Physical commodity trading in Europe

Hi everyone,

i'm new and it's 3:20am in a beautiful city in Italy. Please keep all errors. They are welcome gifts from my part.

I have some questions regarding physical commodity trading in Europe, especially in Italy & Germany, since these are the two countries for which I possess the necessary language skills.

I have a hard time finding jobs / internships to be honest. Does anybody have some experience in Europe and can give me a hint where to start?

I'm finishing my M.Sc. in Finance at a good university in Italy, very good grades, lots of international experience but no relevant working experience, unfortunately. I have got some working experience, but was controlling work that is not of further help, I reckon.

I have spent some serious late hours reading many of the threads on WSO about physical commodity trading and I'm aware that even if my ultimate goal is my own PnL in a soft commodity, such as sugar, cocoa, grains etc., I have to do some time in operations etc. AND Now the plot twist: I actually would love to do that work. I got some experience since family members of mine work for a big shipping company that does some commodities in Africa and South America and it always fascinated me.

Back to my question: What is the European Market like? Small companies, or rather big ones? Where could I start looking? Which cities should I target? Rotterdam, Geneve, Genova, Hamburg?

Really anything is appreciated if it only contains commodities and Europe, since that seems to be missing on WSO :)

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Comments (26)

Best Response
May 4, 2017 - 6:22pm

Dreyfus, ED&F Man & Cargill all offer a structured graduate programme for trading ags/soft in Europe.

All the major companies have offices in Geneva/Amsterdam/Rotterdam or other major cities - the working language will be English in almost all cases but having those languages will give you access to those markets.

Others to consider are :

COFCO (no idea if they offer entry level)
Glencore Agri (sometimes offer grad roles in Rotterdam)
Bunge (not sure they do entry lvl)
Barry C

If you struggle to get traction with the big guys there are lots of specialist places that focus on one specific commodity that you'll have to research to find. I'm thinking small sugar producers etc or companies that have carved out a niche in speciality coffee etc.

For what it's worth, ED&F Man are looking for an Italian speaking coffee trading assistant in Genoa - but not sure you have the req. experience without knowing more (I don't work for them, just saw the advert). They also often have roles on their site that aren't widely advertised.

  • 3
May 4, 2017 - 6:44pm

Quite certain ADM has grad (commercial) rotational roles in the UK. News are they are currently reducing their EU operations though.
Neumann Kaffee Gruppe is an important coffee merchant with offices in Hamburg clearing 2.7bn$ in revenue as of '14. They have a 10% share of the coffee market with ops in 28 countries (2000 employees). Not sure what their hiring is like, but worth taking a look seeing as you have a preference for working in Germany

May 4, 2017 - 6:36pm

Ah this is true, and both Cargill & ADM are hiring in the UK at the mo (grads).

Good suggestion on the coffee merchant - you've also got Czarnikow (London) in sugar who have a pretty big market share despite being relatively unknown.

Aug 25, 2017 - 6:20am

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May 19, 2017 - 9:08am

Hey guys, you helped me a lot. I got swamped by my last exams, but I'll start looking more actively in late June / early July.

I guess I had some contacts I just didn't consider. A relative of mine works for a very important shipping company that does a lot of Europe -> West Africa & South America and back. Well, happens that I did an internship there when I was about 14, even if I was young back then, I hope I can leverage the contact to one guy with good connections to the cocoa & coffee industry into something worthwhile.

I guess I have to go the ops route if I'm not incredibly lucky, but I'm sure I'm smart enough to make the transition early and smoothly. I don't I have the candidate's profile that big trading firms are looking for...

Another question: How important is French for Cocoa trading? Somebody got an idea?

May 19, 2017 - 12:11pm

Shipping is always an interesting way into the commodity world. However bear in mind the various types of ocean freight:

Dry Bulk: Grains, Soybean Meal, Sugar, Coal, Iron Ore, Copper Concentrates, Fertilizer
Containers: Coffee, Cocoa, Refined Metals, Cotton
Tankers: Oil, Refined Products, Soybean Oil

So if you have a specific commodity in mind make sure you target the right part of the shipping industry. This way you'll make the right contacts and get some specific knowledge on how the relevant business works.

