Bear Stearns (BSC) is taking another stab at getting into the energy-trading business.
Within the past few days, the Wall Street firm has begun aggressively advertising for 26 new gas- and power-trading positions it's trying to fill. The jobs are the first hires by the firm's recently formed energy-trading subsidiary, Bear Energy LP.
Bear's latest foray into energy trading comes just two weeks after it quietly withdrew from an ill-fated joint venture with
, the bankrupt energy merchant. A Bear Stearns spokesman says Calpine's December bankruptcy pretty much sounded the death knell for the venture, which Bear Stearns announced with much fanfare last September.
CalBear, as the venture was known, was supposed to provide an energy-trading platform for Bear Stearns' hedge fund customers. The venture was set up to be wholly owned by Bear Stearns, but under the arrangement, CalBear would split half its profits with cash-strapped Calpine. The main benefit for Bear Stearns in entering the deal with Calpine was access to a core group of 200 experienced Calpine energy traders.
But now that Bear Stearns has aborted the plan with Calpine, it's back to the drawing board. The Wall Street firm is once again playing catch-up to the likes of
, all of which have well-established energy trading operations.
Some on Wall Street are skeptical of Bear Stearns' approach to building an energy-trading group from within, as opposed to acquiring an existing operation.
"Strategically, this is a nice addition to their business mix,'' says Brad Hintz, a brokerage analyst with Bernstein & Co. "But they are late to the market, and a start-up is going to take them three years to get to a level where they will be a material competitor.''
Hintz notes that the energy-trading market is dominated by Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, and it's becoming increasingly difficult for competitors to gain market share. In a 2005 research report on the energy-trading market, Hintz described Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley as maintaining a "duopoly in the energy commodities business.''
In that report, Hintz noted that no Wall Street firm comes close to either firm in generating revenue from commodities-related trading. He estimates that commodities trading -- mainly energy -- generates about $1 billion in annual revenue for Goldman Sachs.
In other words, Bear Stearns has a long way to go to before it's competing with the established leaders.
At a meeting with shareholders earlier this week, Bear Stearns officials sounded a cautious note about its plans for entering the energy business. Co-Chief Operating Officer Warren Spector, according to
, says the firm plans to build a "full-fledged'' trading operation in Houston. But Spector says the firm is being "very cautious not trying to overpay these new hires.''
Some of the positions Bear Stearns is looking to fill include power traders, gas traders, analysts and salespeople to oversee "negotiations for complex structured products.''
The approach being taken by Bear Stearns is a stark contrast to how Merrill Lynch decided to get into the energy business a little more than a year ago. The Wall Street brokerage made a big splash with its $1 billion acquisition of Entergy-Koch's energy-trading division. Entergy-Koch had about 300 employees at the time of the deal.