates from various disciplines and diverse backgrounds that optimally enhance the current mix of talent and experience on the Board. While industry-specific expertise is an essential component of our Board’s oversight of the Partnership, we consider all aspects of a candidate’s qualifications and skills in the context of the Partnership’s needs, with a view to creating a Board with a diversity of experience and perspectives; including diversity with respect to race, gender, age, background and areas of expertise. We also benefit from the viewpoints of supervisors with expertise outside of our industry and our Nominating/Governance Committee includes, and has any search firm that it may engage include, women and minority candidates in the pool from which the Nominating/Governance Committee selects supervisor candidates.

Safety and Ethics Hotline

It is the Partnership’s policy to encourage the communication of bona fide concerns relating to the lawful and ethical conduct of its business, and its audit and accounting procedures or related matters. It is also the policy of the Partnership to protect those who communicate their bona fide concerns from any retaliation for such reporting. All employees, customers, vendors and other stakeholders can communicate concerns by calling our Safety and Ethics Hotline, which is hosted by a third party to maintain confidentiality and anonymity when requested. Our senior leadership team, along with our Audit Committee, review matters reported through the Safety and Ethics Hotline. Confidential and anonymous mechanisms for reporting concerns are also available and described in our Code of Business Conduct and Ethics.

Cybersecurity

The Partnership’s cybersecurity program is based upon the National Institute of Standards of Technology (NIST) Cybersecurity Framework. Our program is comprehensive in scope and covers all of the Partnership’s general corporate Information Technology (IT) systems, as well as operational technology systems supporting our business. Our senior leadership team, along with our Audit Committee, receive regular and recurring program updates, metrics, and roadmaps to promote the effectiveness of the program and the alignment with the Partnership’s business objectives. Our program and controls are periodically reviewed and tested by independent third parties to enable the Partnership to employ industry best practices.

Employees

As of September 24, 2022, we had 3,174 full time employees, of whom 587 were engaged in general and administrative activities (including fleet maintenance), 37 were engaged in transportation and product supply activities and 2,550 were customer service center employees, as well as 95 part time employees. As of September 24, 2022, 55 of our employees were represented by seven different local chapters of labor unions. We believe that our relations with both our union and non-union employees are satisfactory. In addition, we hire temporary workers to meet peak seasonal demands.

 

 

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ITEM 1A. RISK FACTORS

The following is a cautionary discussion of the most significant risks, uncertainties and assumptions that we believe are significant to our business and should be considered carefully in conjunction with all of the other information set forth in this Annual Report on Form 10-K. The risks described below are not an exhaustive list of all of the risks that we face. The risks described below are organized by category of risks to the Partnership, but are not necessarily listed by order of priority or materiality. In addition to the factors discussed elsewhere in this Annual Report on Form 10-K, the factors described in this item could, individually or in the aggregate, cause our actual results to differ materially from those described in any forward-looking statements. Should unknown risks or uncertainties materialize or underlying assumptions prove inaccurate, actual results could materially differ from past results and/or those anticipated, estimated or projected. Achievement of future results is subject to risks, uncertainties and potentially inaccurate assumptions. In this case, the trading price of our Common Units could decline and you might lose part or all of the value in our Common Units. Investing in our Common Units involves a high degree of risk. Past financial performance may not be a reliable indicator of future performance and historical trends should not be used to anticipate results or trends in future periods. You should carefully consider the specific risk factors set forth below as well as the other information contained or incorporated by reference in this Annual Report. Some factors in this section are Forward-Looking Statements. See “Disclosure Regarding Forward-Looking Statements” above.

RISKS RELATED TO OUR BUSINESS

Because weather conditions may adversely affect demand for propane, fuel oil and other refined fuels and natural gas, our results of operations and financial condition are vulnerable to warm winters and natural disasters.

Weather conditions have a significant impact on the demand for propane, fuel oil and other refined fuels and natural gas for both heating and agricultural purposes. Many of our customers rely on propane, fuel oil or natural gas primarily as a heating source. The volume of propane, fuel oil and natural gas sold is at its highest during the six-month peak heating season of October through March and is directly affected by the severity and length of the winter months. Typically, we sell approximately two-thirds of our retail propane volume and approximately three-fourths of our retail fuel oil volume during the peak heating season. Weather conditions can vary substantially from year to year in the regions in which we operate, which could significantly impact the demand for our products and our financial performance and condition. The agricultural demand for propane is also affected by the weather, as dry or warm weather during the harvest season may reduce the demand for propane used in some crop drying applications for which we service.

Actual weather conditions can vary substantially from year to year, significantly affecting our financial performance. For example, average temperatures in our service territories were 10% warmer than normal for each of fiscal 2022, fiscal 2021 and fiscal 2020, as measured by the number of heating degree days reported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (“NOAA”). If this trend continues, it could have a negative impact on our financial performance. Furthermore, variations in weather in one or more regions in which we operate can significantly affect the total volume of propane, fuel oil and other refined fuels and natural gas we sell and, consequently, our results of operations. Variations in the weather in the northeast, where we have a greater concentration of propane accounts and substantially all of our fuel oil and natural gas operations, generally have a greater impact on our operations than variations in the weather in other regions. We can give no assurance that the weather conditions in any quarter or year will not have a material adverse effect on our operations, or that our available cash will be sufficient to pay principal and interest on our indebtedness and distributions to Unitholders.

If the frequency or magnitude of significant weather conditions or natural disasters such as floods, droughts, wildfires, hurricanes, blizzards or earthquakes increase, as a result of climate change or for other reasons, our results of operations and our financial performance could be negatively impacted by the extent of damage to our facilities or to our customers’ residential homes and business structures, or of disruption to the supply or delivery of the products we sell.

Deterioration of general economic conditions have harmed and could continue to harm our business and results of operations.

Our business and results of operations have been, and may continue to be, adversely affected by changes in national or global economic conditions, including inflation, interest rates, availability of capital markets, consumer spending rates, unemployment rates, energy availability and costs, the negative impacts caused by pandemics and public health crises, and the effects of governmental initiatives to manage economic conditions.

 

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Volatility in financial markets and deterioration of national and global economic conditions have impacted, and may again impact, our business and operations in a variety of ways, including as follows:

our customers may reduce their discretionary spending, or may forego certain purchases altogether, during economic downturns, and may reduce or delay their payments for our products as a result of significant unemployment or an inability to operate or make payments;
if volatile or negative economic conditions continue to impact our customers, it could lead to increases in customer payment default rates and/or related challenges in collecting on accounts receivable;
if a significant percentage of our workforce is unable to work, including because of illness or travel or government restrictions, our operations may be negatively impacted;
decreased demand in the residential, commercial, industrial, government, agricultural or wholesale markets may adversely affect our propane, fuel oil and refined fuels, and natural gas and electricity businesses;
volatility in commodity and other input costs could substantially impact our result of operations;
if our indebtedness increases, or our consolidated EBITDA declines, it could adversely affect our liquidity and lead to increased risks of default under our credit agreement; and
it may become more costly or difficult to obtain debt or equity financing to fund investment opportunities, or to refinance our debt in the future, in each case on terms and within a time period acceptable to us.

Disruption of our supply chain could have an adverse impact on our business and our operating results.

Damage or disruption to our supply chain, including third-party production or transportation and distribution capabilities, due to weather, including any potential effects of climate change, natural disasters, fires or explosions, terrorism, pandemics, strikes, government action, economic and operational considerations of producers and refineries, or other reasons beyond our control or the control of our suppliers and business partners, could impair our ability to acquire sufficient supplies of the products we sell.

We have actively monitored and managed supply chain and logistical (including transport) issues and disruptions in the past. Although we source our propane, fuel oil and refined fuels, and natural gas from a broad group of suppliers, restrictions on businesses or volatility in the economy or supply chain could cause global supply, logistics and transport of these fuels to become constrained, which may cause the price to increase and/or adversely affect our ability to acquire adequate supplies to meet customer demand. The disruptions to the global economy over the past three years have impeded global supply chains, resulting in longer lead times and increased freight expenses in general. We have taken steps to minimize the impact of these increased costs by working closely with our suppliers and customers, and strategically managing our purchasing functions and logistics in delivering our products and services. Despite the actions we have undertaken to minimize the impacts from disruptions to the global economy, there can be no assurances that unforeseen future events in the global supply chain, our ability to deliver our products and services or the costs associated therewith, will not have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

Sudden increases in our costs to acquire and transport propane, fuel oil and other refined fuels and natural gas due to, among other things, our inability to obtain adequate supplies from our usual suppliers, or our inability to obtain adequate supplies of such products from alternative suppliers, or inflationary conditions, may adversely affect our operating results.

Our profitability in the retail propane, fuel oil and refined fuels and natural gas businesses is largely dependent on the difference between our costs to acquire and transport product, and retail sales price. Propane, fuel oil and other refined fuels and natural gas are commodities, and the availability of those products, and the unit prices we need to pay to acquire and transport those products, are subject to volatile changes in response to changes in production and supply or other market conditions over which we have no control, including the severity and length of winter weather, natural disasters, the price and availability of competing alternative energy sources, competing demands for the products (including for export) and infrastructure (including highway, rail, pipeline and refinery) constraints, general inflationary pressures or delays in shipping availability, backlogs at shipping ports or other points of entry, and lack of available trucking or other shipping means. Our supply of these products from our usual sources may be interrupted due to these and other reasons that are beyond our control, necessitating the transportation of product, if it is available at all, by truck, rail car or other means from other suppliers in other areas, with resulting delay in receipt and delivery to customers and increased expense. As a result, our costs of acquiring and transporting alternative supplies of these products to our facilities may be materially higher at least on a short-term basis. Because we may not be able to pass on to our customers immediately, or in full, all increases in our wholesale and transportation costs of propane, fuel oil and other refined fuels and natural gas, these increases could reduce our profitability. Due to high inflation in the United States during fiscal 2022, we have experienced higher commodity, transportation and labor costs and the cost of tanks and other equipment, which have impacted our profitability in recent periods and may continue to do so while high inflationary conditions exist. In addition, our inability to obtain sufficient supplies of propane, fuel oil and other refined fuels and natural gas in order for us to fully meet customer demand for these products on a timely basis could adversely affect our revenues, and consequently our profitability.

 

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In general, product supply contracts permit suppliers to charge posted prices at the time of delivery, or the current prices established at major supply points, including Mont Belvieu, Texas, and Conway, Kansas. We engage in transactions to manage the price risk associated with certain of our product costs from time to time in an attempt to reduce cost volatility and to help ensure availability of product. We can give no assurance that future increases in our costs to acquire and transport propane, fuel oil and natural gas will not have a material adverse effect on our profitability and cash flow, or that our available cash will be sufficient to pay principal and interest on our indebtedness and distributions to our Unitholders.

High prices for propane, fuel oil and other refined fuels and natural gas can lead to customer conservation, resulting in reduced demand for our product.

Prices for propane, fuel oil and other refined fuels and natural gas are subject to fluctuations in response to changes in wholesale prices and other market conditions beyond our control. Therefore, our average retail sales prices can vary significantly within a heating season, or from year to year, as wholesale prices fluctuate with propane, fuel oil and natural gas commodity market conditions. During periods with high product costs for propane, fuel oil and other refined fuels and natural gas, our selling prices generally increase. High prices can lead to customer conservation, resulting in reduced demand for our products. In recent months, higher commodity, transportation and labor costs due to inflationary conditions have impacted wholesale prices and caused certain customers to reduce their consumption of energy. This has had a negative impact on our sales and profitability, and may continue to do so while such inflationary conditions continue.

Because of the highly competitive nature of the retail propane and fuel oil businesses, we may not be able to retain existing customers or acquire or attract new customers, which could have an adverse impact on our operating results and financial condition.

