Calgary Energy Desks Seek Traders

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Over the past few years, Calgary has joined Houston and New York as a leading hub of energy trading. Keeping its desks staffed remains a challenge.

Competition remains fierce not only among Canadian firms, but with big Wall Street companies and players eager to hire people away from the frigid north to the somewhat warmer climate in the U.S. Still, there are plenty of opportunities for financial professionals in the industry, which Alberta Energy estimates invested almost $100 billion (Canadian) in the province between 2000 and 2005.

"If you don't mind putting up with Canadian winters, the quality of life is pretty good," says Peter Krenkel, the president of NGX, Canada's leading energy exchange, which is based in Alberta. "There are some challenges in recruiting experienced, high-quality traders."

Indeed, trading energy is not for the faint of heart. Energy markets can be extremely volatile, particularly as global turmoil pushes up oil prices. Good traders must be able to anticipate dramatic price swings that might occur because of anything from malfunctioning equipment to drastic changes in the weather. That's why companies prize traders with proven track records, and reward the best with seven-figure salaries.

Job changes are not uncommon. Several top traders recently left Lehman Brothers' operation in Calgary, including Senior Vice President Howard Sangwine, Vice President.Wayne Richie, Vice President Craig Pentelichuk, and analyst Levi Craig. Lehman couldn't be reached for comment on the departures, which were first reported by the trade publication SparkSpread.

Though Lehman and other big banks have established footholds in Calgary, some companies trade from centralized desks in faraway places such as New York, Connecticut and Houston. Still, many try to recruit people for those positions who have spent time in Calgary.

Varied Backgrounds

Hedge funds and private equity players are investing in the growing energy sector, where trading continues to play a key role. Indeed, companies often pick as traders people with backgrounds as analysts, who track market conditions; and schedulers, who arrange for the physical delivery of commodities. Demand for those jobs, which also can be well-paying, also is strong, Krenkel says.

"Those are very difficult job to fill, as well," he notes. "It takes some specialized skills that you don't learn at the university."

Opportunities in Calgary for people with finance backgrounds aren't limited to trading. Job boards list a plethora of positions such as auditors, tax specialists and financial analysts at both large and small energy companies. More are likely to come, since employment in Alberta's oil sands business is expected to increase by 100,000 by 2015, according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.