NYMEX Seat Sells for Record $2.485M Amid Strong Oil Trade

A seat on the New York Mercantile Exchange (search) sold Wednesday for a record $2.485 million, up more than 24 percent from the last record hit in October 2004, amid strong oil and natural gas prices.

Strong global demand for petroleum and natural gas have boosted prices for energy futures and, in turn, seats for the ride to trade futures at the NYMEX. Oil futures jumped to a record $58.28 a barrel in April, and have traded at well over $53 this month on worries about heating oil supplies for next winter.

NYMEX hit record trading volumes in the previous two years. It is set to hit another record this year, based on its level of 62 million contracts through April, said a NYMEX spokeswoman.

"The owner of a seat gets to see exactly who makes the bids and offers," said Tom Mooney, who writes a daily report for Southeast Energy, Inc. "The rest of the (trading) world who doesn't own seats is at a huge disadvantage."

Prices for NYMEX's 816 seats have been seesawing with prices for Big Board seats since October 2004, when two seats on the energy bourse sold for $2 million. New York Stock Exchange (search) seats were valued at $1.52 million at the time. Tuesday, a seat on the NYSE sold for $2.5 million.

On Wednesday, offers for seats on NYMEX jumped to $4 million up from Tuesday's offer at the sale price of $2.485 million.

Also underlying NYMEX seat values was a memo from NYMEX Chairman Mitchell Steinhause Tuesday to members saying the exchange would complete a study of all of its strategic opportunities in 60 days.

Most prominent of those opportunities is a bid for a minority stake in the exchange. In late April, Blackstone Group (search), a New York-based private equity firm, and Battery Ventures (search), a Boston-based venture capital firm, made a tentative bid to buy a 20 percent stake in NYMEX for $185 million.

The two firms have also made an offer to purchase 75 of the NYMEX trading rights for $1.25 million each, bringing the value of the total bid to a potential $278.8 million.

As part of the deal, the firms would also shrink NYMEX's board and lead it in an initial public offering.

In the mid-1980s, when the NYMEX oil contract was only a few years old, seats sold for a mere $60,000.