Futures & Commodities

Glencore urges rivals to shut lossmaking mines

Neil Hume and David Sheppard
Ivan Glasenberg, billionaire and chief executive officer of Glencore Plc, arrives to attend the Africa Summit in London, U.K., on Monday, Oct. 5, 2015. Glencore Plc surged in London, following gains in Hong Kong trading as concerns around the company's stability eased after reports that it's talking to potential buyers for its agriculture business.
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Glencore chief executive Ivan Glasenberg stepped up his defence of the under-fire miner and trading house on Monday, calling on rivals to shut unprofitable mines and blaming hedge funds for pushing down commodity prices.

Shares in the London-listed company, which have been the worst performer in the FTSE 100 this year falling by almost two-thirds, rallied as much as 21 per cent in the wake of his comments and as analysts said that a recent sell-off and comparisons to Lehman Brothers were "overblown".

Glencore shares are now back above 100p and have recouped all of the losses sustained last week during a one-day sell-off that wiped out almost a third of the company's equity. However, the stock remains highly volatile — it has risen 68 per cent in five trading sessions — and is significantly below its 2011 flotation price of 530p.

The Switzerland-based company was forced to put out a statement early on Monday after its Hong Kong shares surged more than 70 per cent following a speculative report that said it was open to takeover offers.

Glencore's statement said there was no reason for the share price surge. Insiders at the company said any publicly listed company was for sale at the right price, but dismissed talk of an approach or management buyout.

Why Glencore's rally has further to go
Why Glencore's rally has further to go

Speaking on the sidelines of the Financial Times Africa Summit in London, Mr Glasenberg refused to comment on the recent wild swings in Glencore's share price, but said the company was focused on completing its $10 billion debt reduction plan, which could knock a third off its net debt pile by the end of next year.

Mr Glasenberg focused on copper — Glencore's most important mined commodity — arguing that prices did not reflect supply and demand because of "distortions" in the market.

Glencore has been scrambling to reassure investors and creditors and silence its critics who claim that the company will struggle to manage its $30 billion of net debt if commodity prices do not recover quickly.

In the past week, Glencore has pushed ahead with plans to sell a minority stake in its agricultural arm and has received expressions of interest from sovereign wealth funds in the Middle East, from Japanese trading house Mitsui, and the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board.

It also revealed key details of its trading operations, which have a reputation for opacity, in an effort to reassure nervous investors.

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The company is expected to intensify these efforts this week, tackling head on some of the concerns about its business model, which fuses commodities trading with mining.

"The belief that Glencore is having a 'Lehman moment' seems unfounded," said Paul Gait, an analyst at Bernstein Research, referring to the US investment bank that failed in 2008.

"While leverage is clearly of concern it is not anywhere near an existential threat to the company — it is an issue that needs to be managed and that is clearly what the company is doing," Mr Gait added.

Mr Glasenberg, a frequent critic of his rivals, told the FT conference that miners needed to quickly take "production out" and reduce supply if they were not making money.

He said the price of copper, responsible for about a third of Glencore's earnings, was at odds with low stocks — which Mr Glasenberg put at three weeks of global consumption — and continued demand growth from China.

"We've seen massive destocking around the world," Mr Glasenberg said, arguing that global inventories of the industrial metal were at their "lowest" in years, even as some investors fret about the outlook for the world's biggest consumer of raw materials.

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"Right now all commodities are following the same curve, all moving because of China and the market's negativity on China," he said. "So no doubt you're getting a distortion [from funds betting against the copper price]."

Glencore recently announced plans to mothball two mines in Africa that were losing money. It will invest in the mines over the next 18 months to lower long-term production costs for once the price recovers, Mr Glasenberg said.

Company insiders say that the idea of taking the company private is not something Mr Glasenberg or his senior traders, who together control 22 per cent of Glencore, are considering at the moment.

"If you go back to being a private company you are left with the same questions. How do you pay out shareholders when they leave?" one person said.

"Today when they leave they can sell their shares. It's not the company's concern any more. There are lots of pros to being public. The cons are situations like last week, which are not fun."