Investment banks are set to make a record-breaking $20 billion trading and financing commodities like oil, gas and metals in 2022, more than triple what they earned in the years before COVID-19, analytics firm Coalition Greenwich said.
Banks such as Goldman Sachs, Citi and Macquarie have benefitted from massive volatility and supply chain disruption in commodities markets that began in 2020 and increased this year with Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Sky-high commodities prices have pushed inflation to multi-decade highs, stifled the global economy and created a cost-of-living crisis in many countries.
But volatile markets mean banks can make more money by trading commodities and offering financing, risk hedges and other services to clients ranging from traders and funds to utilities and airlines.
"Commodities trading desks have benefitted from the unprecedented volatility," said Michael Turner at Coalition.
Vali Analytics, another firm that tracks banks' earnings, said it expected investment banks to make net earnings of $18 billion in commodities this year.
Others have also cashed in, with commodity traders such as Glencore and Trafigura and energy firms with trading arms such as BP reporting bumper profits.
Before the pandemic, big banks' glory days in commodities seemed to be behind them.
During the financial crisis of 2008-09, investment banks were making around $16 billion a year, according to Vali. Banks controlled ships, warehouses and infrastructure that moved and stored goods and could make money by speculating on price moves.
But tightening regulation in the 2010s forced them to downsize and ban in-house speculation, and by 2017 net earnings had shrunk to $4.6 billion, Coalition data shows.
From 2020, profits surged. Most commodity prices plunged when the coronavirus hit, then rallied. Supply dislocations handed huge profits to companies able to access materials and trade across markets.
When Russia, a major commodities producer, invaded Ukraine in February, prices shot up. The world economy then veered towards recession and prices of most of them slumped, though natural gas continues to surge.
In the first six month of 2022, investment banks made $6.6 billion in oil and gas markets, almost the same amount they made in the whole of 2021, Coalition data show.
In metals, they earned $3.1 billion in January-June, compared to $4.6 billion in all of 2021. In agricultural markets, they made $600 million, twice the $300 million they made in 2021.
Other major commodity-trading banks include JPMorgan, Bank of America, BNP Paribas and Morgan Stanley.