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UPDATE 1-Gunvor raises $500 mln for new U.S. trading business

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LONDON Oct 3 Swiss-based commodities trader Gunvor Group said on Monday it had secured $500 million for a new U.S. trading operation and said it is still on the lookout for more buying opportunities.

The company, which has raised nearly $1 billion in financing in the last two months alone, said its U.S. team would initially trade refined products, natural gas and bitumen out of its Houston office.

"We're definitely looking at both mid- and downstream. Where we're not looking at is upstream. We don't think it works as well with our model," Gunvor spokesman Seth Pietras said.

Gunvor's U.S. expansion drive is part of the company's diversification away from its Russian roots which began two years ago. It sold its last Russian asset in March 2016.

Sources close to the matter said in July Gunvor was in advanced talks to restart an idled 80,000-barrel per day asphalt refinery on Buckeye Partners' terminal in Perth Amboy, New Jersey.

At the time, Buckeye Partners did not respond to requests for comment and Gunvor declined to comment.

Gunvor has managed to secure funding for its operations even though oil prices have been weak this year. In August, it raised $200 million in project financing to upgrade its 88,000 barrel per day Rotterdam oil refinery.

A weaker oil price tends to be a boon to refiners, who can profit from more generous refining margins.

Corporate borrowing has risen sharply over the course of the past few years, as central bank interest rates have remained at, or close, to historically low levels.

Gunvor's Pietras said the company had no plans to issue any bonds, but rather was looking to refinance its existing revolving credit facilities.

In May, Gunvor Group closed a syndicated revolving credit facility of $1.04 billion to fund new and existing operations in the Asia Pacific region.

The loan was initially launched at $750 million but was increased after being heavily oversubscribed.

Gunvor, which reported a rise in trading volumes to 180 million tonnes in 2015 from 137 million tonnes the year before, is one of the world's largest commodity traders. (Reporting by Amanda Cooper; editing by David Clarke and Jane Merriman)

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