Shell's Muller resigns as head of crude trading: Update
London, 17 November (Argus) — Mike Muller is stepping down as Shell vice-president of crude trading and supply. He leaves one of the world's largest crude trading desks — an 8mn b/d global operation spanning 10 offices that he has run and built up for the last five years.
Muller is renowned as a forthright figure, who leads from the front. He is widely credited as the architect of the crude trading team's success in recent years. Muller joined Shell in 1989, and was promoted to the leadership team of Shell's trading division in 1999. He built up Shell businesses in Australia and Singapore before returning to London where he managed trading divisions for Atlantic basin crude, North Sea derivatives and global chemical feedstocks.
From 1 December, Mark Quartermain will assume the post. Quartermain has been vice-president of oil products trading and supply since 2014. He has been with Shell since 1983.
Muller will continue to work at Shell until the New Year when he will go on 'travel leave'.
Muller's departure marks the second high-profile management change in Shell's trading operations this year. In February, Shell appointed Andrew Smith to replace Mike Conway as executive vice-president for trading and supply.
Muller has played a key role in the development of Atlantic basin crude trading. Shell is the custodian of the Suko-90 contract that governs North Sea forward trading and Muller has been heavily involved in modifications to add liquidity to the benchmark. He has also, by and large, been a vocal defender of pricing agency Platts' Dated Brent benchmark down the years.
Dated Brent has come under strain as declining North Sea production and the rise in flows of the key benchmark grade Forties to Asia-Pacific has left a less liquid pool of cargoes available for trade in the spot market to set the price. Muller suggested in May that Russian medium sour Urals may be the best candidate to add to the Dated Brent benchmark as liquidity falls further in 2-3 years. "If you had to pick one grade of crude, Urals is the one which northwest European refineries should be designed to run optimally," he said.
Muller has also criticised crude benchmarking in Asia-Pacific, and has suggested that the Dubai market — in which Shell is a major participant and which Mideast Gulf producers use to price around 12mn b/d of crude sales to Asia-Pacific — may have to come under regulatory authority to restore its credibility. "If Asia does not develop its own index and its own liquidity, then we will see a continuation of what Asia has been doing for the last 10 years, which is using western benchmarks," he said in September this year.
Muller has occasionally had to speak out in defence of Shell's trading strategies. Some industry sources had alleged that Shell's trading strategies moved the North Sea benchmark against the run of supply and demand factors in April 2016, a charge Muller fought back against. "When you are a large company with a large share of the action in a market, and you happen to be a household name and a familiar brand, you are automatically a target," he said.