Financial markets trading, and particularly oil trading, has long been a male-dominated profession. But times are changing and the testosterone-fuelled stereotype of a trader may become a thing of the past slightly more quickly thanks to the news Royal Dutch Shell has promoted Stacie Pitts as the company’s first ever female head of crude trading.
Ms Pitts will replace Mark Quartermain in the role when he retires next year, with the progressive move first reported by Bloomberg. Two other women, Alice Acuna, who will head up Shell’s liquified natural gas trading department, and Karrie Trauth, who will take charge of shipping trades, have also been promoted along with Ms Pitts.
The promotion of three women to its most senior trading positions, including the top job, is likely to be applauded for its pro-active role in shaking up a traditional gender disbalance in a traditionally male-dominated industry. The oil and gas sector more generally employs far more male than female employees, and the trading floor has been one area where that has been most apparent.
Shell is Europe’s biggest oil company and the biggest oil and gas trader in the world. While it is an important part of Shell’s business, the company only publishes limited details of its financial performance, which is reported together with refining earnings, despite being completely different in nature.
With Shell and other oil and gas companies enduring a horrendous 2020, which has seen oil prices drop through the floor due to pandemic-related travel restrictions, trading activities have provided some much needed respite. Market volatility, especially to the downside for oil prices, might be unwelcome to Shell’s business as a whole but it represents opportunities for traders.
During a stressful second quarter for Shell, which saw oil prices plunge below $20 a barrel, the company reported combined refining and trading earnings of $1.5 billion. That was nearly 30 times higher than earnings from the unit over the same three months a year earlier.
And with no obvious reason why refining earnings would have leapt, the opposite being more likely given the circumstances, it can be presumed the upturn was thanks to trading success. Shell did allude to that with the statement it welcomed“very strong contributions from crude and oil products trading and optimisation”.
However, a positive contribution from trading has not been enough to buffer the impact of a combination of rock bottom oil prices and a major restructuring towards a transition to renewable energies. The company has committed itself to becoming a net zero carbon emitter by 2050.
That restructuring, and general cost cutting in view of a general mid-term outlook of lower oil prices, sees Shell cutting up to 9000 jobs. However, new senior hires have also been made in its green energy business. New executives and experts have been poached from offshore wind giant Orsted and Lightsource BP, a solar plants developer jointly owned by BP, Shell’s historical rival in Europe’s energy sector.
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