GLENCORE has been on my radar for some time. Here is what I wrote in the past.
5th June 2011
New Independence Day
Aficionados of the Stock Market and its machinations will have noted the arrival of GLENCORE as a public listed company valued at something around £35 Billion.
GLENCORE specialises in trading commodities around the world, an activity in which it has proved so adept that it is now estimated to be controlling half the global total market in copper as well as more than half of the world zinc market.
Metals are not the only thing that GLENCORE are interested in, as well as food and resource commodities there is a host of other esoteric items that GLENCORE are prepared to trade for profit.
Of course, commodities’ dealing is a widespread practice older than capitalism itself. Those who have wealth seek to enhance it by manipulating access to whatever resources the majority can manage to obtain.
However, the rise of a new type of super traders like GLENCORE is a modern phenomenon and one which has appeared to catch much of the mainstream by surprise. It is not just the sheer size and influence of a corporation like GLENCORE that makes it a new and interesting addition to capitalism. It is the qualitively different nature of its activities; something that will become ever more apparent in the coming years.
This is illustrated in the first place by the very fact that GLENCORE has chosen to go public at all.
Commodities speculation is coming under increased, if belated, scrutiny across all sections of the media and government as end prices of basic goods seem to inexorably rise from year to year despite near recession levels of consumption demand.
The mainstream gaggle have rushed to blame the BRIC nations and in particular the Chinese for having the temerity to want meat once a week and even a refrigerator to put it in!
It might seem obvious that this is little more than a transparent attempt to divert attention from the parasitical activities of the market onto a more convenient target, but the truth is more complex and ultimately much more disturbing than a simple bit of tub thumping xenophobia.
In the past GLENCORE has been keen to avoid any kind of public discussion of its activities. There might be any number of reasons for this. Over the past couple of decades GLENCORE has found itself in conflict with differing national jurisdictions around the world. The attitudes and philosophies of a number of the companies’ leading lights have also been the cause of raised eyebrows at one time or another.
Yet a stock market flotation is bound to bring about increased outside scrutiny and even possibly control from investors. So why, given the fact that they have been so successful up till now, would GLENCORE choose to go down this road?
GLENCORE itself states in rather bland terms that the aim is to prepare the conditions for a renewed round of company expansion, best served by offering a piece of the action to Stock Market fund investors. This explanation hardly stacks up. If it is a matter of raising capital, GLENCORE has seemed to do OK up till now, and since stock market money inevitably comes with increased scrutiny surveillance and restrictions, it would seem in the light of Glencore’s past attitude, too big a price to pay.
But I can think of one reason that GLENCORE might want to go public despite all the inconvenience this might bring.
I have previously observed that the housing finance crisis is not a ‘classic’ bubble situation and will not have a ‘classic’ resolution. In fact, the housing bubble was so far the largest incidence of an asset class being used as the basis for issuing private ‘democratised’ currency. I predicted that housing was only the first of many such asset classes to be used this way. I further predicted that it was likely that commodities such as metals or food may very well be next. That is what we are seeing now.
This is how it will go down.
GLENCORE floats on the stock market. Gradually, pension funds etc. all take a piece of the action through stock holdings. Then GLENCORE starts passing off CDO’s and other ‘democratised’ money to the funds that already own part of GLENCORE.
The funds can’t lose, they take GLENCORE paper and as a consequence the value of their GLENCORE shareholdings rises!
Which means that the newly issued ‘democratised’ money is backed up by an increasingly large and stable capital base, which means that its tradable value rises, which means the value of GLENCORE shares rises…..which means that the democratised money is backed up by an increasingly large and stable capital base
See where this is going?
I argued in a previous piece that it is precisely this kind of sealed, self referencing bubble mechanism that differentiates ‘democratised’ money from a ‘classic’ bubble in the housing collapse. This is what makes it so dangerous. No outside mechanisms kick in to prevent the bubble from expanding forever in theory.
And when the crunch does come, surprise, surprise there is no legal way to disentangle all the competing claims and counter claims on the asset base. The company is therefore deemed ‘too big to fail’ and the public picks up the tab.
Corporate media is unwilling and unable to describe the true nature of these developments so it continues to bellow confused and confusing messages with half the hacks saying there is no regulation, the other half shouting just as loudly that banking is going drown in regulation ink!
Jeremy Warner in the Telegraph online tells us:
‘…over the next few years the Bank (of England), acquires new powers and responsibilities that will make this 317-year-old institution arguably the most powerful authority in the land – more powerful in terms of its influence over the economy than the Chancellor himself’.
(The Bank of England‘s astonishing escape from the financial crisis)
These new powers will be:
‘….a grand experiment in macroeconomic management (my emphasis), the like of which has never been tried before. In addition to its existing powers to set interest rates and manage the money markets, the Bank of England will acquire responsibility not just for banking supervision but for controlling the credit cycle (my emphasis), in the round – a function known as “macroprudential regulation”’.
All of which he finds a little confusing because the BoE appeared to screw things up so royally in the Crunch:
‘Does it really make sense to be placing so much faith in an institution which many accuse of being asleep at the wheel as the biggest financial crisis in 100 years came crashing down on the economy?’
Meanwhile, over at Bloomberg they see things altogether differently:
‘There is definitely going to be another financial crisis around the corner because we haven’t solved any of the things that caused the previous crisis,” Mobius said at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo today in response to a question about price swings. “Are the derivatives regulated? No. Are you still getting growth in derivatives? Yes.”’
(Mobius Says Another Financial Crisis ‘Around The Corner’
Kana Nishizawa – May 30, 201112:10 PM GMT)
According to this article:
‘the number of “too-big-to-fail” banks will increase by 40 percent over the next 15 years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. ‘
As a consequence Mobius is calling for more regulation:
‘Separately, higher capital requirements and greater supervision should be imposed on institutions deemed “too important to fail” to reduce the chances of large-scale failures, staff at the International Monetary Fund warned in a report on May 27.’
‘“Are the banks bigger than they were before? They’re bigger,” Mobius said. “Too big to fail.” ‘
So it seems that Bloomberg is reporting the need for more regulation while The Telegraph wants less regulation if anything.
At first glance it may seem strange that three years after the crisis began, there still has not emerged any widespread, clear, coherent understanding of the nature and causes of the problem and the solutions required. Yet at the same time it is clear that some actors within the drama seem to be moving with purpose. The oddly named macro-prudential regulation offers some insight into this purpose. This indicates that the BoE is going to be tasked with regulating the credit cycle whatever that might be which is really code for clearing up the ongoing messes that result from the Democratisation of Money. In the new dispensation, national currency and national central banks will fulfil the role of enabling democratised money through the way they regulate the national banking system. They will inject national currency when required and withdraw it when required to stabilize the flows of privately issued currency.
Since we have already had a little taste of what this will mean for the national finances and consequently national provision of governmental services, it is important to make sure there can be no democratic blowback from this new state of affairs. But this has already been arranged. An independent Bank of England will provide the support for independently issued Democratised currencies all independent of any political control whatsoever as you have seen in Portugal Spain and Greece.
It was making the Bank of England independent that made this all possible-an action carried out by Gordon Brown. Remember that.
‘As the Bank prepares to take on its new, all-embracing powers, the most remarkable thing about it all is quite how durable, in the face of abject disaster, the Brownite settlement around independence has been.’