The retail propane and fuel oil industries are mature and highly competitive. We expect overall demand for propane and fuel oil to be relatively flat to moderately declining over the next several years. Year-to-year industry volumes of propane and fuel oil are expected to be primarily affected by weather patterns and from competition intensifying during warmer than normal winters, as well as from the impact of a sustained higher commodity price environment on customer conservation, and the impact of perceived uncertainty about the economy on customer buying habits.

Propane and fuel oil compete with electricity, natural gas and other existing and future sources of energy, some of which are, or may in the future be, less costly for equivalent energy value. For example, natural gas currently is a significantly less expensive source of energy than propane and fuel oil on an equivalent BTU basis. As a result, except for some industrial and commercial applications, propane and fuel oil are generally not economically competitive with natural gas in areas where natural gas pipelines already exist. The gradual expansion of the nation’s natural gas distribution systems has made natural gas available in many areas that previously depended upon propane or fuel oil. We expect this trend to continue, and, with the increasingly abundant supply of natural gas from domestic sources, perhaps accelerate. Propane and fuel oil compete to a lesser extent with each other due to the cost of converting from one source to the other.

In addition to competing with other sources of energy, our propane and fuel oil businesses compete with other distributors of those respective products principally on the basis of price, service and availability. Competition in the retail propane business is highly fragmented and generally occurs on a local basis with other large full-service multi-state propane marketers, thousands of smaller local independent marketers and farm cooperatives. Our fuel oil business competes with fuel oil distributors offering a broad range of services and prices, from full service distributors to those offering delivery only. In addition, our existing fuel oil customers, unlike our existing propane customers, generally own their own tanks, which can result in intensified competition for these customers.

As a result of the highly competitive nature of the retail propane and fuel oil businesses, our growth within these industries depends on our ability to acquire other well-run retail distributors, open new customer service centers, acquire or attract new customers and retain existing customers. We can give no assurance that we will be able to acquire other retail distributors, add new customers or retain existing customers.

Energy efficiency, general economic conditions and technological advances have affected and may continue to affect demand for propane and fuel oil by our retail customers.

The national trend toward increased conservation and technological advances, including installation of improved insulation and other advancements in building materials, as well as the development of more efficient furnaces and other heating and energy sources, has adversely affected the demand for propane and fuel oil by our retail customers which, in turn, has resulted in lower sales volumes to our customers. In addition, perceived uncertainty about the economy may lead to additional conservation by retail customers seeking to further reduce their heating costs, particularly during periods of sustained higher commodity prices. Future technological advances in heating, conservation and energy generation and continued economic weakness may adversely affect our volumes sold, which, in turn, may adversely affect our financial condition and results of operations.

 

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Current conditions in the global capital and credit markets, and general economic pressures, may adversely affect our financial position and results of operations.

Our business and operating results are materially affected by worldwide economic conditions. Conditions in the global capital and credit markets, as well as general economic pressures, including high inflation and temporary or prolonged recessionary conditions, could impact consumer and/or business confidence and increase market volatility, which could negatively affect business activity generally. This situation, especially when coupled with increasing energy prices, may cause our customers to experience cash flow shortages which in turn may lead to delayed or cancelled plans to purchase our products, and affect the ability of our customers to pay for our products. In addition, any disruptions in the U.S. residential mortgage market (as a result of changes in tax laws or otherwise) and the rate of mortgage foreclosures may adversely affect retail customer demand for our products (in particular, products used for home heating and home comfort equipment) and our business and results of operations.

We may not be able to attract and retain qualified employees or find, develop and retain key employees to support and grow our business, which may adversely affect our business and results of operations.

Like most companies in the markets in which we operate, we are continuously challenged in attracting, developing and retaining a sufficient number of employees to operate our businesses throughout our operating geographies, particularly with regard to our driver and technician positions. Our industry in general, as well as the overall trucking industry, is currently experiencing a shortage of qualified drivers and technicians that is exacerbated by several factors, including:

an overall market where high driver turnover exists due to an increased number of alternative employment opportunities;
increased competition for drivers and technicians in the industry, which impacts compensation for those positions; and
a changing workforce demographic with a lack of younger employees who are qualified to join or replace aging drivers and technicians as they retire.

We may also have difficulty recruiting and retaining new employees beyond our driver and technician positions with adequate qualifications and experience. The challenge of hiring new employees at times is further exacerbated by the rural nature of our business, which provides for a smaller pool of skilled employee candidates who meet our hiring criteria and the licensing and qualification requirements that may exist for certain types of positions such as our driver and technician positions. If we are unable to continue to attract and retain a sufficient number of new employees or retain existing employees with the technical skills upon which our business depends, we may be forced to adjust our compensation packages to pay higher wages, or offer other benefits that might impact our cost of labor, or force us at times to operate with fewer employees and face difficulties in meeting delivery demands for our customers, any of which could adversely affect our profitability and results of operations.

We are dependent on our senior management and other key personnel.

Our success depends on our senior management team and other key personnel with technical skills upon which our business depends and our ability to effectively identify, attract, retain and motivate high quality employees, and replace those who retire or resign. We believe that we have an experienced and highly qualified senior management team and the loss of service of any one or more of these key personnel could have a significant adverse impact on our operations and our future profitability. Failure to retain and motivate our senior management team and to hire, retain and develop other important personnel could generally impact other levels of our management and operations, ability to execute our strategies and adversely affect our business and results of operations.

The risk of terrorism, political unrest and the current hostilities in the Middle East or other energy producing regions, including Russian military action in Ukraine, has adversely affected, and may continue to adversely affect the economy and the price and availability of propane, fuel oil and other refined fuels and natural gas.

Terrorist attacks, political unrest and hostilities in the Middle East or other energy producing regions could likely lead to increased volatility in the price and availability of propane, fuel oil and other refined fuels and natural gas, as well as our results of operations, our ability to raise capital and our future growth. The impact that the foregoing may have on our industry in general, and on us in particular, is not known at this time. An act of terror could result in disruptions of crude oil or natural gas supplies and markets (the sources of propane and fuel oil), and our infrastructure facilities could be direct or indirect targets. Terrorist activity may also hinder our ability to transport propane, fuel oil and other refined fuels if our means of supply transportation, such as rail or pipeline, become damaged as a result of an attack. A lower level of economic activity could result in a decline in energy consumption, which could adversely impact our revenues or restrict our future growth. Instability in the financial markets as a result of terrorism or military conflict could also affect our ability to raise capital. The ongoing conflict in Ukraine as a result of Russia’s significant military action has caused, and could intensify, volatility in the price and supply of natural gas, oil, and propane and other refined fuels. We have opted to purchase insurance coverage for terrorist acts within our property and casualty insurance programs, but we can give no assurance that our insurance coverage will be adequate to fully compensate us for any losses to our business or property resulting from terrorist acts.

 

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The conflict in Ukraine and related price volatility and geopolitical instability could negatively impact our business.

In late February 2022, Russia launched significant military action against Ukraine. The conflict has caused, and could intensify, volatility in the price and supply of natural gas, oil and propane and other refined fuels. The extent and duration of the military action, sanctions and resulting market disruptions could be significant and could potentially have a substantial negative impact on the global economy and/or our business for an unknown period of time. To the extent that the Russian military action in Ukraine persists and related price volatility and geopolitical instability continues, and to the extent that any potential military action intensifies in the region or in other parts of the world which may further increase volatility in the price and supply of natural gas, oil, propane and other refined fuels, our business and results of operations could be adversely impacted.

Our financial condition and results of operations may be adversely affected by governmental regulation and associated environmental and health and safety costs.

Our business is subject to a wide range of federal, state and local laws and regulations related to environmental, health and safety matters; including those concerning, among other things, the investigation and remediation of contaminated soil, groundwater and other environmental resources, the transportation of hazardous materials and guidelines and other mandates with regard to the health and safety of our employees and customers. These requirements are complex, changing and tend to become more stringent over time. In addition, we are required to maintain various permits that are necessary to operate our facilities and equipment, some of which are material to our operations. There can be no assurance that we have been, or will be, at all times in complete compliance with all legal, regulatory and permitting requirements or that we will not incur significant costs in the future relating to such requirements. Violations could result in penalties, or the curtailment or cessation of operations.

The generation and monetization of the environmental attributes resulting from our investments in Oberon and IH, our agreement with Adirondack Farms to build an anaerobic digester, and our sale of renewable propane are contingent on several state and federal programs; including the RFS, the Inflation Reduction Act, CA LCFS, OR CFP, and WA CFS. Changes to the enabling legislation and/or changes in the regulations implementing those programs could change, or eliminate, the availability and value of RINs and LCFS Credits. Additionally, the open markets where RINs and LCFS Credits are traded have experienced increased volatility over the past year and continued volatility in the future may adversely impact the value of RINs and LCFS Credits sold by the Partnership. Currently, income from RIN and LCFS Credit is not material to the Partnership results of operations; however, as we continue to invest in the build out of our renewable energy platform, we anticipate increased RIN and LCFS Credit income as well as financial benefits from investment tax credits and production tax credits.

There is increasing interest at the federal, state, and local level to further regulate GHG emissions by incentivizing the production of renewable energy and disincentivizing the use of fossil fuels. While our emerging renewable energy platform may benefit from additional incentives for the growth of renewable energy, it is possible, especially in the short term, that such growth will be outweighed by restrictions placed on our sale of propane, fuel oil and refined fuels, and natural gas. We cannot predict what impact changes to existing federal, state, or local programs designed to reduce GHG emissions and address climate change may have on our business. Nor can we predict what impact the creation of future federal, state, and local programs designed to reduce GHG emissions and address climate change will have on our business.

Moreover, currently unknown environmental issues, such as the discovery of contamination, could result in significant expenditures, including the need to comply with future changes to environmental laws and regulations or the interpretation or enforcement thereof. Such expenditures, if required, could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition or results of operations.

The ability of AES to acquire and retain retail natural gas and electricity customers is highly competitive, price sensitive and may be impacted by changes in state regulations.

The deregulated retail natural gas and electricity industries in which AES participates are highly competitive. New York has instituted significant regulation of these industries, and other states have changed business rules to provide further protections to consumers. An Order from the NY PSC regarding low income consumers went into effect in 2018 and required that all ESCOs stop serving low-income consumers. As a result, AES returned approximately 8,400 of our customers to local utility service. A Reset Order issued by the NY PSC in 2016 attempted to impose rules that would have allowed the NY PSC to regulate ESCO pricing, which was subsequently challenged and struck down by the New York Supreme Court. On appeal, the New York State Court of Appeals issued a ruling in 2019 that held that the NY PSC cannot regulate ESCO pricing, but does have the ability to restrict an ESCO’s access to the utility distribution system if the NY PSC determines that an ESCO’s pricing is not “just and reasonable.” In December 2019, the NY PSC issued a Second Reset Order that imposed product, pricing, and other requirements on ESCOs. AES was specifically and solely exempted from complying with the criteria concerning product offerings during the pendency of further rulemaking proceedings. In

 

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September 2020, the NY PSC issued another Order reaffirming the Second Reset Order, including the exemption that allows AES to maintain its existing business model in New York while rulemaking proceedings continue.

These industries have also seen an increase in the number of class action lawsuits brought against retailers and relating to their pricing policies and practices. Two such lawsuits were commenced against AES in 2017 and 2018, involving New York and Pennsylvania customers. AES filed motions to dismiss both actions on procedural and substantive grounds. The United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania granted AES’s motion and dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint with prejudice, finding that AES did not breach its contract or defraud customers. In August of 2020, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff’s complaint. In the New York action, the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York granted AES’ dismissal motion in part in October 2018, but allowed plaintiff’s statutory consumer fraud and breach of contract causes of action to proceed. The court granted summary judgment in our favor on the remaining counts and the complaint was dismissed in full. The plaintiff has filed an appeal to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. While AES believes that the appeal is without merit and intends to vigorously defend itself in the matter, we are unable to predict at this time the ultimate outcome of the New York action. However, if we are ultimately unable to successfully defend our AES business in this class action lawsuit, a decision rendered against AES could have an adverse impact on our business and operations.

