Gunvor CEO Says Oil Trading and Shipping Thrived Amid Crash

Gunvor CEO Says Oil Trading and Shipping Thrived Amid Crash

The billionaire CEO of Gunvor Group told staff the firm thrived during the oil market meltdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic as trading and shipping operations boomed, offsetting potential refinery writedowns.

Torbjorn Tornqvist, the co-founder and chief executive officer of Gunvor, one of the biggest independent energy traders, told employees in an internal email that earnings from trading oil and ship chartering excelled during the second quarter, according to people familiar with the email’s contents.

“Gunvor managed to navigate very well through the downs and ups and got it basically right,” Tornqvist wrote, according to the people who asked not to be named because the email is private.

Gunvor’s strong performance is the latest example of energy traders racking-up profits during the market crash, which saw oil prices in New York briefly trade below zero in April.

The Geneva-based trading house took full advantage of a market structure called contango to fill tanks with cheap oil and sell forward futures contracts for delivery later at higher prices.

The closely-held company, which owns or manages more than 100 ships, also profited from soaring chartering rates during the crisis as traders and producers rushed to secure tankers to store and transport oil and products.

“Given our sizeable fleet of ships under management, this allowed for substantial earnings for the quarter,” Tornqvist wrote.

A Gunvor spokesman said the company doesn’t comment on internal communications.

Refinery Woes

The memo wasn’t all good news. Tornqvist said he expected brutal refining margins, which have devastated the industry, to persist for “many years.”

Gunvor has previously said it is considering mothballing its refinery in Antwerp, Belgium because the facility continues to lose money.

Tornqvist, who has a personal connection with the plant having worked there more than three decades ago, said if the company does shutter the plant, trading and chartering profits during the first half would more than offset any impairment charges.

The company’s strong second quarter represents a dramatic rebound from a tough first quarter where it earned only about $20 million in net income, according to people familiar with the trader’s results.

Rival energy traders Trafigura Group and Mercuria Energy Group have also thrived amid the market sell-off. Mercuria told bankers on a recent loan call it made a record $425 million in net income in the first half of the year while Trafigura reported record results from trading in the first six months of 2020.

Oil traders in Geneva, one of the world’s biggest hubs for commodities trading, have largely returned to their offices after conducting business from home amid the early stages of the pandemic.

“I am impressed how you all have managed your work under the rules of social distancing and got on with business in such a formidable manner,” Tornqvist said in the email.

By Andy Hoffman and Laura Hurst, Bloomberg, July 15, 2020,
Photo by M. B. M. on Unsplash

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