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A handful of giant commodity traders such as Netherlands-based Trafigura Beheer BV and Vitol Group are increasingly taking a central role in global commodity markets.

These once-obscure firms aren’t just betting on prices or arranging product shipments. They are taking on oil companies, miners and major Wall Street banks by sinking billions of dollars into refineries, power plants, ports and other assets.

The four biggest traders—Vitol, Glencore GLNCY 0.00% PLC, Cargill Inc. and Trafigura—each boast annual revenue of more than $100 billion, putting them in the ranks of household names such as Apple Inc. AAPL +0.19% and Chevron Corp. CVX -1.37%

An analysis of company data by The Wall Street Journal found that revenue at these four trading houses nearly doubled in the past five years to $816.4 billion. Over the same period, commodity-trading revenue at the top four US banks involved in the sector dropped 56%, to $3.8 billion, a decline driven by slower trading and a retreat from some businesses amid tougher regulation.

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