By Stephen Jewkes
MILAN, May 15 (Reuters) - Italian refiner Saras and Russian partner Rosneft are eying the petrol station network that oil major Royal Dutch Shell is mulling selling in Italy, a Saras executive said on Wednesday.
'I think they (Rosneft) are probably going to take a look and we hope to be able to cooperate with them,' Saras Managing Director Dario Scaffardi said in a conference call after the company reported core earnings of 48.2 million euros ($62.56 million) in the first quarter.
In April Shell said it was considering selling some of its Italian downstream assets including its retail, aviation and supply and distribution businesses.
'They (Rosneft) have a definite interest in expanding their supply chain from upstream to downstream,' Scaffardi said.
Rosneft declined any immediate comment.
Saras, controlled by the Italian Moratti family which also owns Serie A soccer club Inter Milan, reached a deal in April that will see Rosneft take a stake of up to 21 percent in the refiner.
Shell is Italy's seventh biggest petrol retailer with 983 sales points in the country compared to top retailer Eni's 4,698, according to data from Italian petrol association Unione Petrolifera.
Falling demand due to ongoing recession has led many car-mad Italians to leave their vehicles at home, squeezing margins at many petrol retailers and prompting calls for consolidation.
Italy has a total of around 23,000 petrol stations across the country, more than twice the number in the UK and almost double the number in France.
Saras's joint venture deal with Rosneft, which still needs to be finalised, strengthens the Russian group's presence in the Mediterranean area and offers the Italian refiner better access to feedstock.
Flagging refining margins and weaker demand from traditional markets have hurt earnings at Saras's main refinery on the island of Sardinia.
Earlier on Wednesday Saras said its core earnings in the first quarter rose to 48.2 million euros from 21.1 million euros the same period last year, boosted by firmer refining margins and less maintenance. ($1 = 0.7705 euros)
(Additional reporting by Katya Golubkova in Moscow, editing by Lisa Jucca) Keywords: SARAS RESULTS/
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