* Conoco eyes entry into new trading markets
* Reorganization of supply arm designed to support growth
* Move mirrors trading of big rivals like BP, Shell
By Robert Campbell
HOUSTON, Jan 28 (Reuters) - U.S. oil major ConocoPhillips Co (COP.N) wants to grab a bigger chunk of global oil trading, including markets where it has not normally been active, three people familiar with the firm’s plans said this week.
The planned expansion of its worldwide trading activities was a major part of the motivation of the recently disclosed reshuffling of its trading arm, which saw the bulk of the company’s risk-taking trading centralized in London.
“We’re looking at every tender now and we want to play a role in those where we weren’t present before,” said a ConocoPhillips trader.
The overhaul will take the Houston-based company into markets where it does not have significant oil production or processing assets, including both crude oil and refined products markets.
ConocoPhillips declined to comment on its trading activities.
This vision of broadened trading activities would put Conoco into the same league as the other major oil companies, which already operate sophisticated worldwide trading arms that aim to wring profit out of the daily flows of oil between different parts of the world.
Supermajors BP Plc (BP.L) (BP.N) and Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSa.L) have long fattened profits by taking advantage of dislocations in regional oil markets to move cheaper oil to places where prices are higher.
The current contango structure of the oil futures market, where prices for oil to be delivered later in the year are higher than those earlier in the year, has also helped bolster many companies’ bottom lines, including Conoco, by making it possible to earn a profit by buying crude oil for storage while selling higher-priced futures to lock in gains.
The brutal environment for oil refiners, which led to Conoco’s downstream unit bleeding $215 million in the last quarter of 2009, is adding a sense of urgency to the drive to restructure trading operations at many oil companies in a bid to find profits and reduce costs.
Other market participants are already noticing Conoco taking a more aggressive role in the Americas where it has the bulk of its refining and marketing assets.
“They’re making some bigger moves in the U.S. and other markets. They’re more prominent than before,” said a U.S. crude oil broker.
U.S. market sources say Conoco has been among the leaders of an attempt to kick start over-the-counter trading against the Argus Sour Crude Index, the new benchmark selected by Saudi Arabia to price crude oil shipments to American customers. (Reporting by Robert Campbell; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)