Costs associated with lawsuits, investigations or increases in legal reserves that we establish based on our assessment of contingent liabilities could adversely affect our operating results to the extent not covered by insurance.

Our operations expose us to various claims, lawsuits and other legal proceedings that arise in and outside of the ordinary course of our business. We may be subject to complaints and/or litigation involving our customers, employees and others with whom we conduct business, including claims for bodily injury, death and property damage related to operating hazards and risks normally associated with handling, storing and delivering combustible liquids such as propane, fuel oil and other refined fuels or claims based on allegations of discrimination, wage and hourly pay disputes, and various other claims as a result of other aspects of our business. We could be subject to substantial costs and/or adverse outcomes from such complaints or litigation, which could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition, cash flows or results of operations.

From time to time, our Partnership and/or other companies in the segments in which we operate may be reviewed or investigated by government regulators, which could lead to tax assessments, enforcement actions, fines and penalties or the assertion of private litigation claims. It is not possible to predict with certainty the outcome of claims, investigations and lawsuits, and we could in the future incur judgments, taxes, fines or penalties, or enter into settlements of lawsuits or claims that could have an adverse impact on our financial condition or results of operations. We are self-insured for general and product, workers’ compensation and automobile liabilities up to predetermined amounts above which third-party insurance applies. We cannot guarantee that our insurance will be adequate to protect us from all material expenses related to potential future claims for personal injury and property damage or that these levels of insurance will be available at economical prices, or that all legal matters that arise will be covered by our insurance programs.

As required by U.S. generally accepted accounting principles (“GAAP”), we establish reserves based on our assessment of actual or potential loss contingencies, including contingencies related to legal claims asserted against us. Subsequent developments may affect our assessment and estimates of such loss contingencies and require us to make payments in excess of our reserves, which could have an adverse effect on our financial condition or results of operations.

If we are unable to make acquisitions on economically acceptable terms or effectively integrate such acquisitions into our operations, our financial performance may be adversely affected.

The retail propane and fuel oil industries are mature. We expect overall demand for propane and fuel oil to be relatively flat to moderately declining over the next several years. With respect to our retail propane business, it may be difficult for us to increase our aggregate number of retail propane customers except through acquisitions. As a result, we may engage in strategic transactions involving the acquisition of, or investment in, other retail propane and fuel oil distributors, other energy-related businesses or other related cross-functional lines of business. The competition for these acquisitions is intense and we can make no assurance that we will be able to successfully acquire other businesses on economically acceptable terms or, if we do, that we can integrate the operations of acquired businesses effectively or to realize the expected benefits of such transactions within the anticipated timeframe, or at all, such as cost savings, synergies, sales and growth opportunities. In addition, the integration of an acquired business may result in material unanticipated challenges, expenses, liabilities or competitive responses, including:

a failure to implement our strategy for a particular strategic transaction, including successfully integrating the acquired business into our existing infrastructure, or a failure to realize value from a strategic investment;
inconsistencies between our standards, procedures and policies and those of the acquired business;
costs or inefficiencies associated with the integration of our operational and administrative systems;

 

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an increased scope and complexity of our operations which could require significant attention from management and could impose constraints on our operations or other projects;
unforeseen expenses, delays or conditions, including required regulatory or other third-party approvals or consents, or provisions in contracts with third parties that could limit our flexibility to take certain actions;
an inability to retain the customers, employees, suppliers and/or business partners of the acquired business or generate new customers or revenue opportunities through a strategic transaction;
the costs of compliance with local laws and regulations and the implementation of compliance processes, as well as the assumption of unexpected liabilities, litigation, penalties or other enforcement actions; and
higher than expected costs arising due to unforeseen changes in tax, trade, environmental, labor, safety, payroll or pension policies.

Any one of these factors could result in delays, increased costs or decreases in the amount of expected revenues related to combining the businesses or derived from a strategic transaction and could adversely impact our financial condition or results of operations.

The adoption of climate change legislation could negatively impact our operations and result in increased operating costs and reduced demand for the products and services we provide.

The EPA issued an Endangerment Finding under the federal Clean Air Act, which determined that emissions of GHGs, such as carbon dioxide, present an endangerment to public health and the environment because emissions of such gases may be contributing to the warming of the earth’s atmosphere, volatility in seasonal temperatures, increased frequency and severity of storms, floods and other climatic changes. Based on these findings, the EPA has begun adopting and implementing regulations to restrict emissions of GHGs from certain industries and require reporting by certain regulated facilities. The EPA’s authority to regulate GHGs has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In June 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in West Virginia v. EPA, which did not preclude, but instead limited the EPA’s ability to regulate GHGs absent clear Congressional authorization. The Court determined that the EPA’s emission reduction measures requiring an industry-wide shift in electricity production from coal- and natural gas-fired power plants to renewable power sources require specific congressional authorization, which had not been given under the Clean Air Act. We cannot predict the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision on future GHG regulation, or the impact of any future GHG legislation on our business, financial conditions or operations in the future.

Current EPA leadership has prioritized climate change mitigation measures and has implemented regulations requiring significant reductions in GHG emissions. Changes in the EPA administration may result in changes to the EPA’s prioritization of climate change mitigation measures. We cannot predict the impact of future changes to EPA’s prioritization of climate change mitigation or the impact of future GHG legislation or regulations on our business, financial condition or operations in the future.

Numerous states and municipalities have also adopted laws and policies on climate change and GHG emission reduction targets. For example, in July 2019, the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act was signed into law in New York, establishing a statewide climate action framework which includes a target to reduce net GHG emissions to zero by 2050. The SEC has also proposed sweeping climate-change related disclosure rules that, if adopted, would require significant disclosure regarding GHG emissions and would require significant time and expense to collect and prepare the information which may need to be gathered due to new disclosure requirements and any regulatory requirements for independent attestation as to such disclosures.

The adoption of federal, state or local climate change legislation or regulatory programs to reduce emissions of GHGs could require us to incur increased capital and operating costs, with resulting impact on product price and demand. We cannot predict when or in what form climate change legislation provisions and renewable energy standards may be enacted and what the impact of any such legislation or standards may have on our business, financial conditions or operations in the future. In addition, a possible consequence of climate change is increased volatility in seasonal temperatures. It is difficult to predict how the market for our fuels would be affected by changes in regulations or increased temperature volatility, although if there is an overall trend of warmer winter temperatures, it could adversely affect our business.

The generation and monetization of environmental attributes resulting from our investments in Oberon and IH, our agreement with Adirondack Farms to build an anaerobic digester, and our sale of renewable propane are contingent on several state and federal programs; including the RFS, the Inflation Reduction Act, CA LCFS, OR CFP, and WA CFS. Changes to the enabling legislation and/or changes in the regulations implementing those programs could change, or eliminate, the availability and value of RINs and LCFS Credits. Additionally, the open markets where RINs and LCFS Credits are traded have experienced volatility over the past year and may experience continued volatility in the future. There is increasing interest at the federal, state, and local level to further regulate GHG emissions by incentivizing the production of renewable energy and disincentivizing the use of fossil fuels. While our emerging renewable

 

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energy platform may benefit from additional incentives for the growth of renewable energy, our sale of propane, fuel oil and refined fuels, and natural gas may experience significant negative impact from the restrictions placed on the use of fossil fuels. We cannot predict what impact changes to existing federal, state, or local programs designed to reduce GHG emissions and address climate change may have on our business. Nor can we predict what impact the creation of future federal, state, and local programs designed to reduce GHG emissions and address climate change will have on our business.

The federal, state and local climate change regulatory landscape is highly complex and rapidly and continuously evolving. Failure to comply with these federal and state regulations and future laws and regulations designed to reduce GHG emissions and address climate change, could result in the imposition of higher costs, penalties, fines, or restrictions on our operations. We cannot predict the impact these and future regulations, and the unattainability, reduction or elimination of government and economic incentives could have on our business, financial conditions or results of operation.

Our use of derivative contracts involves credit and regulatory risk and may expose us to financial loss.

From time to time, we enter into hedging transactions to reduce our business risks arising from fluctuations in commodity prices and interest rates. Hedging transactions expose us to risk of financial loss in some circumstances, including if the other party to the contract defaults on its obligations to us or if there is a change in the expected differential between the price of the underlying commodity or financial metric provided in the hedging agreement and the actual amount received. Transactional, margin, capital, recordkeeping, reporting, clearing and other requirements imposed on parties to derivatives transactions as a result of legislation and related rulemaking may increase our operational and transactional cost of entering into and maintaining derivatives contracts and may adversely affect the number and/or creditworthiness of derivatives counterparties available to us. If we were to reduce our use of derivatives as a result of regulatory burdens or otherwise, our results of operations could become more volatile and our cash flow could be less predictable.

Our renewable fuel investment projects are subject to a number of risks, including the willingness of customers to adopt these fuels, the financing, construction and development of facilities, our ability to generate a sufficient return on our investments, our dependence on third-party partners, and increased regulation and dependence on government funding for commercial viability.

We have expanded our Go Green with Suburban Propane corporate pillar with our investments in renewable and low-carbon energy sources offered through our investments in Oberon and IH and our agreement to build an anaerobic digester at Adirondack Farms. The success of these businesses is subject to a number of factors and risks, including unpredictability and uncertainty as to the willingness of customers in their intended markets to adopt the use of these fuels, and will be dependent upon perceptions about the benefits of these fuels relative to other alternative fuels; increases, decreases or volatility in demand; use and prices of crude oil, gasoline and other fuels and energy sources; and the adoption or expansion of government policies, programs, funding or incentives in favor of these or alternative fuels.

The success of our existing and future investments in our renewable energy platform will depend on our ability to successfully develop, market and distribute the specific renewable energy products. In addition, the acquisition, financing, construction and development of these projects involves numerous risks; including the ability to obtain financing for a project on acceptable terms or at all; difficulties in identifying, obtaining, and permitting suitable sites for new projects; failure to obtain all necessary rights to land access and use; inaccuracy of assumptions with respect to the cost and schedule for completing construction; delays in deliveries or increases in the price of equipment; permitting and other regulatory issues, license revocation and changes in legal requirements. Our development of lower carbon intensity fuels through our investments exposes us to risks related to the supply of and demand for those lower carbon intensity fuels, the cost of capital expenditures, government regulation, and economic conditions, among other factors. The development of these products may also be negatively affected by production risks resulting from mechanical breakdowns, faulty technology, competitive markets, or changes to the laws and regulations that mandate the use of renewable energy sources, and the other regulatory risks discussed above under the caption, “The adoption of climate change legislation could negatively impact our operations and result in increased operating costs and reduced demand for the products and services we provide.”

 

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We face risks related to our reliance on particular management information systems and communication networks to effectively manage all aspects of our delivery of propane.

We depend heavily on the performance and availability of our management information systems and those of our third-party vendors, websites and network infrastructure to attract and retain customers, process orders, manage inventory and accounts receivable collections, maintain distributor and customer information, maintain cost-efficient operations, assist in delivering our products on a timely basis and otherwise conduct our business. We have centralized our information systems and we rely on third-party communications service and system providers to provide technology services and link our systems with the business locations these systems were designed to serve. Any failure or disruption in the availability or operation of those management information systems, loss of employees knowledgeable about such systems, termination of our relationship with one or more of these key third-party providers or failure to continue to modify such systems effectively as our business expands could create negative publicity that damages our reputation or otherwise adversely impact our ability to manage our business effectively. We may experience system interruptions or disruptions for a variety of reasons, including as the result of network failures, power outages, cyber-attacks, employee errors, software errors, an unusually high volume of visitors attempting to access our systems, or localized conditions such as fire, explosions or power outages or broader geographic events such as earthquakes, storms, floods, epidemics, strikes, acts of war, civil unrest or terrorist acts. Because we are dependent in part on independent third parties for the implementation and maintenance of certain aspects of our systems and because some of the causes of system interruptions may be outside of our control, we may not be able to remedy such interruptions in a timely manner, or at all. Our systems’ business continuity plans and insurance programs seek to mitigate such risks, but they cannot fully eliminate the risks as a failure or disruption could be experienced in any of our information systems.

