Shell Saved From a Dismal Second Quarter by Oil-Trading Gains

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Investors had already been warned that the coronavirus pandemic had affected almost all parts of the energy giant’s business — from forecourts to its upstream division. But that impact was offset by gains from buying and selling crude and fuels, the company said in a statement on Thursday.

Like its peers Total SE and Equinor ASA (NYSE:EQNR), who reported similar gains, Shell’s oil trading business benefits from its extensive infrastructure, giving the company an advantage in periods of extreme price volatility.

Shell’s adjusted net income was $638 million in the second quarter, down 82% from the same period a year earlier but far better than the average analyst estimate of a $664 million loss.

Contango Play

“Results reflected lower realized prices for oil, LNG and gas, lower realized refining margins, oil products sales volumes and higher well write-offs,” the company said. “This was partly offset by very strong crude and oil products trading.”

Shell and its peers exploited so-called contango plays as oil prices hit rock-bottom. The trade consists of filling up onshore storage or oil tankers with cheap crude and simultaneously selling it on the forward market at higher prices. The move helped the trading division of Norway’s Equinor ASA, which is much smaller than Shell’s, to make a record $1 billion gain in the second quarter.

In addition to taking advantage of a contango structure, Shell also made money on its jet-fuel book in particular, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Shell’s gearing, a measure of indebtedness, rose to 32.7%. While investors were forewarned that gearing would rise by as much as 3% on the back of Shell’s multibillion dollar writedown, it further delays its ability to reach its target of 25%.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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