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Why JPMorgan Is Selling Commodities Business

CommoditiesMar 19, 2014 11:15AM ET
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By Nat Rudarakanchana - Banking powerhouse JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE:JPM) has agreed to sell its commodities business to giant Swiss commodities house Mercuria Energy Group Ltd., reports the Wall Street Journal.

JPMorgan, the biggest U.S. bank by assets, initially valued its commodities unit at $3.3 billion back in October 2013, when it first warmed to a potential sale. Terms of the deal with Mercuria aren’t yet public, though the deal could be done by summer, according to sources cited by the Journal.

Swiss traders and Mercuria executives Marco Dunand and Daniel Jaeggi have rapidly built Mercuria into a closely held commodities empire, which saw over $100 billion in revenue last year, reported Bloomberg earlier. It has come to compete with the biggest independent commodity traders, like Glencore Xstrata PLC (LON:GLEN), as a result.

“This gives them a strong opportunity for growth and puts them close to the top players in the league,” Oliver Wyman partner Roland Rechtsteiner told Bloomberg earlier this month, of the potential acquisition.

JPMorgan’s commodities unit has made $750 million in yearly operating profits before compensation is factored in, according to Bloomberg.

Many Wall Street banks have sold or exited their commodities business as of late. Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS) sold its oil storage and trading unit to Russia’s Rosneft’ NK OAO (MCX:ROSN) in late 2013. Deutsche Bank AG (FRA:DBK), a major bank player in commodities, announced in December that it’d quit almost all of its commodity businesses. Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. (NYSE:GS), Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC (LON:RBS) and UBS AG (VTX:UBSN) have all  wound down their commodities work or signaled they plan to.

That trend comes as the Federal Reserve considers tighter regulation on commodities trading at banks.

“Physical commodities activities can pose unique risks to financial holding companies,” said the Fed’s director of banking supervision and regulation Michael Gibson before a U.S. Senate subcommittee in January.

Fed regulation could include caps on assets or revenue related to commodities, higher capital requirements, or simple bans on holdings of certain physical commodities. “Our review of the commodity-related activities of our supervised firms is ongoing,” said Gibson then.

Revenues for the ten largest investment bank commodity businesses fell to $4.5 billion in 2013 from $14 billion in 2008, according to London analytics company Coalition. 

Why JPMorgan Is Selling Commodities Business

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