Former Macquarie star trader agrees terms to join Swiss house Mercuria

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The former Macquarie star commodities trader Nick O’Kane has agreed terms to join Mercuria as the Swiss trading house seeks to expand its gas and power business, according to people with knowledge of the discussions.

Under the preliminary agreement, O’Kane would be initially based in Dubai, the people said. The fifty-year old Australian is to join in a senior leadership role to grow Mercuria’s gas and power activities, particularly in Asia, one of the people added. The appointment has yet to be finalised, the person cautioned.

O’Kane, who quit Macquarie last month after almost three decades, was the group’s best paid executive in 2023, earning A$58mn ($38mn), or 75 per cent more than chief executive Shemara Wikramanayake. His pay also exceeded that of JPMorgan chair Jamie Dimon and Goldman Sachs chief David Solomon.

Commodity traders are anticipating huge increases in demand and volatility in gas and electricity markets as the global energy system transitions away from more polluting oil and coal. Mercuria’s rivals including Trafigura, Vitol and Gunvor have also been expanding their gas and power teams.

Mercuria and O’Kane declined to comment.

While at Macquarie O’Kane turned the Australian bank into an energy trading power house. Last year the commodities and global markets business he helped build and ran accounted for almost 60 per cent of Macquarie’s profits. The trader had been tipped as a potential successor to Wikramanayake.

Privately owned Mercuria has not outlined a succession plan for chief executive and co-founder Marco Dunand, is 63 this year. A person close to Dunand said he had no immediate plans to step down.

Mercuria — founded by Dunand and fellow former Goldman Sachs trader Daniel Jaeggi in 2004 — has hired senior bankers before. In 2014, the company recruited Magid Shenouda, a former co-head of commodities at Goldman Sachs. Shenouda was previously tipped as a possible successor to Dunand and Jaeggi.

In 2021, Frederic Barnaud, former boss of Singapore’s Pavilion Energy, joined Mercuria as chief strategy and commercial officer but left after less than a year.

Unlike Trafigura, Vitol and Gunvor, which remain more focused on physical oil trading, Mercuria has also pushed into financing, offering services more akin to those offered by investment banks. In 2014 it bought part of JPMorgan’s physical commodities trading business to bolster its operations, particularly in US power markets. 

The company recorded net income of $3bn in 2022 on revenues of $174bn, up from $1.25bn in 2021, as volatility in commodity markets supercharged profits for traders.

Oil trading represents about 30 per cent of total revenues, but alongside gas and power trading, the group is also investing in green technologies such as battery storage and biogas. Dunand has said that half of the company’s investments each year will go into energy transition projects.

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