Plummeting fuel prices and an abrupt decline in corporate travel due to the coronavirus pandemic hit home Wednesday afternoon as Wex Inc. announced significant cutbacks in its workforce.

The Portland-based payment-processing technology firm said it is laying off 2 percent of its U.S. employees and temporarily furloughing another 3 percent. As a result, 45 workers in Maine have lost their jobs permanently and another 90 have been placed on furlough.

“Like many organizations, we have been closely monitoring the impact of COVID-19 around the world, and how our partners have modified their businesses in response,” Melanie Tinto, the company’s chief human resources officer, said in a prepared statement. “As a result, we have had to make some difficult decisions on how we adapt certain areas of our company for the near term.”

The move comes two months after Wex reported revenue of $1.72 billion in 2019, higher than any previous year. The company has roughly 1,500 employees in Greater Portland and about 4,700 worldwide.

Tinto said laid-off workers will receive severance, job assistance and an additional allowance to cover health care through COBRA for about six months. Furloughed workers will be eligible for unemployment benefits, and those enrolled in company benefit plans will continue to receive medical, dental, vision and life insurance during the time they are on furlough.

“This reflects the impact some of our customers and partners are experiencing and decline in demand for services, which in turn has impacted our business,” Tinto said of the decision to eliminate jobs and furlough workers. “We are committed to helping our people during this transition.”


Founded in 1983 as Wright Express Corporation, Wex offers payment-processing services to the vehicle fleet, corporate travel, health care and employee benefit industries. The company went public in 2005, took on its current name in 2012 and last spring moved into new headquarters at the corner of Hancock and Thames streets across from Portland’s eastern waterfront.

In February, the Scarborough Town Council granted Wex an annual tax break of $150,000 for 15 years, for a total of $2.25 million, on a new operations center to be built at The Downs as part of a mixed-use redevelopment of the harness-racing property.

Construction of the 200,000-square-foot facility, expected to host as many as 1,200 workers, remains scheduled to break ground this summer and be ready in the spring of 2022.

A significant share of Wex’s revenue is based on it receiving a small percentage of the value of fuel purchase transactions made by its fleet customers. When fuel prices are higher, the company benefits, and when they decline, it cuts into Wex’s bottom line. Over the past two months, the price for a barrel of crude oil has fallen from about $54 on Feb. 21 to slightly under $20 as of late Wednesday.

On Feb. 18, when Wex stock was trading above $220 per share, company President and CEO Melissa Smith exercised an option to buy 8,056 shares of Wex stock at a discounted price of $77.20, then immediately sold 15,556 shares at $223.19 per share for a total cash-out of just under $3.5 million, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Two days later, the value of Wex shares began to decline rapidly and fell as low as $71.12 in the third week of March before recovering gradually.

The filing for Smith’s stock divestiture noted that she retains 48,283 shares of Wex stock – which closed Wednesday at $108.89 per share – and that her purchase-and-sale option was exercised as part of a trading plan established more than eight months earlier, on May 30, 2019, that allows insiders of publicly traded corporations to sell a predetermined number of shares at a predetermined time.

The stock Smith sold in February would have netted her roughly $1.8 million less if she had sold it at Wednesday’s closing price.

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