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Exxon Mobil’s effort to build an energy trading business to compete with those of European oil majors unraveled quickly last year as the firm slashed the unit’s funding amid broader spending cuts, 10 people familiar with the matter have said.

The cuts left Exxon traders without the capital they needed to take full advantage of the volatile oil market, these people said. The coronavirus pandemic sent prices to historic lows — with U.S. oil trading below zero at one point — before a strong rebound. That created an immense profit opportunity for trading operations willing to take on the risk.

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