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Texas energy woes are windfall for Australian bank

The deep freeze that plunged millions of Texans into darkness is rippling through energy markets in unexpected ways, producing a financial windfall for an Australian bank and severe pain for other companies caught up in the disruption.

The extreme weather froze wind turbines and oil-and-gas wells, closed oil refiners and prompted power stations to trip offline, sending a jolt through energy markets. Wholesale power prices rocketed, as did spot prices for natural gas in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Arkansas.

The turbulence led to a bonanza for commodity traders at Australia’s Macquarie Group Ltd., whose ability to funnel gas and electricity around the country enabled them to capitalize on soaring demand and prices in states such as Texas.

The bank bumped up its guidance Monday for earnings in the year through March to reflect the windfall. It said that net profit after tax would be 5% to 10% higher than in the 2020 fiscal year. That equates to an increase of up to 273.1 million Australian dollars, equivalent to around $215 million. In its previous guidance, issued Feb. 9, Macquarie said it expected profits to be slightly down on 2020.

“Extreme winter weather conditions in North America have significantly increased short-term client demand for Macquarie’s capabilities in maintaining critical physical supply across the commodity complex, and particularly in relation to gas and power,” the bank said.

Macquarie’s windfall shows how big profits can be made wagering on relative scarcity of natural gas in a country awash in the fuel.

The U.S. shale-drilling boom unleashed so much gas over the past decade that prices have been depressed to the point that producers with gushers have gone bankrupt. Yet gas buyers, such as power plants and manufacturers, are routinely left paying surging prices when demand peaks during winter storms.

Behind such instances of energy feast and famine is a gas infrastructure system that has failed to keep up with all the drilling. Pipelines laid decades before the shale boom are often in the wrong places, or too small to meet today’s demand. Having space reserved on certain pipelines can become incredibly lucrative when uncharacteristic weather causes swells in demand.

Scarcity in Texas and the Great Plains was amplified last week when temperatures dropped low enough to freeze shut many of the region’s gas wells and other energy infrastructure. Capacity on pipelines into the region became precious. Traders and energy firms that had paid in advance for the right to use these supply routes were suddenly in position to rake in huge profits as utilities vied for fuel deliveries.

Macquarie describes itself as the second-largest marketer of physical gas in North America behind BP PLC, with a team in Houston and access to 80% of pipelines spanning the U.S., according to a person familiar with the matter. The business, which Macquarie has built out for over a decade, received a boost from the acquisition of Cargill Inc.’s…

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