We face risks related to cybersecurity breaches of our systems and information technology and those of our third-party vendors.

Cybersecurity threats to network and data security are becoming increasingly diverse and sophisticated. As threats become more frequent, intense and sophisticated, the costs of proactive defensive measures may increase as we seek to continue to protect our management information systems, websites and network. Third parties may have the technology or expertise to breach the security that we use to protect our customer transaction data and our security measures may not prevent physical security or cybersecurity breaches, which could result in significant harm to our business, our reputation or our results of operations. We rely on encryption and/or authentication technology licensed from and, at times, administered by independent third parties to secure transmission of confidential information, including personally identifiable information. Our outsourcing agreements with these third-party service providers generally require that they utilize adequate security systems to protect our confidential information. However, advances in computer capabilities, new discoveries in the field of cryptography or other cybersecurity developments could render our security systems and information technology, or those used by our third-party service providers, vulnerable to a breach. In addition, anyone who is able to circumvent our security measures could misappropriate proprietary information or cause interruptions in our operations. Risks of cybersecurity incidents caused by malicious third parties using sophisticated, targeted methods to circumvent firewalls, encryption, and other security defenses, could include hacking, viruses, malicious software, ransomware, phishing attacks, denial of service attacks and other attempts to capture, disrupt or gain unauthorized access to data are rapidly evolving and could lead to disruptions in our management information systems, websites or other data processing systems, unauthorized release of confidential or otherwise protected information or corruption of data. The techniques used by third parties change frequently and may be difficult to detect for long periods of time. In addition, dependence upon automated systems may further increase the risk that operational system flaws, employee tampering or manipulation of those systems will result in losses that are difficult to detect or recoup. To the extent customer data is hacked or misappropriated, we could be subject to liability to affected persons. Any successful efforts by individuals to infiltrate, break into, disrupt, damage or otherwise steal from us or our third-party service providers’ security or information systems could damage our reputation and expose us to increased costs, litigation or other liability that could adversely impact our financial condition or results of operations.

The COVID-19 pandemic has adversely impacted our business, as well as the operations of our customers and suppliers and may continue to impact us in the future.

The ongoing global spread of COVID-19, and variants thereof, and the fear that has been created and continues has resulted in significant economic uncertainty, significant declines in business and consumer confidence, negative impacts and disruptions to our operations and those of our customers and suppliers. The degree of disruption associated with the COVID-19 pandemic has been and remains difficult to predict due to many factors, including:

the scope and uncertainty surrounding the magnitude and duration of the pandemic;
the spread and severity of the pandemic;
the availability, adoption and protection provided by vaccines;
the emergence and severity of any new COVID-19 variants;
governmental actions that have been and may continue to be imposed on businesses such as ours; and
the rate and sustainability of economic recovery after the pandemic subsides.

 

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Our operations could be negatively affected in the future if, among others, a significant number of our employees, or employees who perform critical functions, become ill and/or are quarantined as the result of exposure to COVID-19 or any related variants, or if government policies restrict the ability of our employees to perform their critical functions or require employers to impose vaccine mandates on their employees, who in turn resign or otherwise leave their positions for other businesses that are not required to impose employee vaccinations. We are also unable to predict the extent to which the pandemic may continue to impact our operations, as well as our customers and suppliers and their financial conditions. The unpredictable nature and uncertainty of the current COVID-19 pandemic could also magnify and exacerbate the other risks discussed elsewhere in this “Risk Factors” section.

RISKS RELATED TO OUR INDEBTEDNESS AND ACCESS TO CAPITAL

We face risks related to our current and future debt obligations that may limit our ability to make distributions to Unitholders, as well as our financial flexibility.

As of September 24, 2022, our long-term debt consisted of $350.0 million in aggregate principal amount of 5.875% senior notes due March 1, 2027, $650.0 million in aggregate principal amount of 5.0% senior notes due June 1, 2031 and $89.6 million outstanding under our $500.0 million senior secured revolving credit facility. The payment of principal and interest on our debt will reduce the cash available to make distributions on our Common Units. In addition, we will not be able to make any distributions to holders of our Common Units if there is, or after giving effect to such distribution, there would be, an event of default under the indentures governing the senior notes or the senior secured revolving credit facility. The amount of distributions that we may make to holders of our Common Units is limited by the senior notes, and the amount of distributions that the Operating Partnership may make to us is limited by our revolving credit facility.

The revolving credit facility and the senior notes both contain various restrictive and affirmative covenants applicable to us, the Operating Partnership and its subsidiaries, respectively, including (i) restrictions on the incurrence of additional indebtedness, and (ii) restrictions on certain liens, investments, guarantees, loans, advances, payments, mergers, consolidations, distributions, sales of assets and other transactions. The revolving credit facility contains certain financial covenants:

requiring our consolidated interest coverage ratio, as defined, to be not less than 2.5 to 1.0 as of the end of any fiscal quarter;
prohibiting our total consolidated leverage ratio, as defined, from being greater than 5.75 to 1.0 as of the end of any fiscal quarter;
prohibiting the senior secured consolidated leverage ratio, as defined, of the Operating Partnership from being greater than 3.25 to 1.0 as of the end of any fiscal quarter.

Under the indentures governing the senior notes, we are generally permitted to make cash distributions equal to available cash, as defined, as of the end of the immediately preceding quarter, if no event of default exists or would exist upon making such distributions, and our consolidated fixed charge coverage ratio, as defined, is greater than 1.75 to 1. We and the Operating Partnership were in compliance with all covenants and terms of the senior notes and the revolving credit facility as of September 24, 2022.

The amount and terms of our debt may also adversely affect our ability to finance future operations and capital needs, limit our ability to pursue acquisitions and other business opportunities and make our results of operations more susceptible to adverse economic and industry conditions. In addition to our outstanding indebtedness, we may in the future require additional debt to finance acquisitions or for general business purposes; however, credit market conditions may impact our ability to access such financing. If we are unable to access needed financing or to generate sufficient cash from operations, we may be required to abandon certain projects or curtail capital expenditures. Additional debt, where it is available, could result in an increase in our leverage. Our ability to make principal and interest payments depends on our future performance, which is subject to many factors, some of which are beyond our control. As interest expense increases (whether due to an increase in interest rates and/or the size of aggregate outstanding debt), our ability to fund distributions on our Common Units may be impacted, depending on the level of revenue generation, which is not assured.

Our operating results and ability to generate sufficient cash flow to pay principal and interest on our indebtedness, and to pay distributions to Unitholders, may be affected by our ability to continue to control expenses.

The propane and fuel oil industries are mature and highly fragmented with competition from other multi-state marketers and thousands of smaller local independent marketers. Demand for propane and fuel oil is expected to be affected by many factors beyond our control, including, but not limited to, the severity and length of weather conditions during the peak heating season, customer energy conservation driven by high energy costs and other economic factors, as well as technological advances impacting energy efficiency. Accordingly, our propane and fuel oil sales volumes and related gross margins may be negatively affected by these factors beyond our control. Our operating profits and ability to generate sufficient cash flow may depend on our ability to continue to control expenses in line with sales volumes. We can give no assurance that we will be able to continue to control expenses to the extent necessary to reduce any negative impact on our profitability and cash flow from these factors.

 

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Disruptions in the capital and credit markets, including the availability and cost of debt and equity issuances for liquidity requirements, may adversely affect our ability to meet long-term commitments and our ability to hedge effectively, any of which could adversely affect our results of operations, cash flows and financial condition.

We rely on our ability to access the capital and credit markets at rates and terms reasonable to us. A disruption in the capital and credit markets or increased volatility could impair our ability to access capital and credit markets at rates and terms acceptable to us or not at all. This could limit our ability to refinance long-term debt at or in advance of maturities or could force us to access capital and credit markets at rates or terms normally considered to be unreasonable.

RISKS RELATED TO OUR COMMON UNITS

Cash distributions are not guaranteed and may fluctuate with our performance and other external factors.

Cash distributions on our Common Units are not guaranteed, and depend primarily on our cash flow and our cash on hand. Because they are not directly dependent on profitability, which is affected by non-cash items, our cash distributions might be made during periods when we record losses and might not be made during periods when we record profits.

The amount of cash we generate may fluctuate based on our performance and other factors, including:

the impact of the risks inherent in our business operations, as described above;
required principal and interest payments on our debt and restrictions contained in our debt instruments;
issuances of debt and equity securities;
our ability to control expenses;
fluctuations in working capital;
capital expenditures; and
financial, business and other factors, a number of which may be beyond our control.

Our Partnership Agreement gives our Board of Supervisors broad discretion in establishing cash reserves for, among other things, the proper conduct of our business. These cash reserves will affect the amount of cash available for distributions.

Unitholders have limited voting rights.

A Board of Supervisors governs our operations. Unitholders have only limited voting rights on matters affecting our business, including the right to elect the members of our Board of Supervisors every three years and the right to vote on the removal of the general partner.

It may be difficult for a third party to acquire us, even if doing so would be beneficial to our Unitholders.

Some provisions of our Partnership Agreement may discourage, delay or prevent third parties from acquiring us, even if doing so would be beneficial to our Unitholders. For example, our Partnership Agreement contains a provision, based on Section 203 of the Delaware General Corporation Law, that generally prohibits us from engaging in a business combination with a 15% or greater Unitholder for a period of three years following the date that person or entity acquired at least 15% of our outstanding Common Units, unless certain exceptions apply. Additionally, our Partnership Agreement sets forth advance notice procedures for a Unitholder to nominate a Supervisor to stand for election, which procedures may discourage or deter a potential acquirer from conducting a solicitation of proxies to elect the acquirer’s own slate of Supervisors or otherwise attempting to obtain control of the Partnership. These nomination procedures may not be revised or repealed, and inconsistent provisions may not be adopted, without the approval of the holders of at least 66-2/3% of the outstanding Common Units. These provisions may have an anti-takeover effect with respect to transactions not approved in advance by our Board of Supervisors, including discouraging attempts that might result in a premium over the market price of the Common Units held by our Unitholders.

Unitholders may not have limited liability in some circumstances.

A number of states have not clearly established limitations on the liabilities of limited partners for the obligations of a limited partnership. Our Unitholders might be held liable for our obligations as if they were general partners if:

a court or government agency determined that we were conducting business in the state but had not complied with the state’s limited partnership statute; or
Unitholders’ rights to act together to remove or replace the General Partner or take other actions under our Partnership Agreement are deemed to constitute “participation in the control” of our business for purposes of the state’s limited partnership statute.

 

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Unitholders may have liability to repay distributions.

Unitholders will not be liable for assessments in addition to their initial capital investment in the Common Units. Under specific circumstances, however, Unitholders may have to repay to us amounts wrongfully returned or distributed to them. Under Delaware law, we may not make a distribution to Unitholders if the distribution causes our liabilities to exceed the fair value of our assets. Liabilities to partners on account of their partnership interests and nonrecourse liabilities are not counted for purposes of determining whether a distribution is permitted. Delaware law provides that a limited partner who receives a distribution of this kind and knew at the time of the distribution that the distribution violated Delaware law will be liable to the limited partnership for the distribution amount for three years from the distribution date. Under Delaware law, an assignee who becomes a substituted limited partner of a limited partnership is liable for the obligations of the assignor to make contributions to the partnership. However, such an assignee is not obligated for liabilities unknown to him at the time he or she became a limited partner if the liabilities could not be determined from the partnership agreement.

