Morgan Stanley to sell natural gas business scrutinized by Fed

Morgan Stanley has agreed to sell a compressed natural gas business that came under regulatory scrutiny shortly after its launch last year, according to a document obtained by Reuters and three people familiar with the matter.

The bank will transfer the gas business, Wentworth, to a newly formed company called Pentagon Energy LLC. Two Morgan Stanley managers who were involved with Wentworth, Alberto Chiesara and Ryan Comerford, are leaving to join the new company as principals, according to those sources.

Simon Greenshields, who had been co-head of Morgan Stanley’s commodities business until January and was earlier said to be seeking to leave the bank through a Wentworth sale, is not joining Pentagon Energy.

The sources did not disclose any financial terms of the deal. Morgan Stanley declined to comment on the matter.

Pentagon’s plan is to take advantage of low natural gas prices in North America by exporting the commodity via container ships to under-served markets in the Caribbean and Central America.

The countries Pentagon is targeting, such as the Dominican Republic, lack access tonatural gas and use more expensive oil instead for their power plants.

Yet the business may now be less lucrative than at the time of its launch, when crude oiltraded at four to five times the cost of natural gas when measured in comparable thermal units. Today, following a long slide, crude trades at around three times the cost of U.S. gas, according to Reuters data.

Reuters first revealed Morgan Stanley’s plan last August after Wentworth filed an application with the U.S. Department of Energy to build, own and operate compression and container loading facility in Texas.

The plan soon drew attention from the U.S. Federal Reserve, which has been examining banks’ physical commodity operations, and contacted Morgan Stanley with questions about Wentworth. After the Fed reached out to Morgan Stanley, Chief Executive James Gorman told staff that the business had to be divested, casting doubt about its future.

Lawmakers have put more pressure on Wall Street to exit physical commodities trading, with a Senate subcommittee releasing a highly critical report in November.

Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs Group Inc have come under most intense scrutiny because of their historic dominance in commodities trading, and because of a 1999 legal clause that gives them more leeway to retain such operations.

Morgan Stanley has been more aggressive about selling businesses that own, store or transport physical commodities than Goldman has, although its management has said that the bank plans to continue to act as a market maker for clients involved in physicalcommodities.

It is unclear whether Morgan Stanley has an agreement to provide financing for the natural gas businesses being sold to Pentagon Energy.

Chiesara, who was an executive director at Morgan Stanley, and Comerford, who was a managing director, left the bank earlier this month, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. Comerford was previously head of the bank’s natural gas trading and origination business, a position that Jay Rubenstein took over on Jan. 1.

Chiesara and Comerford will be joining Alvaro Campins and Luis Gutierrez as principals of newly formed Pentagon Energy. Campins and Gutierrez come from Pentacles Energy, which describes itself on its web site as a crude oil and gas production company in Tennessee.

Pentagon Energy, which is based in Coral Gables, Florida, is acquiring interests in Wentworth Compression LLC, Wentworth Gas Marketing LLC and Wentworth Holdings LLC from a Morgan Stanley subsidiary called MSDW Power Development Corp.

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