By Oleg Vukmanovic
LONDON (Reuters) - The trading arm of Japan's JERA, the world's biggest buyer of liquefied natural gas (LNG), has hired Sarah Behbehani, the former head of short-term LNG trading at Royal Dutch Shell, two LNG industry sources said.
Behbehani will lead the LNG team at JERA Trading (JERAT), which was formed when JERA bought the trading business of France's EDF, as JERA pushes to break down restrictions on trading cargoes secured under long-term deals.
The industry sources said the trading manager resigned this week from Shell, where she was responsible for a team of eight. She will start her new role in three months.
Shell and JERA declined to comment.
When she was working around Shell's large LNG portfolio in major markets such as India and the Middle East, Behbehani was known in trading circles as the "Queen of LNG".
"With her at the helm they signal their strong intentions to be a major trading player," one senior LNG trader said of her move to JERA.
Behbehani, who joined Shell in 2009, was made head of LNG trading activities for the west in 2013, including key Indian, Middle East and North African, European and Latin American markets, according to her LinkedIn profile.
JERA manages an LNG supply portfolio of 35 million tonnes a year primarily through long-term contracts with producers, but so-called destination restrictions prevent the firm from reselling any unwanted volumes to third parties.
Backed by Japan's Fair Trade Commission, JERA wants to end these restrictions and become a regional supplier. It also aims to cut reliance on long-term LNG deals as a share of its overall portfolio to half by 2030, from 80 percent now.
Other major LNG buyers are also boosting their trading activities. PetroChina set up its own LNG trading desk to gather market intelligence and trade cargoes, while Azerbaijan's state-run oil company Socar hired two LNG traders last year.
"With uncertainty over demand and supply, the only way to play with and optimise volumes is via trading," another senior LNG trader said.
(Additional reporting by Osamu Tsukimori and Aaron Sheldrick in TOKYO, and Ron Bousso in LONDON; Editing by Jason Neely and Edmund Blair)