The bank could stand to gain more than $200 million from the physical sale of power and natural gas and from financial hedges after spot prices surged across much of the U.S., according to people with knowledge of the matter. But those gains may prove elusive given the crisis’s fallout — tipping energy companies into bankruptcy, triggering legal challenges and prompting government intervention.
Such is the uncertainty, that executives at the bank estimate they may realize less than half of their paper gains, the people said, asking not to be identified as the information isn’t public.
“The polar vortex drove volatility in energy markets, and, as a market-maker and liquidity provider, we were positioned to help our clients manage their risks in that challenging environment,” Maeve DuVally, a Goldman Sachs spokeswoman, said in a statement.
Bank of America Corp. also gained hundreds of millions of dollars in trading revenue due to the Winter storm, the Financial Times reported Friday. The bank said in a statement that any revenue will be offset by losses and reduced revenues from investments in wind and other alternate power suppliers in Texas, as well as other affected markets.
The unprecedented cold that battered the central U.S. last month led to sweeping blackouts as ice formed on wind turbines and pipelines froze, forcing oil and gas wells to shut. As traders and power suppliers struggled to find fuel to meet obligations, prices skyrocketed. In Oklahoma, gas traded at more than 300 times normal levels, while electricity in Texas surged to $9,000 per megawatt-hour.
The swings benefited companies including Macquarie Group Ltd., the second-biggest physical gas supplier in the U.S. The Sydney-based investment bank raised its profit forecast last month, implying a windfall of as much as $210 million, as it cited increased demand for gas- and power-supply services. Pipeline operators Energy Transfer LP and Oneok Inc. also said they gained.
Still, the cash that companies actually collect will ultimately depend on what happens to the gas suppliers, power generators, utility customers and traders who were stung by the soaring energy prices. Some are facing default. Others are going bankrupt. And state lawmakers are looking into forgiving some payments for consumers altogether.
Several traders described the potential for a daisy chain, in which payments aren’t made to sellers in one market, affecting payments elsewhere. It was a surprise to some that Macquarie updated its forecast so soon.
“People are waiting for checks that aren’t coming,” said Evan Caron, chief strategy officer of energy technology firm ClearTrace.
The final outcome depends in part on developments in places such as Texas.
That market’s manager, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, is grappling with a $2.5 billion shortfall as more than a dozen companies face default. In a further complication, an independent monitor told state regulators that Ercot incorrectly priced electricity during the emergency, resulting in $16 billion in overcharges. If that were reversed, the adjustment would cut profits expected by some of the market’s biggest winners. Meanwhile in the Statehouse, discussion of a potential bailout or other intervention continues.
Some of Goldman’s gains resulted from hedges, a routine part of risk management on Wall Street and across corporate America. Hedges are typically supposed to blunt losses in the event that prices swing unexpectedly. The protection can become highly profitable when rare events occur.
Catastrophes can leave companies that hedged holding windfalls while others incur heavy losses. Yet there is still the risk that counterparties are left too weak to pay up.