Our limited partner interest and Unitholders’ percentage of ownership may be diluted in the future and additional taxable income may be allocated to each Unitholder.

Our Partnership Agreement generally allows us to issue additional limited partner interests and other equity securities without the approval of our Unitholders. Therefore, when we issue additional Common Units or securities ranking above or on a parity with the Common Units, each Unitholder’s partnership interest will be diluted proportionately, and the amount of cash distributed on each Common Unit and the market price of Common Units could decrease. Similarly, our Unitholders’ percentage of ownership may be diluted in the future due to equity issuances or equity awards that we have granted or will grant to our supervisors, officers and employees. In addition, we have engaged in and may continue to undertake acquisitions financed in part through public or private offerings of securities, or other arrangements. The issuance of additional Common Units will also diminish the relative voting strength of each previously outstanding Common Unit. In addition, the issuance of additional Common Units, or other equity securities, will, over time, result in the allocation of additional taxable income, representing built-in gains at the time of the new issuance, to those Unitholders that existed prior to the new issuance.

TAX RISKS TO OUR UNITHOLDERS

Our tax treatment depends on our status as a partnership for U.S. federal income tax purposes. The Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) could treat us as a corporation, which would substantially reduce the cash available for distribution to Unitholders.

The anticipated after-tax economic benefit of an investment in our Common Units depends largely on our being treated as a partnership for U.S. federal income tax purposes. If less than 90% of the gross income of a publicly traded partnership, such as Suburban Propane Partners, L.P., for any taxable year is “qualifying income” within the meaning of Section 7704 of the Internal Revenue Code, that partnership will be taxable as a corporation for U.S. federal income tax purposes for that taxable year and all subsequent years.

If we were treated as a corporation for U.S. federal income tax purposes, then we would pay U.S. federal income tax on our net income at the corporate tax rate, which is currently a maximum of 21%, and would likely pay additional state and local income and franchise tax at varying rates. Because a tax would be imposed upon us as a corporation, our cash available for distribution to Unitholders would be substantially reduced. Treatment of us as a corporation would result in a material reduction in the anticipated cash flow and after-tax return to Unitholders and thus would likely result in a substantial reduction in the value of our Common Units.

The tax treatment of publicly traded partnerships or an investment in our Common Units could be subject to potential legislative, judicial or administrative changes and differing interpretations thereof, possibly on a retroactive basis.

The present U.S. federal income tax treatment of publicly traded partnerships, including Suburban Propane Partners, L.P., or an investment in our Common Units may be modified by legislative, judicial or administrative changes and differing interpretations thereof at any time. Any modification to the U.S. federal income tax laws or interpretations thereof may or may not be applied retroactively. Moreover, any such modification could make it more difficult or impossible for us to meet the exception that allows publicly traded partnerships that generate qualifying income to be treated as partnerships (rather than as corporations) for U.S. federal income tax purposes, affect or cause us to change our business activities, or affect the tax consequences of an investment in our Common Units.

In addition, because of widespread state budget deficits and other reasons, several states are evaluating ways to subject partnerships to entity-level taxation through the imposition of state income, franchise and other forms of taxation.

 

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If the IRS makes audit adjustments to our income tax returns for tax years beginning after 2017, it (and some states) may collect any resulting taxes (including any applicable penalties and interest) directly from the Partnership, in which case cash available to service debt or to pay distributions to our Unitholders, could be substantially reduced.

If the IRS makes audit adjustments to our income tax returns for tax years beginning after 2017, it may collect any resulting taxes (including any applicable penalties and interest) directly from us. We will generally have the ability to allocate any such tax liability to our current and former Unitholders in accordance with their interests in us during the year under audit. However, we may not be able to (or may not choose to) so allocate that tax liability, and may not be able to (or may choose not to) similarly allocate state income or similar tax liability resulting from adjustments in states in which we do business in the year under audit or in the adjustment year; instead, we may pay the tax. Accordingly, our current Unitholders may bear some or all of the audit adjustment, even if such Unitholders did not own units during the tax year under audit. If we make payments of taxes, penalties and interest resulting from audit adjustments, cash available to service debt or to make distributions to our Unitholders could be substantially reduced.

A successful IRS contest of the U.S. federal income tax positions we take may adversely affect the market for our Common Units, and the cost of any IRS contest will reduce our cash available for distribution to our Unitholders.

We have not requested a ruling from the IRS with respect to our treatment as a partnership for U.S. federal income tax purposes or any other matter affecting us. The IRS may adopt positions that differ from the positions we take. It may be necessary to resort to administrative or court proceedings to sustain some or all of the positions we take. A court may not agree with the positions we take. Any contest with the IRS may materially and adversely impact the market for our Common Units and the price at which they trade. In addition, our costs of any contest with the IRS will be borne indirectly by our Unitholders because the costs will reduce our cash available for distribution.

A Unitholder’s tax liability could exceed cash distributions on its Common Units.

Because our Unitholders are treated as partners, a Unitholder is required to pay U.S. federal income taxes and state and local income taxes on its allocable share of our income, without regard to whether we make cash distributions to the Unitholder. We cannot guarantee that a Unitholder will receive cash distributions equal to its allocable share of our taxable income or even the tax liability to it resulting from that income.

Ownership of Common Units may have adverse tax consequences for tax-exempt organizations and foreign investors.

Investment in Common Units by certain tax-exempt entities and foreign persons raises issues specific to them. For example, virtually all of our taxable income allocated to organizations exempt from U.S. federal income tax, including individual retirement accounts and other retirement plans, will be unrelated business taxable income and thus will be taxable to them. Further, a tax-exempt entity with more than one unrelated trade or business (including by attribution from an investment in a partnership such as ours that is engaged in one or more unrelated trades or businesses) is required to compute the unrelated business taxable income of such tax-exempt entity separately with respect to each such trade or business (including for purposes of determining any net operating loss deduction). As a result, it may not be possible for tax-exempt entities to utilize losses from an investment in our partnership to offset unrelated business taxable income from another unrelated trade or business and vice versa.

Distributions to foreign persons will be reduced by withholding taxes at the highest applicable effective tax rate, and foreign persons will be required to file U.S. federal income tax returns and pay tax on their share of our taxable income. A foreign person who sells or otherwise disposes of a Common Unit will also be subject to U.S. federal income tax on the gain realized from the sale or disposition of that Common Unit. In general, a 10% withholding tax is imposed on the amount realized on the disposition of a partnership interest by a foreign person if any gain on the transfer of such interest would be treated as giving rise to effectively connected income. However, such withholding tax obligation is currently suspended in the case of a disposition of certain publicly traded partnership interests until further guidance is provided. If guidance is provided, the withholding tax may apply.

The ability of a Unitholder to deduct its share of our losses may be limited.

Various limitations may apply to the ability of a Unitholder to deduct its share of our losses. For example, in the case of taxpayers subject to the passive activity loss rules (generally, individuals and closely held corporations), any losses generated by us will only be available to offset our future income and cannot be used to offset income from other activities, including other passive activities or investments. Such unused losses may be deducted when the Unitholder disposes of its entire investment in us in a fully taxable transaction with an unrelated party, such as a sale by a Unitholder of all of its Common Units in the open market. A Unitholder’s share of any net passive income may be offset by unused losses from us carried over from prior years, but not by losses from other passive activities, including losses from other publicly-traded partnerships.

 

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The tax gain or loss on the disposition of Common Units could be different than expected.

A Unitholder who sells Common Units will recognize a gain or loss equal to the difference between the amount realized and its adjusted tax basis in the Common Units. Prior distributions in excess of cumulative net taxable income allocated to a Common Unit which decreased a Unitholder’s tax basis in that Common Unit will, in effect, become taxable income if the Common Unit is sold at a price greater than the Unitholder’s tax basis in that Common Unit, even if the price is less than the original cost of the Common Unit. A portion of the amount realized, if the amount realized exceeds the Unitholder’s adjusted basis in that Common Unit, will likely be characterized as ordinary income. Furthermore, should the IRS successfully contest some conventions used by us, a Unitholder could recognize more gain on the sale of Common Units than would be the case under those conventions, without the benefit of decreased income in prior years. In addition, because the amount realized will include a holder’s share of our nonrecourse liabilities, if a Unitholder sells its Common Units, such Unitholder may incur a tax liability in excess of the amount of cash it receives from the sale.

Reporting of partnership tax information is complicated and subject to audits.

We intend to furnish to each Unitholder, within 90 days after the close of each calendar year, specific tax information, including a Schedule K-1 that sets forth its allocable share of income, gains, losses and deductions for our preceding taxable year. In preparing these schedules, we use various accounting and reporting conventions and adopt various depreciation and amortization methods. We cannot guarantee that these conventions will yield a result that conforms to statutory or regulatory requirements or to administrative pronouncements of the IRS. Further, our income tax return may be audited, which could result in an audit of a Unitholder’s income tax return and increased liabilities for taxes because of adjustments resulting from the audit.

We treat each purchaser of our Common Units as having the same tax benefits without regard to the actual Common Units purchased. The IRS may challenge this treatment, which could adversely affect the value of the Common Units.

Because we cannot match transferors and transferees of Common Units and because of other reasons, uniformity of the economic and tax characteristics of the Common Units to a purchaser of Common Units of the same class must be maintained. To maintain uniformity and for other reasons, we have adopted certain depreciation and amortization conventions that may be inconsistent with Treasury Regulations. A successful IRS challenge to those positions could adversely affect the amount of tax benefits available to a Unitholder or result in a tax imposed upon us and borne by current Unitholders even if such Unitholder did not own units during the tax year under audit. A successful IRS challenge also could affect the timing of tax benefits or the amount of gain from the sale of Common Units, and could have a negative impact on the value of our Common Units or result in audit adjustments to a Unitholder’s income tax return.

We prorate our items of income, gain, loss and deduction between transferors and transferees of our Common Units each month based upon the ownership of our Common Units on the first day of each month, instead of on the basis of the date a particular Common Unit is transferred. The IRS may challenge this treatment, which could change the allocation of items of income, gain, loss and deduction among our Unitholders.

We prorate our items of income, gain, loss and deduction between transferors and transferees of our Common Units each month based upon the ownership of our Common Units on the first day of each month, instead of on the basis of the date a particular Common Unit is transferred. Treasury Regulations provide a safe harbor pursuant to which publicly traded partnerships may use a similar monthly simplifying convention to allocate tax items among transferors and transferees of our Common Units. However, if the IRS were to challenge our proration method, we may be required to change the allocation of items of income, gain, loss and deduction among our Unitholders.

Unitholders may have negative tax consequences if we default on our debt or sell assets.

If we default on any of our debt obligations, our lenders will have the right to sue us for non-payment. This could cause an investment loss and negative tax consequences for Unitholders through the realization of taxable income by Unitholders without a corresponding cash distribution. Likewise, if we were to dispose of assets and realize a taxable gain while there is substantial debt outstanding and proceeds of the sale were applied to the debt, Unitholders could have increased taxable income without a corresponding cash distribution.

There are state, local and other tax considerations for our Unitholders.

In addition to U.S. federal income taxes, Unitholders will likely be subject to other taxes, such as state and local taxes, unincorporated business taxes and estate, inheritance or intangible taxes that are imposed by the various jurisdictions in which we do business or own property, even if the Unitholder does not reside in any of those jurisdictions. A Unitholder will likely be required to file state and local income tax returns and pay state and local income taxes in some or all of the various jurisdictions in which we do business or own property and may be subject to penalties for failure to comply with those requirements. It is the responsibility of each Unitholder to file all U.S. federal, state and local income tax returns that may be required of each Unitholder.

 

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A Unitholder whose Common Units are loaned to a “short seller” to cover a short sale of Common Units may be considered as having disposed of those Common Units. If so, that Unitholder would no longer be treated for tax purposes as a partner with respect to those Common Units during the period of the loan and may recognize gain or loss from the disposition.

