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EEX CEGH Gas Exchange: the human face of anonymous trading

Why is personal contact a decisive factor in anonymous trades? Why does trust play such a huge role in a strictly controlled market? Why does an exchange help to increase security – isn’t it all risk and speculation? We took a peek behind the scenes of the modern gas trading business and some of the aspects that initially seem to be contradictions.

“In fact, I wanted nothing to do with this field as the topic is so abstract”, recalls Florian Güttl, Team Lead Gas Exchange Services at the Central European Gas Hub, or CEGH for short. That’s understandable given the fact that gas trading is not an easy-to-understand topic. “But when you get to grips with the material, it’s genuinely exciting”, he grins. With the EEX CEGH Gas Exchange, CEGH provides its customers with a platform for trading natural gas throughout the whole of Europe.

By the customer’s side 24/7

While gas exchange trades are conducted anonymously, using  a virtual hub where buyers and sellers don’t know each other, this is not hold true for CEGH and its customers. “We try to keep personal contact and make sure to visit our customers at their place of work a couple of times a year, wherever they are based”. This is also how Florian Güttl came to know Tilen Šarlah, a trader at the Slovenian gas company Geoplin. They get on well outside of the office as well, thanks to their shared interests extending beyond the gas market to a mutual passion for skiing in the Austrian Alps.

More exciting than the financial market

When Tilen Šarlah moved to Geoplin in 2013, he welcomed the change of scene. This was a place he could apply the knowhow he had gained over many years on the financial markets – a perfect fit, as natural gas trading works in a similar way but is much more complex and therefore more exciting. “I still remember my first trade of some real commodity, with a delivery and not only in exchange for money. I was nervous about whether I would do everything right and press the right buttons”. After some 7 years, this has become second nature to him. His workday starts just before 8 am so he has time to read up on the news and the latest market developments before the exchange markets open at 9 am. Prior to the start of trading, the traders clarify the gas volumes needed with the logistics teams. Liquidity is highest around noon when the individual orders are optimized once again to meet client requirements. And he always has one eye on the screens – of which there are three on his desk – to keep track of the gas price.

I still remember my first trade of some real commodity, with a delivery and not only in exchange for money. I was nervous about whether I would do everything right and press the right buttons. 
Tilen Šarlah, Head of Trading Desk, Geoplin d.o.o.

Keeping sight of the big picture

Every market player has their own interests and motives for trading. While it’s fundamentally about getting the best available price for a certain time period, the overriding goals vary. As a trader, he knows the laws of the market and can judge when is a good time to buy. It’s always about the big picture: “It’s not enough to keep an eye on the gas price. You have to grasp the market as a whole: the oil price, the CO2 price, the euro exchange rate, the dollar, and other developments on the financial markets”. In the afternoon he starts closing the current orders so that no open positions are left in the evening. Then he hands over to his colleagues on the next shift; after all, the exchange is open 24/7.

Transparent pricing = security

“The trading is actually done via computer, there’s a lot of technology at play and a great deal of automation”, says Florian Güttl, shattering the illusion of a ram-packed trading floor in which people wildly gesticulate, winning or losing millions in a matter of seconds. There may well be some speculators on the gas exchange who make money by buying cheap and selling at a higher price within a short periode of time, he concedes. But the background to the EEX CEGH Gas Exchange is completely different. In the past, the gas price used to be linked to the oil price, while today the price is determined by actual supply and demand. It is published with complete transparency on the gas exchange and can be viewed by anyone in the world, thereby providing security. What’s more, activities on the exchange are heavily regulated.

Priceless benefits: knowhow and service

“The exchange means that more gas is quite simply available, the market is more dynamic”, says Florian Güttl. In 2019, transactions totaling approximately 160 TWh were traded on the EEX CEGH Gas Exchange. To put that into perspective, total annual gas consumption in Austria is 90 TWh. The gas volumes change hands multiple times before the gas actually flows. “Wherever there’s a lot going on, that’s where you find the most trades and that’s where the price is more meaningful and realistic”, he concludes. And how do you get a lot of traders onto an exchange? Through attractive offers. On the CEGH these don’t just include discounts on prices or waiving fees as is the case with other providers. At CEGH a huge value is placed on personal contact and the knowhow provided to the client. “We deliver a comprehensive service for entering the European market”, says Florian Güttl. Whether it’s training on software or market mechanisms, attending networking events, or the day-to-day contact – personal support is a priority.

The gas exchange means that more gas is available for more trading participants, the market is more dynamic. Wherever there’s a lot going on, that’s where you find the most trades and that’s where the price is more meaningful and realistic.
Florian Güttl, Team Lead Gas Exchange Services, Central European Gas Hub AG

Controls are a must; the difference is trust

A lot has changed since the EEX CEGH Gas Exchange opened ten years ago. Today CEGH focuses on maintaining customer relations and developing new products and services; the operating business was handed over to the EEX Group in 2016. That’s where the exchange trades, which are subject to stringent rules and regulations, are also monitored. Florian Güttl recalls the changeover to the new system, towards which they worked flat out for a full year. “We were all staring at our trading screens, knowing that in ten seconds the old market would be gone and the new one would start. Those seconds would show whether all the work had been worth it”. And fortunately it had, as there has been a sharp rise in both participants and volumes since the upgrade. The exchange mechanisms and EEX Group technologies are important for the hub’s overall image in Florian Güttl’s view. “Trading is closely tied to trust. Trust in the technology. Trust in the service. Trust in the control mechanisms”.

Another non-contradiction: international Austria

“Energy markets are growing ever closer together, that’s why a job in gas trading is also very international”, says Florian Güttl. Only 15% of the clients come from Austria. Also, his team is very international, working language is English and the topics are complex. “I like the international aspect a lot, as you get new angles on the business as well as on life”, smiles Florian Güttl. But he also appreciates the down-to-earth attitude of the Austrians just as much. His counterbalance for the job is paragliding and playing in a brass band in his Styrian hometown. Tilen Šarlah also uses sport to switch off after work and enjoys cycling through the countryside. Although both are confident skiers, a joint stay in the Austrian peaks has yet to be realized. But that’s something that can also be arranged. 

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