Monday, 27 October 2014

WSJ: Single Firm Holds More Than 50% of Copper in LME Warehouses.


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"A single buyer has snapped up more than half the copper held in London Metal Exchange warehouses, giving it control over a crucial source of supply and raising concerns among traders about the potential for higher prices.
On several occasions in the last month, this buyer held as much as 90% of the world’s copper stored in LME-licensed warehouses, equal to about 140,000 tons, or enough to make the copper parts of the Statue of Liberty more than 1,700 times. As of Wednesday, the buyer owned between 50% and 80% of copper held in warehouses, according to the most recent exchange data.
At today’s prices, a 50% to 80% share of LME copper inventories would be worth anywhere from roughly $535 million to about $850 million.
Although the exchange doesn’t identify the owners of metals, eight traders and brokers working for different firms active on the LME said they believe Red Kite Group, a London hedge-fund manager that focuses on metals trading, was the one buying. One of the brokers said that when he needs to buy copper for clients, contacts in the market refer him to Red Kite, indicating the fund is sitting on a large pile of metal.
Red Kite declined to comment.
Banks often hold large portions of the metal in LME-licensed warehouses on behalf of clients, but a hedge fund holding that much copper is less common, traders and brokers say. The London Metal Exchange, owned by Hong Kong Exchanges & Clearing Ltd. , doesn’t limit how much metal a single trader may hold in its warehouses, and says that it has mechanisms in place to prevent market squeezes—a situation in which holders of a large share of the supplies use their position to jack up prices. For example, it requires a company with a dominant position to lend metal for short periods and it caps the amount of money that can be charged for that service.
“The LME constantly monitors its markets to ensure that trading is orderly,” a spokeswoman for the LME said. The LME’s “lending guidance” system “is the most effective way to manage pressure arising from dominant positions in our market.”
Prices ticked higher last week in response to positive economic news from China, the world’s biggest consumer of the metal. They remain below their levels at the start of the year because demand has been sluggish and production capacity is expected to increase. The official price of copper for delivery in three months on the LME was $6,696 on Friday.
The metal’s owner could be wagering that global copper supplies will tighten, causing prices to shoot up, analysts say. The price of copper traded on the LME is used as a global benchmark, and metal users rely on the exchange’s warehouses for emergency supplies. If one firm owns most of that spare supply, it can charge higher prices to buyers, analysts say.
“There’s no reason for anyone to be holding 70% of the stocks of the commodity,” said Jessica Fung, head of Commodities Metals at BMO Capital Markets.
Established in 2004, Red Kite is now run by two of its founding partners, Michael Farmer and David Lilley, both alumni of the German industrial conglomerate Metallgesellschaft AG, which collapsed in 1993. The fund is known for its bold and extremely profitable trades involving copper, as well as other metals. Red Kite Group manages $2.3 billion, according to its website.
A single firm has owned at least 50% of the copper in LME-licensed warehouses for much of the last four months. Accumulating such a dominant position became easier in June because the amount of metal under the exchange’s watch had plummeted, as had prices. The warehouses have held less than 160,000 tons of copper since mid-June, compared with more than 360,000 tons at the start of the year. Some analysts say copper production is running behind demand, forcing some users to draw on stockpiles in LME-licensed warehouses.
Some traders say the concentration of so much copper under one firm’s control is already driving up prices. It costs about $72 more per ton to buy copper for delivery today than for delivery in three months. Others say copper is more expensive because miners aren’t meeting global demand.
The LME’s regulatory function has come under intense criticism from aluminum buyers, who have complained of long waits and high costs to get supplies out of certain warehouses. The exchange has responded by changing its rules.
—Tatyana Shumsky contributed to this article.
Write to Sarah Kent at, Ese Erheriene at and Ira Iosebashvili"

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