(Bloomberg) -- The oil market’s rollercoaster volatility is translating into multimillion-dollar signing bonuses for some of the traders who can stomach it.
This year, one oil trader scored a $5 million signing bonus after joining a multi-strategy hedge fund. It’s far from the only massive number. Signing bonuses in the $1 million to $5 million range are becoming more common, though higher payouts are seen only in exceptional cases.
Hiring in energy markets is up 15% over last year, according to executive search firm Proco Commodities, as firms look to cash in on dramatic price swings. The jump in activity is translating into much bigger bonuses for traders as the end of the year approaches.
Soaring compensation is the latest sign of a resurgence in commodity hedge funds, which shuttered in droves over the past few years amid collapsing crude prices and a global shift toward cleaner energy. But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and concerns about a global economic slowdown have whipsawed the oil market this year, creating opportunities for traders to rake in big profits.
“The market is super hot and it’s really interesting how it’s developing,” said Ross Gregory, a director at Proco Commodities. The volatility has “generated more demand for traders who can take risk in commodities,” especially as equities and fixed income markets lag, Gregory said.
The extreme volatility in commodities has forced some market players to pull back from the space. But among the survivors, bidding wars for talent have erupted in recent months. In a rising number of instances, traders have been getting offers and then receiving counter-offers just as they’re about to join a new firm, headhunters said.
Even at Wall Street banks, which are contending with a slump in dealmaking, commodities traders have been somewhat insulated from the steep bonus cuts investment bankers are facing. Still, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. is set to break with rivals by reducing the bonus pool for traders by a low double-digit percentage, people with knowledge of the matter said earlier this month.
But those who are leaving banks still have plenty of opportunities across the energy trading world — especially at hedge funds and merchants. Companies that are traditionally called commercial players, mostly producers or refiners, have looked to add or boost trading capabilities this year. The list includes heavyweights such as Exxon Mobil Corp. as well as smaller players such as Citgo Petroleum Corp. Commodity funds are also beefing up their trading presence and scooping up people who have expertise in physical markets.
Hedge funds are offering about 20% to 30% of profits as a bonus, nearly double what commodity merchants typically provide, according to headhunters.
Read more: Commodity hedge funds are back after a decade in the wilderness
Not only are companies paying big money for top talent, they’re also focused on retention, recruiters said.
“In the holiday season, desk heads and other hiring managers are figuring to add headcount, high-grade their staff by letting poor performers go and worrying whether their best people will walk off to greener pastures,” said George Stein, managing director for recruiter Commodity Talent in New York. “This year, if anything, that level of concern is higher than in the past.”
Commodities trading companies such as Trafigura and Vitol, which have an internal share scheme, are probably in the best position to retain employees. The price of shares in Trafigura Group held by its top employees surged 247% in its last financial year, as the trading house benefited from commodity market volatility to post a record profit.
©2022 Bloomberg L.P.