The world's biggest oil traders are sitting on a war chest worth billions of dollars, but are reluctant to embark on a spending spree, because the pool of available assets is either too pricey or simply not for sale.
Vitol, Mercuria, Trafigura and Gunvor, the four privately-owned houses that traded nearly a billion tonnes of raw materials last year, have all said they are open to opportunities, but not at any price.
"The assets are (either) problematic, so it's not clear you want to own them, or they are reasonable assets, but their price hasn't come down low enough to create an opportunity," Mercuria chief executive Marco Dunand told the Reuters Commodities Summit.
The trading companies, which profit from volatility in the price of commodities, rather than falls or rises, have used this downturn in raw metals to rid themselves of assets they no longer want and prepare the ground for juicier targets.
Mercuria sold a 51 percent stake in Henry Bath, one of the world's oldest metals storage firms that it acquired through its purchase of JPMorgan Chase's physical commoditiesbusiness, in September, for $60 million.
Rival Trafigura netted nearly $900 million last year from the sale of an 80-percent stake in the Corpus Christi complex, its oil asset in the Texas shale hub, to U.S. firm Buckeye.
Chief financial officer Christophe Salmon said Trafigura was open to opportunities, but only those that would not compromise the company's balance sheet.
"Obviously, if you divest from existing assets, this leaves you more ability to reinvest, to recycle this capital into future acquisitions, so it's a moving piece," he said.
"Now that valuations are coming to a more reasonable level, we could be looking at opportunities again on a very selective basis," Salmon said.
With that in mind, Trafigura is drawn more by infrastructure than in upstream producing assets, he said.
Gunvor, one of the world's top four oil trading houses, has raised some $2 billion from selling its Russian assets, since former co-owner, Russian billionaire Gennady Timchenko, was hit with U.S. sanctions last year.
Gunvor chief executive Torbjorn Tornqvist told the summit he definitely saw his company growing in the coming years.
The company's series of divestments has left it with a healthy cash pile that it could invest in new business in places like Europe, the United States and China.
Vitol on the other hand has snapped up a number of assets in the last year, from taking control over a series of European oil refineries through its Varo Energy joint venture, to buying a stake in the Nigerian downstream assets of Oando, to taking over oil storage firm VTTIhttp://www.reuters.com/article/2015/10/22/commodities-summit-ma-idUSL8N12L4F220151022