Vitol Starts Global Grain Trading in Singapore and Geneva

Vitol Group, the world’s largest independent oil trader, began trading global grain markets from Singapore and Geneva, with support from staff in Canada and Germany to start next month.

The team will be headed by Don Chapman, based in Vancouver, the Geneva-based company said in a statement today. Chapman was previously with Viterra Inc., Canada’s largest grain handler, which he joined from Toepfer International in 2007, it said.

Trading houses are expanding as investment banks cut commodity staff amid declining revenues and stricter rules that limit how much money they can risk. Farm commodities such as corn, sugar and palm oil can be used to make biofuels, and Vitol said that Chapman’s team was a so-called natural extension of its business. Vitol will trade grains and other agricultural commodities, it said, without identifying them.

“Trading agricultural products builds on our core strengths in logistics and understanding of global markets,” Chief Executive Officer Ian Taylor said. Operations will be supported by staff in Hamburg and Vancouver from May, it said.

Corn and soybeans surged to records in 2012, while wheat traded at the highest level in four years as the worst U.S. drought since the 1930s scorched crops even as food demand increased in countries such as China. Wheat on the Chicago Board of Trade was at $6.725 a bushel today, and corn, which entered a bear market yesterday, was at $6.51 a bushel.

Agriculture, Metals

The corn futures market in Chicago has open interest worth $40.5 billion, soybeans are $38.2 billion and wheat is $15.2 billion, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The ethanol industry uses two of every five bushels of corn in the U.S.

Mercuria Energy Group Ltd. added people in Beijing, Shanghai and Singapore in 2012 as the Geneva-based company expanded into agriculture and metals. Closely held Mercuria hired Roger Jones from Barclays Plc as global head of non-oil trading and named Andrew Perkins from Morgan Stanley as its global head of agriculture, based in Singapore.

Trafigura Group, the third-largest independent oil trader, moved 30 people to Singapore to trade metals and bulks, the company said in April last year. Chief Financial Officer Pierre Lorinet moved to the city-state from Geneva.

Vitol, founded in 1966, started dealing in oil products, and now trades natural gas, power, sugar, non-ferrous metals, coal and chemicals. The group also has a terminals business and is involved in shipping and oil exploration, it said.

Elizabeth Adams, a spokeswoman for Vitol in London, declined to provide additional comment on the expansion plans when contacted by e-mail today.

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