Commodity trading is not an easy job. A few months ago we told you the story of the treasure that Vietnam was sitting on, a stock of aluminum that the country, however, was unable to bring to market as it was in utter shortage at the time.
More recently, it was a Chinese nickel billionaire who saw his empire collapse after a bad bet in the markets, taking a slew of investors with it. This time it’s a case of a missing copper that is stirring up the resource world in the Middle Kingdom. A group of companies, worried about their wallets, are investigating the activities of a deposit in the north-east of the country.
According to American media, the focus of the case is a company called Huludao Risun Trading Co., a medium-sized broker that trades between 800,000 and 1 million tons of copper annually. To do this, it finances itself with other companies, which it reimburses to the founders of the country after the material has been resold.
As Bloomberg reports, these companies, which are majority owned by the Chinese state, financed the purchase of 300,000 tons upstream. However, it seems that the Qinhuangdao depot only has a third, or 100,000 tons. Not an easy task: the counter is missing the equivalent of 490 million dollars, about the same amount in euros, of the precious raw material.
This could be a typical case of fraud in a complex environment where the high volatility of the markets since the Covid crisis, the global economic recovery and the war in Ukraine caused companies in need of financing to diversify their sources. A greater opacity that, it seems, has sometimes allowed them to perform very neat accounting tricks.
What happened to the phantom but paid-off shares in Huludao Risun Trading Co. is not yet known. That 200,000 ton hole shouldn’t have too much of an impact on the downstream market, despite the seemingly colossal figure, as foundries can draw on the large inventories they’ve already built up, a Mysteel specialist tells Bloomberg.
However, this strange tale of lost copper, regardless of its true nature and ultimate explanation, follows another case of the same nature in which borrowing to purchase aluminum had also uncovered very large holes in inventories.
These insane hiccups are driving the authorities to take a more serious look at materials funding schemes and their actors, apparently not always with the utmost seriousness or even the greatest honesty. These mistakes or thefts can sometimes expose larger companies’ accounts to large losses, such as during the 2014 “Qingdao scandal”.