London — Commodities trader Gunvor Group posted a record $1.66 billion gross profit for 2020 even though revenue fell by a third as its trading desks profited from the unprecedented volatility in the oil market triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.
While revenue fell to $50 billion from $75 billion in 2019 the oil demand crash in the second quarter of 2020 created profitable trading opportunities and desks continued to generate healthy margins in the second half, Gunvor said on Wednesday.
“It’s been a good year for the group and we continue to be on a good path in the first quarter focusing on the energy transition,” Chief Financial Officer Muriel Schwab said in a phone interview.
“Thanks to strong earnings and cash flows, we have been able to strengthen our balance sheet in two ways. The first was taking a very conservative valuation of our refining assets … and second, building up our equity levels,” Schwab told Reuters.
However, Gunvor’s net profit fell to $320 million from a revised $435 million in 2019 after it booked charges worth $340 million related to the mothballing of its Antwerp refinery and the closure of two crude distillation units in Rotterdam.
The 2019 profit was revised up from $381 million after it was published last year, Gunvor’s spokesman said.
With the refinery closure, Gunvor’s oil refining capacity has shrunk to about 100,000 barrels per day at its plant in Ingolstadt, Germany. The company said refining margins were negative throughout 2020.
Schwab said Gunvor’s tank farm at the Antwerp site would continue working as a terminal.
She said Gunvor’s trading strength was broad-based with its core profit drivers, such as natural gas and liquefied natural gas (LNG), generating earnings independently of the market structure.
This year, renewables and investments relating to the energy transition will be the focus for Gunvor, including its new renewables venture Nyera.
Total traded volumes were slightly lower than 2019 at 191 million tonnes, or about 2.7 million barrels of oil equivalent a day, the company said.
The share of transitional fuels, which include natural gas, LNG and biofuels, has risen to just under 50% of total volumes from 28% in 2018.
Schwab also said the company had not made provisions for any potential fines in relation to its operations in Ecuador.
Gunvor’s dealings in the country are being scrutinised by local authorities and as part of a bribery investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
A former Gunvor employee pleaded guilty to bribing Ecuadorian officials in relation to oil deals last month as part of a wider conspiracy the DOJ said included other Gunvor employees. (Reporting by Julia Payne; Editing by Barbara Lewis and David Clarke)