By Julia Payne
LONDON (Reuters) - Mercuria Energy Group is building a liquefied natural gas desk with the hire of three LNG traders from French utility EDF's trading arm, having eyed the market for several years, sources familiar with the matter said.
The traders, Julien Bourdeau, Andrea Nardella and James Bloom, were London-based and resigned within the last two weeks, one of the sources said.
The traders' move comes one month after Japan's JERA Co and EDF Trading completed the set-up of an LNG trading venture to tap the spot and short-term contracts market. JERA and EDF Trading already had a venture for coal and freight.
JERA, a fuel purchasing joint venture of Tokyo Electric Power and Chubu Electric Power, is the world's biggest LNG buyer, taking 35 million tonnes per year. EDF trades around 3 to 4 million tonnes of LNG annually.
A spokeswoman for EDF Trading and JERA Global Markets, the joint venture between JERA and EDF, declined to comment.
Initially focussed on oil, Geneva-based Mercuria has been progressively diversifying into other commodities.
Last year its non-oil portfolio, which includes natural gas, power, dry bulk and coal, accounted for nearly half of its traded volumes, up from 35 percent in 2017.
However Mercuria has lagged behind its rivals in establishing a position in LNG. The firm tried to gain exposure to the market last year when it was part of a failed bid by Harbour Energy to buy Australian gas producer Santos Ltd.
Mercuria chief financial officer Guillaume Vermersch said in March that the firm planned to enter LNG by the end of the year.
Once viewed as dull owing to its decades-long deals dominated by western energy giants and state firms, the LNG market has became a hot ticket over the last few years.
Volumes have grown substantially, bringing with it a spot market and short-term contracts. Gunvor Group, Trafigura Group and Vitol Group are the top three independent LNG traders.
Ramping up the use of LNG, one of the cleaner fossil fuels, is viewed as a way to cut the world's dependency on oil and coal, which have higher emissions of carbon and other pollutants. Demand is growing fast, particularly in emerging Asian markets.
The new desk will complement Mercuria's already large natural gas portfolio, which is especially strong in North America thanks to its acquisition of JP Morgan Chase & Co's physical trading arm in 2014 and Noble Group's U.S. gas and power business last year.
(Reporting by Julia Payne; Additional reporting by Ekaterina Kravtsova; Editing by Jan Harvey)