May 19, 2017 - 12:53pm

Maybe you understood me wrong. I'm not looking to get a job at a shipping company. I hope that the guy has some solid contacts in the commodities world. I heard Barry Callebaut is a big customer for example.

Thanks for the advice though! Haven't thought about the different shipping methods, but I hope they will be irrelevant for my job search ;)

May 19, 2017 - 10:18am

Might also want to look into Trafigura. They have big offices is Geneva, Athens, Moscow....few smaller regional shops scattered across Europe as well. Thanks to their Puma deal, they are now a bigger player in Africa. FWIW I don't think Trafigura does any cocoa business, mainly metals and oil.

Jul 21, 2017 - 12:20pm


I thought I would give a quick update how my search is going:

I just did an interview for a middle sized energy trading House and I have a solid feeling about it. I didn't really have much time in the last few months to write applications since I needed to focus on exams. I will now try to use the networking of family members to find something that is more to my liking than short-term energy trading in a shift pattern (if the job is even offered to me).

The main reason why I rejected the offer: It was not paid. Internships in Italy are often not paid and I'm most definitely not willing to work for free. Other reasons included the necessary relocation and the problems for my exam session...

Aug 25, 2017 - 3:59am

Thank you for throwing me some monkey shit. Didn't know why you did it, but if you meant, that I should have taken the internship, you were probably right....

I'm writing some applications and I hear a lot that my CV is very interesting and sometimes even impressive but that there is no real place for me in the firm. I guess my choice to study a Finance Master was not very useful for my career choice. It has been mentioned often here that theoretical knowledge is not so useful for physically trading softs and that's what I'm hearing from many shops.

Anybody got an idea how I could acquire knowledge that is more useful and make my profil more interesting? I'm already studying French but that is not something one can acquire in 6 months....

edit: DIdn't get the offer from the energy shop because they had candidates that already had previous experience in the job...

Apr 23, 2018 - 11:45am

Maybe somebody is interested how my search went:

Got an internship at a local brokerage for cocoa and cocoa products.

I leveraged that with the help of my boss into a Junior Cocoa Trader Role in Rotterdam

I'm very happy that I won't do a Graduate Program. I want true exposure from the start and training on the job.

Fire away with any questions.

Feb 22, 2019 - 7:11pm

Thanks so much starting this thread. This thread is the only piece of information i have seen on physical commodity trading in Europe.

I was a corn/rice farmer in sub-Saharan Africa before coming to Rotterdam to do my masters and I would appreciate any advice you can give me about breaking into the physical commodity trading industry here.

Feb 28, 2019 - 8:53am

Good move. What I'd recommend is to send research who is trading those products in RTM (or EU) and track them down. Get a solid CV & CL explaining how you know the supply chain from the start.

That is very valuable since most of the trd/ops team won't quite have that knowledge. Make sure to emphasise that supply aspect on your profile and approach recruiters/traders by sending emails to these traders. if you see any [email protected] or [email protected] or even [email protected] or [email protected], these are usually a group and many people will get your CV/CL package.

If your profiles is then good enough (RSM or equivalent, plus supply and good grades etc) you might get some replies. Good luck.

Apr 28, 2018 - 6:12am

Maybe somebody is interested how my search went:

Got an internship at a local brokerage for cocoa and cocoa products.

I leveraged that with the help of my boss into a Junior Cocoa Trader Role in Rotterdam

I'm very happy that I won't do a Graduate Program. I want true exposure from the start and training on the job.

Fire away with any questions.

Hi, first of all, Congratulazioni!
I thought that Grad programmes are actually useful, you know, rotating a bit, seeing the different functions etc. Am I wrong? Also, do you think there is a lot of knowledge needed to jump to a trading position (since I noticed that many times people start in middle or back office)?

May 3, 2018 - 3:22pm

Thanks to you both.

I think that a Graduate Programme can be useful but if you know where you want to end up, why don't just start right there?

I don't consider myself very knowledable in the cocoa business. I believe that determination and basic knowledge are enough. Luck and some networking is probably necessary. I believe that starting in the middle office is a good alternative. Problem remains that you take a detour that will only result in a Junior Role in 1-3 years. From there to a Senior Role you need to do some more years (3-6, I reckon). It is a detour but might give you an advantage later in your career.

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