SINGAPORE, July 7 (Reuters) - Energy pricing agency Platts has put Lehman Brothers LEH.N under a temporary review that effectively excludes it from trading benchmark-setting oil contracts, four sources close to the matter said on Monday.
The exact cause of the move was not immediately clear, although the practice of disallowing a market player from trading during Platts’ price-setting window is relatively common and can be imposed for a variety of reasons, from credit issues to trade disputes to shipment technicalities.
But it will be a setback for the No. 4 Wall Street bank, which has strived in recent years to build up a commodity and energy trading division to rival that of the long-standing giants Goldman Sachs (GS.N) and Morgan Stanley (MS.N), and has seen its shares slump by nearly two-thirds on write-downs.
“Yes, it’s because of credit issues,” said a source familiar with the matter who declined to be named, when asked for the reason for the review. The source was not able to be more specific about what kind of credit issues had prompted the review.
A Lehman spokeswoman was not immediately able to comment, while Platts declined to confirm or deny the review on Lehman.
“Issues occasionally arise in our assessment processes that may merit review,” Platts, a unit of McGraw-Hill Co Inc MHP.N, said in a statement to Reuters in response to questions.
“Reviews may result in Platts not publishing bids and offers for short or long periods of time, depending on the situation. Such reviews are routine matters.”
Although oil traders have expressed concern over Lehman’s write-downs and the turmoil facing Wall Street in the wake of the subprime melt-down, it is unclear to what extent those concerns may be affecting its energy trading operations, or why Platts would have any specific knowledge of its credit condition.
Platts provides price benchmarks in a number of illiquid or opaque physical energy markets, often determining pricing through a series of bids, offers and trades during a half-hour “window”.
Being under review from Platts prevents market players from participating in the daily price-setting process and restricts their ability to influence pricing. But such companies are free to seek buyers and sellers outside of Platts’ trading platform. Energy brokers in Singapore said they had seen no bids or offers from Lehman in recent sessions in the half-hour trading window used to set most Asia oil products and some crude values.
Lehman’s last known bid was a partial cargo of Dubai crude on July 1, fixtures seen by Reuters showed.
Lehman is still a small player on the energy markets, putting $12 million a day of its own money at risk in commodity markets, just under a third as much as Morgan Stanley.
Normally companies are excluded from the assessment process for a short period, sometimes after breaching Platts’ trading guidelines, which are the informal regulations for largely unregulated physical oil markets.
But Platts has also acted pre-emptively in the past.
In 2004, Platts put China Aviation Oil (CAO) (CNAO.SI) under review in the weeks before its then-chief executive Chen Juilin said the company had amassed $550 million in trading losses.
Lehman Brothers’ shares have been hit hard this year as the bank has taken big write-downs and raised capital. Last month, the bank posted a $2.8 billion quarterly loss, its first ever as a public company, and recorded $3.9 billion of writedowns.
The company’s stock price has fallen more than 65 percent since the beginning of January. Lehman’s shares trade at less than 70 percent of their book value, or accounting value, signaling that investors anticipate more losses ahead. (Reporting by Annika Breidthardt and Luke Pachymuthu, additional reporting by Felicia Loo in Singapore and Mathieu Robbins in London; Editing by Ramthan Hussain and Jonathan Leff)