Because lending a partnership interest is not tax free, a Unitholder whose Common Units are loaned to a “short seller” to cover a short sale of Common Units may be considered as having disposed of the loaned Common Units. In that case, a Unitholder may no longer be treated for tax purposes as a partner with respect to those Common Units during the period of the loan to the short seller and may recognize gain or loss from such disposition. Moreover, during the period of the loan to the short seller, any of our income, gain, loss or deduction with respect to those Common Units may not be reportable by the Unitholder and any cash distribution received by the Unitholder as to those Common Units could be fully taxable as ordinary income. Unitholders desiring to ensure their status as partners and avoid the risk of gain recognition from a loan to a short seller should consult their own tax advisors to discuss whether it is advisable to modify any applicable brokerage account agreements to prohibit their brokers from borrowing their Common Units.

ITEM 1B. UNRESOLVED STAFF COMMENTS

None.

ITEM 2. PROPERTIES

As of September 24, 2022, we owned approximately 73% of our customer service center and satellite locations and leased the balance of our retail locations from third parties. We own and operate a 22 million gallon refrigerated, aboveground propane storage facility in Elk Grove, California. Additionally, we own our principal executive offices located in Whippany, New Jersey.

The transportation of propane requires specialized equipment. The trucks and railroad tank cars utilized for this purpose carry specialized steel tanks that maintain the propane in a liquefied state. As of September 24, 2022, we had a fleet of 11 transport truck tractors, of which we owned 6, and 33 railroad tank cars, of which we owned none. In addition, as of September 24, 2022 we had 1,113 bobtail and rack trucks, of which we owned 8%, 108 fuel oil tankwagons, of which we owned 23%, and 1,318 other delivery and service vehicles, of which we owned 22%. We lease the vehicles we do not own. As of September 24, 2022, we also owned approximately 836,000 customer propane storage tanks with typical capacities of 100 to 500 gallons, 56,000 customer propane storage tanks with typical capacities of over 500 gallons and 261,000 portable propane cylinders with typical capacities of five to ten gallons.

Our operations are subject to operating hazards and risks normally incidental to handling, storing and delivering combustible liquids such as propane. We have been, and will continue to be, a defendant in various legal proceedings and litigation as a result of these operating hazards and risks, and as a result of other aspects of our business. In this regard, our natural gas and electricity business was sued in a putative class action suit in the Northern District of New York. The complaint alleged a number of claims under various consumer statutes and common law in New York and Pennsylvania regarding pricing offered to electricity customers in those states. The case was dismissed in part by the district court, but causes of action based on the New York consumer statute and breach of contract were allowed to proceed. On April 12, 2022, the court granted summary judgment in favor of the Partnership on the remaining counts and the complaint was dismissed in full. The plaintiff has filed an appeal to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. We believe that the appeal is without merit. Although any litigation is inherently uncertain, based on past experience, the information currently available to us, and the amount of our accrued insurance liabilities, we do not believe that currently pending or threatened litigation matters, or known claims or known contingent claims, will have a material adverse effect on our results of operations, financial condition or cash flow.

ITEM 4. MINE SAFETY DISCLOSURES

None.

 

 

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PART II

ITEM 5. MARKET FOR THE REGISTRANT’S COMMON UNITS, RELATED UNITHOLDER MATTERS AND ISSUER PURCHASES OF UNITS

(a)
Our Common Units, representing limited partner interests in the Partnership, are listed and traded on the New York Stock Exchange (“NYSE”) under the symbol SPH. As of November 21, 2022, there were 497 Unitholders of record (based on the number of record holders and nominees for those Common Units held in street name).

On October 20, 2022, we announced that our Board of Supervisors declared a quarterly distribution of $0.325 per Common Unit for the three months ended September 24, 2022. This quarterly distribution rate equates to an annualized rate of $1.30 per Common Unit.

(b)
Not applicable.
(c)
None.

ITEM 6. [RESERVED]

ITEM 7. MANAGEMENT’S DISCUSSION AND ANALYSIS OF FINANCIAL CONDITION AND RESULTS OF OPERATIONS

The following is a discussion and analysis of our financial condition and results of operations, seen from our perspective, which should be read in conjunction with our consolidated financial statements and notes thereto included elsewhere in this Annual Report.

Executive Overview

The following are factors that regularly affect our operating results and financial condition. In addition, our business is subject to the risks and uncertainties described in Item 1A of this Annual Report. Management currently considers the following events, trends, and uncertainties to be most important to understanding our financial condition and operating performance:

Product Costs and Supply

The level of profitability in the retail propane, fuel oil, natural gas and electricity businesses is largely dependent on the difference between retail sales price and our costs to acquire and transport products. The unit cost of our products, particularly propane, fuel oil and natural gas, is subject to volatility as a result of supply and demand dynamics or other market conditions, including, but not limited to, economic and political factors impacting crude oil and natural gas supply or pricing. We enter into product supply contracts that are generally one-year agreements subject to annual renewal, and also purchase product on the open market. We attempt to reduce price risk by pricing product on a short-term basis. Our propane supply contracts typically provide for pricing based upon index formulas using the posted prices established at major supply points such as Mont Belvieu, Texas, or Conway, Kansas (plus transportation costs) at the time of delivery.

To supplement our annual purchase requirements, we may utilize forward fixed price purchase contracts to acquire a portion of the propane that we resell to our customers, which allows us to manage our exposure to unfavorable changes in commodity prices and to assure adequate physical supply. The percentage of contract purchases, and the amount of supply contracted for under forward contracts at fixed prices, will vary from year to year based on market conditions.

Changes in our costs to acquire and transport products can occur rapidly over a short period of time and can impact profitability. There is no assurance that we will be able to pass on product acquisition and transportation cost increases fully or immediately, particularly when such costs increase rapidly. Therefore, average retail sales prices can vary significantly from year to year as our costs fluctuate with the propane, fuel oil, crude oil and natural gas commodity markets and infrastructure conditions. In addition, periods of sustained higher commodity and/or transportation prices can lead to customer conservation, resulting in reduced demand for our product.

The wholesale cost of propane was elevated compared to recent historical averages coming into fiscal 2022, and continued to rise during much of the first half of fiscal 2022 as U.S. propane inventory levels were well below historical averages. This was due to an imbalance between supply and demand, as well as from macroeconomic and geopolitical factors, such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which impacted commodity prices both globally and in the United States. However, as we progressed through the second half of the fiscal year, the nation’s propane inventory levels improved as higher propane production outpaced demand, which led to a decline in wholesale propane prices. According to the Energy Information Administration, U.S. propane inventory levels at the end of September 2022 were 84.4 million barrels, which was 16.7% higher than September 2021 levels and 2.2% lower than the five-year average for

 

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September. Despite the improvement in propane inventory levels and the resulting decline in wholesale propane prices during the second half of the fiscal year, average posted propane prices (basis Mont Belvieu, Texas) for fiscal 2022 were 39.1% higher than the prior year. Consistent with our established practice, we adjusted customer pricing as market conditions allowed.

Seasonality

The retail propane and fuel oil distribution businesses, as well as the natural gas marketing business, are seasonal because these fuels are primarily used for heating in residential and commercial buildings. Historically, approximately two‑thirds of our retail propane volume is sold during the six-month peak heating season from October through March. The fuel oil business tends to experience greater seasonality given its more limited use for space heating and approximately three-fourths of our fuel oil volumes are sold between October and March. Consequently, sales and operating profits are concentrated in our first and second fiscal quarters. Cash flows from operations, therefore, are greatest during the second and third fiscal quarters when customers pay for product purchased during the winter heating season. We expect lower operating profits and either net losses or lower net income during the period from April through September (our third and fourth fiscal quarters). To the extent necessary, we will reserve cash from the second and third quarters for distribution to holders of our Common Units in the fourth quarter and the following fiscal year first quarter.

Weather

Weather conditions have a significant impact on the demand for our products, in particular propane, fuel oil and natural gas, for both heating and agricultural purposes. Many of our customers rely heavily on propane, fuel oil or natural gas as a heating source. Accordingly, the volume sold is directly affected by the severity of the winter weather in our service areas, which can vary substantially from year to year. In any given area, sustained warmer than normal temperatures will tend to result in reduced propane, fuel oil and natural gas consumption, while sustained colder than normal temperatures will tend to result in greater consumption.

Hedging and Risk Management Activities

We engage in hedging and risk management activities to reduce the effect of price volatility on our product costs and to ensure the availability of product during periods of short supply. We enter into propane forward, options and swap agreements with third parties, and use futures and options contracts traded on the New York Mercantile Exchange (“NYMEX”) to purchase and sell propane, fuel oil, crude oil and natural gas at fixed prices in the future. The majority of the futures, forward and options agreements are used to hedge price risk associated with propane and fuel oil physical inventory, as well as, in certain instances, forecasted purchases of propane or fuel oil. In addition, we sell propane and fuel oil to customers at fixed prices, and enter into derivative instruments to hedge a portion of our exposure to fluctuations in commodity prices as a result of selling the fixed price contracts. Forward contracts are generally settled physically at the expiration of the contract whereas futures, options and swap contracts are generally settled at the expiration of the contract through a net settlement mechanism. Although we use derivative instruments to reduce the effect of price volatility associated with priced physical inventory and forecasted transactions, we do not use derivative instruments for speculative trading purposes. Risk management activities are monitored by an internal Commodity Risk Management Committee, made up of six members of management and reporting to our Audit Committee, through enforcement of our Hedging and Risk Management Policy.

Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on Customer Demand Patterns

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in commodity and stock market volatility, significant government stimulus and uncertainty about economic conditions. As a result, we experienced a period of lower revenues in certain customer sectors, particularly during the period from March 2020 through December 2020, as well as an increase in usage in our residential and certain other customer segments that benefited from stay-at-home initiatives and the demand for temporary, portable energy solutions. As economic and business conditions continue to evolve, more people are returning to work and demand in these residential and certain other customer segments have moderated back to more historical levels. Nonetheless, as we navigate through fiscal 2023 and beyond, we continue to refine alternative operational plans, inclusive of manpower levels, to address different customer demand scenarios, and to adapt our operational model to the potential for shifting demand patterns in the future.

Inflation and Other Cost Increases

In addition to the evolving impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been impacted by other global and economic events. We are experiencing increased inflation in the costs of various goods and services we use to operate our business, including higher wholesale costs for the products we distribute. Although we have not experienced significant disruptions with securing the products we sell, inflationary factors and competition for resources across the supply chain has resulted in increased costs in a wide variety of areas, including labor, vehicle and transportation costs, and the cost of tanks and other equipment. These and other factors may continue to impact our product costs, expenses, and capital expenditures, and could continue to have an impact on consumer demand as consumers manage the impact of inflation on their resources.

 

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Critical Accounting Policies and Estimates

Our significant accounting policies are summarized in Note 2—Summary of Significant Accounting Policies included within the Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements section elsewhere in this Annual Report.

