Over half a century (the company will celebrate its 50th anniversary in August) Vitol has never suffered an annual loss. Profits surged from just $22.9 million in 1995 to a record $2.28 billion in 2009, according to documents reviewed by Bloomberg. At its peak, Vitol’s return on equity, a measure of profitability compared with the money that partners have invested, was a geyserlike 56 percent. Even Wall Street pales in comparison; Goldman Sachs’s best ROE since going public in 1999 is 31 percent. ... Vitol, which trades about 6.5 percent of the world’s oil, fights in a tough arena. It competes with other independents such as Glencore, Trafigura Group, Mercuria Energy Group, Gunvor Group, and Castleton Commodities International. It also grapples for market share against Big Oil’s in-house trading arms, including those of BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Total, and, increasingly, state-owned Chinese oil companies. ... As for the future, Vitol faces a daunting fact: The best days of oil trading are almost undoubtedly in the rearview mirror. Margins are shrinking as the market becomes ever more transparent and competitors emerge fighting for the same barrels. Even as Vitol sinks more capital into assets such as refineries and terminals, returns are falling. Last year’s ROE was 16 percent—for Vitol, a less-than-stellar number. ... In August 1966, two Dutchmen, Henk Viëtor and Jacques Detiger, invested 10,000 Dutch guilders (about $2,800 at the time) to start a Rotterdam company with the aim of buying and selling refined petroleum products by barge up and down the Rhine. They crunched Viëtor and “oil” to get Vitol. The money was a loan from Vietor’s father and the pair agreed to pay an annual interest rate of 8 percent. ... The modern Vitol began to take shape in 1990, when Detiger and seven other partners sold the company for $100 million to $200 million (the actual figure wasn’t disclosed) to a group of about 40 employees, including Taylor.