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Taxpayers on the Hook for Millions in Losses After Ex-JPM Traders’ Leveraged Power Bet Goes Sour

PHOTO: Drew Angerer/Getty

By Tyler Durden | 25 September 2018

ZERO HEDGE — The Norwegian power trader who got caught on the losing end of a 4-sigma move in price spreads is being forced into bankruptcy after liquidating his entire estate. But in the US, two ex-JPM traders who wracked up comparably massive losses have managed to walk away, leaving the end-users and distributors on one of America’s largest energy grids holding the bag.

BusinessWeek on Tuesday published a story about GreenHat Energy, LLC, an ill-fated power speculator that bought a sizable position in long-dated financial transmission rights. FTRs, as they’re more widely known, are an obscure power derivative designed to allow distributors to hedge against sudden spike in transmission costs when parts of the grid are temporarily taken offline (due to inclement weather or some other hazard). Houston-based Greenhat opened the positions via PJM Interconnection, LLC, which oversees a wholesale electric grid serving 65 million people between Chicago and Washington, D.C.

They are used in deregulated power markets to help energy buyers, generators, and distributors protect against localized price swings. Bottlenecks can sometimes form on the power grid—such as during an ice storm or when a plant goes down—creating what are known as congestion costs. Using an FTR, a big power buyer can get paid when congestion costs rise, offsetting its risk. But it might also end up owing money if there isn’t congestion.

Financial players can buy FTRs, too. Much of GreenHat’s portfolio was “long-dated”—meaning it was betting on transmission-line congestion patterns that wouldn’t start until June 2018. And based on historical patterns, most of those positions initially looked like smart moves, according to PJM. That likelihood of success brought a side benefit to GreenHat: Under PJM rules at the time, it could keep building up its portfolio without having to put up much money as collateral. But GreenHat would have to pay if congestion patterns turned out to differ widely from those in the past.

GreenHat opened its FTR position in 2015. By April 2016, the first signs of a problem had emerged. Around that time, another trader on PJM known as DC energy, one of the largest buyers of FTRs, complained to PJM about rival portfolios with no collateral attached. When PJM approached GreenHat, one of its partners, Andrew Kittell, said his firm had offsetting contracts that would pay out more than $62 million should their FTR bet turn sour. PJM mentioned this in one of its filings to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. […]

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