Certain amounts included in or affecting our consolidated financial statements and related disclosures must be estimated, requiring management to make certain assumptions with respect to values or conditions that cannot be known with certainty at the time the financial statements are prepared. The preparation of financial statements in conformity with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America (“US GAAP”) requires management to make estimates and assumptions that affect the reported amounts of assets and liabilities and disclosure of contingent assets and liabilities at the date of the financial statements and the reported amounts of revenues and expenses during the reporting period. We are also subject to risks and uncertainties that may cause actual results to differ from estimated results. Estimates are used when accounting for depreciation and amortization of long-lived assets, employee benefit plans, self-insurance and litigation reserves, environmental reserves, allowances for doubtful accounts, asset valuation assessments and valuation of derivative instruments. We base our estimates on historical experience and on various other assumptions that are believed to be reasonable under the circumstances, the results of which form the basis for making judgments about the carrying values of assets and liabilities that are not readily apparent from other sources. Any effects on our business, financial position or results of operations resulting from revisions to these estimates are recorded in the period in which the facts that give rise to the revision become known to us. Management has reviewed these critical accounting estimates and related disclosures with the Audit Committee of our Board of Supervisors. We believe that the following are our critical accounting estimates:

Allowances for Doubtful Accounts. We maintain allowances for doubtful accounts for estimated losses resulting from the inability of our customers to make required payments. We estimate our allowances for doubtful accounts using a specific reserve for known or anticipated uncollectible accounts, as well as an estimated reserve for potential future uncollectible accounts taking into consideration our historical write-offs. If the financial condition of one or more of our customers were to deteriorate resulting in an impairment in their ability to make payments, additional allowances could be required. As a result of our large customer base, which is comprised of approximately 1.0 million customers, no individual customer account is material. Therefore, while some variation to actual results occurs, historically such variability has not been material. Schedule II, Valuation and Qualifying Accounts, provides a summary of the changes in our allowances for doubtful accounts during the period.

Pension and Other Postretirement Benefits. We estimate the rate of return on plan assets, the discount rate used to estimate the present value of future benefit obligations and the expected cost of future health care benefits in determining our annual pension and other postretirement benefit costs. We use the Society of Actuaries’ mortality scale (MP-2021) and other actuarial life expectancy information when developing the annual mortality assumptions for our pension and postretirement benefit plans, which are used to measure net periodic benefit costs and the obligation under these plans. While we believe that our assumptions are appropriate, significant differences in our actual experience or significant changes in market conditions may materially affect our pension and other postretirement benefit obligations and our future expense.

We contribute to multi-employer pension plans (“MEPPs”) in accordance with various collective bargaining agreements covering union employees. As one of the many participating employers in these MEPPs, we are responsible with the other participating employers for any plan underfunding. Due to the uncertainty regarding future factors that could impact the withdrawal liability, we are unable to determine the timing of the payment of the future withdrawal liability, or additional future withdrawal liability, if any.

Accrued Insurance. Our accrued insurance represents the estimated costs of known and anticipated or unasserted claims for incidents related to general and product, workers’ compensation and automobile liabilities. For each claim, we record a provision up to the estimated amount of the probable claim utilizing actuarially determined loss development factors applied to actual claims data. Our insurance provisions are susceptible to change to the extent that actual claims development differs from historical claims development. We maintain insurance coverage wherein our net exposure for insured claims is limited to the insurance deductible, claims above which are paid by our insurance carriers. For the portion of our estimated insurance liability that exceeds our deductibles, we record an asset related to the amount of the liability expected to be paid by the insurance companies. Historically, we have not experienced significant variability in our actuarial estimates for claims incurred but not reported. Accrued insurance provisions for reported claims are reviewed at least quarterly, and our assessment of whether a loss is probable and/or reasonably estimable is updated as necessary. Due to the inherently uncertain nature of, in particular, product liability claims, the ultimate loss may differ materially from our estimates. However, because of the nature of our insurance arrangements, those material variations historically have not, nor are they expected in the future to have, a material impact on our results of operations or financial position.

Loss Contingencies. In the normal course of business, we are involved in various claims and legal proceedings. We record a liability for such matters when it is probable that a loss has been incurred and the amounts can be reasonably estimated. The liability includes probable and estimable legal costs to the point in the legal matter where we believe a conclusion to the matter will be reached. When only a range of possible loss can be established, the most probable amount in the range is accrued. If no amount within this range is a better estimate than any other amount within the range, the minimum amount in the range is accrued.

 

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Fair Values of Acquired Assets and Liabilities. From time to time, we enter into material business combinations. In accordance with accounting guidance associated with business combinations, the assets acquired and liabilities assumed are recorded at their estimated fair value as of the acquisition date. Fair values of assets acquired and liabilities assumed are based upon available information and may involve us engaging an independent third party to perform an appraisal. Estimating fair values can be complex and subject to significant business judgment. Estimates most commonly impact property, plant and equipment and intangible assets, including goodwill. Generally, we have, if necessary, up to one year from the acquisition date to finalize our estimates of acquisition date fair values.

Results of Operations and Financial Condition

Net income for fiscal 2022 was $139.7 million, or $2.21 per Common Unit, compared to $122.8 million, or $1.96 per Common Unit, in fiscal 2021.

Adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (Adjusted EBITDA, as defined and reconciled below) increased $15.3 million, or 5.6%, to $291.0 million for fiscal 2022, compared to $275.7 million in the prior year.

Retail propane gallons sold in fiscal 2022 of 401.3 million gallons decreased 4.4% compared to the prior year, primarily due to unseasonably warm and inconsistent temperatures throughout the heating season, customer conservation stemming from the high commodity price environment, and more normalized volumes in certain customer segments that benefitted from COVID restrictions in previous years. Average temperatures (as measured by heating degree days) across all of our service territories for fiscal 2022 were 10% warmer than normal and comparable to the prior year. However, average temperatures during the critical heat-related demand months of December 2021 through February 2022 were approximately 2.0% warmer than the same period in the prior year.

Average propane prices (basis Mont Belvieu, Texas) for fiscal 2022 increased 39.1% compared to the prior year. Total gross margin for fiscal 2022 of $789.3 million decreased $13.9 million, or 1.7%, compared to the prior year. Gross margin for fiscal 2022 included a $27.9 million unrealized loss attributable to the mark-to-market adjustment for derivative instruments used in risk management activities, compared to a $43.1 million unrealized gain in the prior year. These non-cash adjustments, which were reported in cost of products sold, were excluded from Adjusted EBITDA for both periods. Excluding the impact of the unrealized mark-to-market adjustments, gross margin for fiscal 2022 increased $57.1 million, or 7.5%, compared to the prior year, primarily due to prudent selling price management during a rising and volatile commodity price environment, as well as from the favorable impact of commodity hedges that matured during the period. Our hedging and risk management activities are intended to reduce the effect of price volatility associated with forecasted purchases of propane and propane sold on a fixed price basis. The commodity hedges that matured during fiscal 2022 were principally comprised of net long positions that were favorably impacted from the significant rise in commodity prices.

Combined operating and general and administrative expenses of $524.2 million for fiscal 2022 increased 8.0% compared to the prior year, primarily due to higher payroll and benefit-related expenses, higher vehicle lease and operating costs, higher variable compensation, higher provisions for doubtful accounts, as well as other inflationary effects on our operating costs.

During fiscal 2022, we utilized cash flows from operating activities to repay $42.4 million of debt. As a result of the combination of higher earnings and lower debt, our consolidated leverage ratio, as defined in our credit agreement, improved to 3.60x for the fiscal year ended September 24, 2022.

In addition to the improvement in earnings, we succeeded in accomplishing a number of significant goals in fiscal 2022 that provide further support for our long-term strategic growth initiatives. The following highlights a few noteworthy accomplishments for fiscal 2022:

We acquired a 25% equity stake in Independence Hydrogen, Inc. (“IH”), a veteran-owned and operated start-up company developing a gaseous hydrogen ecosystem, for $30.0 million;
We made additional investments in Oberon Fuels, Inc. (“Oberon”), to support the commercialization of renewable dimethyl ether (“rDME”) as a blend with propane, including our construction of the world’s first commercial Propane+rDME blending facility in our Placentia, California location;
We entered into an agreement with Adirondack Farms, a family-owned dairy farm in upstate New York, to produce renewable natural gas from dairy cow manure;
We announced a collaboration agreement with Iwatani Corporation of America, a wholly owned subsidiary of Iwatani Corporation, Japan’s largest distributor of propane and only fully integrated supplier of hydrogen, to help accelerate the adoption of Propane+rDME, and to explore opportunities to further advance investments in the hydrogen infrastructure in the United States;
We acquired and successfully integrated a well-run propane business in an attractive market in New Mexico;

 

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We extended our reach in certain strategic markets that were not previously served by our existing propane footprint; and,
We strengthened our balance sheet by reducing debt by over $42.0 million with cash flows from operating activities.

On October 20, 2022, we announced that our Board of Supervisors declared a quarterly distribution of $0.325 per Common Unit for the three months ended September 24, 2022. This quarterly distribution rate equates to an annualized rate of $1.30 per Common Unit. The distribution was paid on November 8, 2022 to Common Unitholders of record as of November 1, 2022.

As we look ahead to fiscal 2023, our anticipated cash requirements include: (i) maintenance and growth capital expenditures of approximately $45.0 million; (ii) capital expenditures of approximately $33.0 million to support the buildout of our renewable energy platform; (iii) approximately $63.8 million of interest and income tax payments; and (iv) approximately $82.4 million of distributions to Unitholders, based on the current annualized rate of $1.30 per Common Unit. Based on our liquidity position, which includes availability of funds under the revolving credit facility and expected cash flow from operating activities, we expect to have sufficient funds to meet our current and future obligations.

Although uncertainties exist regarding the long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy and businesses, effects from the conflict in Ukraine and related price volatility and geopolitical instability and continued inflationary impacts on commodity prices and our expense base, we believe our efficient and flexible business model, as well as the recent steps taken to strengthen our balance sheet, leave us well positioned to manage our business through such uncertainties as they continue to unfold. Nonetheless, as we progress through fiscal 2023, we will continue to adapt to these and other changing circumstances and make decisions to help ensure the long-term sustainability of our businesses, and to be able to be opportunistic for strategic growth initiatives.

Fiscal Year 2022 Compared to Fiscal Year 2021

Revenues

 

(Dollars and gallons in thousands)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Percent

 

 

 

Fiscal

 

 

Fiscal

 

 

Increase

 

 

Increase

 

 

 

2022

 

 

2021

 

 

(Decrease)

 

 

(Decrease)

 

Revenues

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Propane

 

$

1,313,556

 

 

$

1,140,457

 

 

$

173,099

 

 

 

15.2

%

Fuel oil and refined fuels

 

 

95,157

 

 

 

67,104

 

 

 

28,053

 

 

 

41.8

%

Natural gas and electricity

 

 

39,511

 

 

 

30,425

 

 

 

9,086

 

 

 

29.9

%

All other

 

 

53,241

 

 

 

50,769

 

 

 

2,472

 

 

 

4.9

%

Total revenues

 

$

1,501,465

 

 

$

1,288,755

 

 

$

212,710

 

 

 

16.5

%

Retail gallons sold

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Propane

 

 

401,322

 

 

 

419,758

 

 

 

(18,436

)

 

 

(4.4

)%

Fuel oil and refined fuels

 

 

22,767

 

 

 

24,039

 

 

 

(1,272

)

 

 

(5.3

)%

As discussed above, average temperatures (as measured in heating degree days) across all of our service territories for fiscal 2022 were 10% warmer than normal and comparable to the prior year period. The weather during fiscal 2022 was characterized by widespread warm temperatures throughout most of our service territories during the critical heat-related demand month of December which lasted into much of January. While a cooling trend arrived late in January, warmer weather returned in mid-February. Average temperatures during the critical heat-related demand months of December 2021 through February 2022 were approximately 2% warmer than the same period in the prior year. The unseasonably warm and erratic weather pattern throughout the majority of fiscal 2022 led to inconsistent heat-related demand, while elevated selling prices due to significantly higher wholesale costs contributed to customer conservation. In addition, volumes in the prior year benefitted from incremental outdoor heating and cooking demand associated with COVID-19 restrictions and more consumers staying at home at that time.

