Keeping a close eye on the barrels

TWO lines of business have stood out of late for their inability to make money: journalism and oil. So when it emerged on May 23rd that Argus Media, a British firm that reports global commodities prices, is to be sold to an American investment firm for $1.4 billion, it aroused a variety of emotions. One was surprise. “Data about oil markets now seem to be worth more than oil itself,” exclaimed one executive of a commodities exchange. Another, in the words of an employee at S&P Global Platts, Argus’s main rival, was “jealousy”. The sale has turned some of Argus’s 750 scribblers, a quarter of whom are said to own shares or options, into millionaires.

Argus began in 1970 as a newsletter reporting on petroleum-product prices in the Netherlands. General Atlantic, which is buying out the family of Jan Nasmyth, its late founder, has made the most aggressive move so far in an industry that is fast consolidating. Its leaders, Platts and Argus, are battling for dominance over reporting prices of the most widely used oil benchmarks, such as Dated Brent and West Texas Intermediate (WTI),…Continue reading