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One Trader Who Cashed in on Subzero Oil Prices Sees Rare Payout

Lucia Kassai and Catherine Ngai
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One Trader Who Cashed in on Subzero Oil Prices Sees Rare Payout

(Bloomberg) -- The day oil prices turned negative will likely be remembered as the climax of the darkest period ever for the petroleum industry, but for one lucky trading shop it was the opportunity of a lifetime.

While many rushed to liquidate positions and cover margins as the May contract neared expiration, BB Energy, a medium-sized trading house based in London, bought 250,000 barrels of the West Texas Intermediate crude futures for May delivery, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. The WTI contract closed at minus $37.63 on that day.

BB Energy had an edge: It was one of the few with available space to store oil, according to the person who asked not to be identified because the information is confidential. That this trading house could take delivery of the oil was a rare prize given the dearth of storage to hold plentiful supplies of oil across the country.

The volume they purchased was some 10% of the 2.43 million barrels that were ultimately delivered physically for May, according to Nymex.

It’s unclear how much it paid for the barrels and if it’s still holding on to them or not. But the well-timed trade means BB Energy has emerged as one of the clear winners of the fallout in oil, which has roiled global markets and economies dependent on the liquid asset.

Read: Icahn Bought Cheap Oil in Monday’s Plummet to Historic Lows (1)

Storage Woes

Since March, investors have been increasingly focused on the large inventory builds at Cushing, Oklahoma, the delivery point for the WTI futures contract, fearing that oil filling to the brim would portend the next leg of a price rout.

The storage issues were two-fold. For one, a breakdown from the OPEC+ deal caused an immediate price war, sending prices spiraling as a glut of foreign oil hit U.S. shores. Then, the spread of the coronavirus accelerated, shutting economies and lessening the demand for fuel.

Those problems came into full force three weeks ago when prices crumbled.

It’s not immediately clear who bought all the other barrels the day oil went into negative, but details have started emerging about who was on the other side trying to get rid of that exposure. Typically, only professional players, especially those who can take delivery of physical oil, are left trading that close to the expiration of a futures contract as it’s riddled with high volatility and low volumes.

BB Energy is a relatively new player in the U.S. after opening an office four years ago. The shop has roots in Lebanon where it started as a grain and asphalt trader in 1937, but has since shifted to oil trading. The family-owned trading house is handling 20 million tons of crude and products annually, according to its website.

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