Revenues from the distribution of propane and related activities of $1,313.6 million for fiscal 2022 increased $173.1 million, or 15.2%, compared to $1,140.5 million for the prior year, primarily due to higher average retail selling prices associated with higher wholesale costs, offset to an extent by lower volumes sold. Average propane selling prices for fiscal 2022 increased 21.9% compared to the prior year, reflecting a rise in average wholesale costs, resulting in a $232.3 million increase in revenues. Retail propane gallons sold decreased 18.4 million gallons, or 4.4%, to 401.3 million gallons, resulting in a decrease in revenues of $48.7 million. Included within the propane segment are revenues from risk management activities of $20.0 million for fiscal 2022, which decreased $10.5 million primarily due to a lower notional amount of hedging contracts used in risk management activities that were settled physically.

 

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Table of Contents

Revenues from the distribution of fuel oil and refined fuels of $95.2 million for fiscal 2022 increased $28.1 million, or 41.8%, from $67.1 million for the prior year, primarily due to higher average selling prices associated with higher wholesale costs, partially offset by lower volumes sold. Average selling prices for fuel oil and refined fuels increased 49.7%, resulting in a $31.5 million increase in revenues. Fuel oil and refined fuels gallons sold decreased 1.3 million gallons, or 5.3%, resulting in a $3.4 million decrease in revenues.

Revenues in our natural gas and electricity segment increased $9.1 million, or 29.9%, to $39.5 million in fiscal 2022 compared to $30.4 million in the prior year, resulting from higher average selling prices, reflecting higher average wholesale costs, offset to an extent by lower volumes sold, primarily due to the impact of warmer temperatures on customer demand and a lower customer base.

Cost of Products Sold

 

(Dollars in thousands)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fiscal

 

 

Fiscal

 

 

 

 

 

Percent

 

 

 

2022

 

 

2021

 

 

Increase

 

 

Increase

 

Cost of products sold

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Propane

 

$

601,081

 

 

$

411,720

 

 

$

189,361

 

 

 

46.0

%

Fuel oil and refined fuels

 

 

68,298

 

 

 

41,158

 

 

 

27,140

 

 

 

65.9

%

Natural gas and electricity

 

 

27,256

 

 

 

17,515

 

 

 

9,741

 

 

 

55.6

%

All other

 

 

15,488

 

 

 

15,085

 

 

 

403

 

 

 

2.7

%

Total cost of products sold

 

$

712,123

 

 

$

485,478

 

 

$

226,645

 

 

 

46.7

%

As a percent of total revenues

 

 

47.4

%

 

 

37.7

%

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The cost of products sold reported in the consolidated statements of operations represents the weighted average unit cost of propane, fuel oil and refined fuels, and natural gas and electricity sold, including transportation costs to deliver product from our supply points to storage or to our customer service centers. Cost of products sold also includes the cost of appliances and related parts sold or installed by our customer service centers computed on a basis that approximates the average cost of the products.

Given the retail nature of our operations, we maintain a certain level of priced physical inventory to help ensure that our field operations have adequate supply commensurate with the time of year. Our strategy has been, and will continue to be, to keep our physical inventory priced relatively close to market for our field operations. Consistent with past practices, we principally utilize futures and/or options contracts traded on the NYMEX to mitigate the price risk associated with our priced physical inventory. In addition, we sell propane and fuel oil to customers at fixed prices, and enter into derivative instruments to hedge a portion of our exposure to fluctuations in commodity prices as a result of selling the fixed price contracts. At expiration, the derivative contracts are settled by the delivery of the product to the respective party or are settled by the payment of a net amount equal to the difference between the then market price and the fixed contract price or option exercise price. Under this risk management strategy, realized gains or losses on futures or options contracts, which are reported in cost of products sold, will typically offset losses or gains on the physical inventory once the product is sold (which may or may not occur in the same accounting period). We do not use futures or options contracts, or other derivative instruments, for speculative trading purposes. Unrealized non-cash gains or losses from changes in the fair value of derivative instruments that are not designated as cash flow hedges are recorded within cost of products sold. Cost of products sold excludes depreciation and amortization; these amounts are reported separately within the consolidated statements of operations.

From a commodity perspective, as discussed above, wholesale propane prices trended higher throughout much of the first half of the fiscal year before generally receding during the second half of the fiscal year. Overall, average posted propane prices (basis Mont Belvieu, Texas) and fuel oil prices during fiscal 2022 were 39.1% and 81.6% higher than the prior year, respectively. The net change in the fair value of derivative instruments during the fiscal year resulted in unrealized non-cash losses of $27.9 million and unrealized non-cash gains of $43.1 million reported in cost of products sold in fiscal 2022 and 2021, respectively, resulting in a year-over-year increase of $71.1 million in cost of products sold, all of which was reported in the propane segment.

Cost of products sold associated with the distribution of propane and related activities of $601.1 million for fiscal 2022 increased $189.4 million, or 46.0%, compared to the prior year. Higher average wholesale costs contributed to a $148.6 million increase in cost of products sold, while lower volumes sold contributed to a $19.4 million decrease. Included within the propane segment are costs from other propane activities which decreased $10.9 million compared to the prior year due to a lower notional amount of hedging contracts used in risk management activities that were settled physically, coupled with the net increase in cost of products sold of $71.1 million resulting from the mark-to-market adjustments on derivative instruments in both periods discussed above.

Cost of products sold associated with our fuel oil and refined fuels segment of $68.3 million for fiscal 2022 increased $27.1 million, or 65.9%, compared to the prior year. Higher average wholesale costs contributed to an increase in cost of products sold of $29.3 million, while lower volumes sold contributed to a $2.2 million decrease.

 

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Table of Contents

Cost of products sold in our natural gas and electricity segment of $27.3 million for fiscal 2022 increased $9.7 million, or 55.6%, compared to the prior year, primarily due to higher natural gas and electricity wholesale costs, partially offset by lower usage.

Operating Expenses

 

(Dollars in thousands)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fiscal

 

 

Fiscal

 

 

 

 

 

Percent

 

 

 

2022

 

 

2021

 

 

Increase

 

 

Increase

 

Operating expenses

 

$

442,411

 

 

$

411,390

 

 

$

31,021

 

 

 

7.5

%

As a percent of total revenues

 

 

29.5

%

 

 

31.9

%

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All costs of operating our retail distribution and appliance sales and service operations are reported within operating expenses in the consolidated statements of operations. These operating expenses include the compensation and benefits of field and direct operating support personnel, costs of operating and maintaining our vehicle fleet, overhead and other costs of our purchasing, training and safety departments and other direct and indirect costs of operating our customer service centers.

Operating expenses of $442.4 million for fiscal 2022 increased $31.0 million, or 7.5%, compared to $411.4 million in the prior year, due primarily to higher payroll and benefit-related costs, including higher variable compensation expense, higher vehicle lease and operating costs, higher provisions for doubtful accounts, as well as other inflationary effects on our operating costs.

General and Administrative Expenses

 

(Dollars in thousands)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fiscal

 

 

Fiscal

 

 

 

 

 

Percent

 

 

 

2022

 

 

2021

 

 

Increase

 

 

Increase

 

General and administrative expenses

 

$

81,756

 

 

$

74,096

 

 

$

7,660

 

 

 

10.3

%

As a percent of total revenues

 

 

5.4

%

 

 

5.7

%

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All costs of our back office support functions, including compensation and benefits for executives and other support functions, as well as other costs and expenses to maintain finance and accounting, treasury, legal, human resources, corporate development and the information systems functions are reported within general and administrative expenses in the consolidated statements of operations.

General and administrative expenses of $81.8 million for fiscal 2022 increased $7.7 million, or 10.3%, compared to $74.1 million in the prior year, primarily due to higher payroll and benefit-related costs, including higher variable compensation expense given the year-over-year increase in earnings, as well as other inflationary effects on our expense base.

Depreciation and Amortization

 

(Dollars in thousands)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fiscal

 

 

Fiscal

 

 

 

 

 

Percent

 

 

 

2022

 

 

2021

 

 

Decrease

 

 

Decrease

 

Depreciation and amortization

 

$

58,848

 

 

$

104,555

 

 

$

(45,707

)

 

 

(43.7

)%

As a percent of total revenues

 

 

3.9

%

 

 

8.1

%

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Depreciation and amortization expense of $58.8 million in fiscal 2022 decreased $45.7 million from $104.6 million in the prior year, primarily as a result of lower amortization expense attributable to the conclusion of the amortization period for certain intangible assets from prior business acquisitions.

Interest Expense, net

 

(Dollars in thousands)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fiscal

 

 

Fiscal

 

 

 

 

 

Percent

 

 

 

2022

 

 

2021

 

 

Decrease

 

 

Decrease

 

Interest expense, net

 

$

60,658

 

 

$

68,132

 

 

$

(7,474

)

 

 

(11.0

)%

As a percent of total revenues

 

 

4.0

%

 

 

5.3

%

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Net interest expense of $60.7 million for fiscal 2022 decreased $7.5 million from $68.1 million in the prior year, primarily due to the impact of the refinancing of two tranches of senior notes at lower rates in the third quarter of the prior year, as well as a lower average

 

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level of outstanding debt. During fiscal 2022, we reduced total outstanding borrowings by $42.4 million with cash flows from operating activities. See Liquidity and Capital Resources below for additional discussion.

Loss on Debt Extinguishment

During the third quarter of fiscal 2021, we repurchased, satisfied and discharged all of our previously outstanding $525.0 million in aggregate principal balance of 5.5% senior notes due June 1, 2024 (the “2024 Senior Notes”) and $250.0 million in aggregate principal balance of 5.75% senior notes due March 1, 2025 (the “2025 Senior Notes”) with net proceeds from the issuance of $650.0 million in aggregate principal balance of 5.0% senior notes due June 1, 2031 (the “2031 Senior Notes”) and borrowings under our senior secured revolving credit facility, as described and defined below, pursuant to a tender offer and redemption. In connection with this tender offer and redemption during the third quarter of fiscal 2021, we recognized a loss on the extinguishment of debt of $16.0 million, consisting of $11.5 million for the redemption premium and related fees, as well as the write-off of $4.5 million in unamortized debt origination costs.

Net Income and Adjusted EBITDA

Net income for fiscal 2022 amounted to $139.7 million, or $2.21 per Common Unit, compared to $122.8 million, or $1.96 per Common Unit, in fiscal 2021. Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (“EBITDA”) for fiscal 2022 amounted to $259.6 million, compared to $296.6 million for fiscal 2021.

Net income and EBITDA for fiscal 2022 included (i) a $2.6 million loss on our equity investments in unconsolidated affiliates; and (ii) a $0.8 million pension settlement charge. Net income and EBITDA for fiscal 2021 included (i) a $16.0 million loss on debt extinguishment; (ii) a $4.3 million charge resulting from our withdrawal from a multi-employer pension plan; (iii) a $1.0 million pension settlement charge; and (iv) a $0.9 million loss on our equity investment in an unconsolidated affiliate. Excluding the effects of these items, as well as the unrealized non-cash mark-to-market adjustments on derivative instruments in both years, Adjusted EBITDA increased to $291.0 million for fiscal 2022, compared to Adjusted EBITDA of $275.7 million for fiscal 2021.

EBITDA represents net income before deducting interest expense, income taxes, depreciation and amortization. Adjusted EBITDA represents EBITDA excluding the unrealized net gain or loss on mark-to-market activity for derivative instruments and other items, as applicable, as provided in the table below. Our management uses EBITDA and Adjusted EBITDA as supplemental measures of operating performance and we are including them because we believe that they provide our investors and industry analysts with additional information to evaluate our operating results. EBITDA and Adjusted EBITDA are not recognized terms under US GAAP and should not be considered as an alternative to net income or net cash provided by operating activities determined in accordance with US GAAP. Because EBITDA and Adjusted EBITDA as determined by us excludes some, but not all, items that affect net income, they may not be comparable to EBITDA and Adjusted EBITDA or similarly titled measures used by other companies.

The following table sets forth our calculations of EBITDA and Adjusted EBITDA:

 

(Dollars in thousands)

 

Year Ended

 

 

 

September 24,