Copper prices are surging this morning (in the face of Goldman's recent warnings of a plunge), jumping 4 handles apparently on the heels of a WSJ story in which LME admits that 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. What is more remarkable is, as WSJ reports, on several occasions in the last month, this buyer held as much as 90% of the world’s copper stored in LME-licensed warehouses. Though no confirmation has been given traders suggest the firm cornering the copper market is Red Kite Group, a London hedge-fund manager that focuses on metals trading.
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.
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.
Rumors are that it is Red Kite...
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.
Red Kite declined to comment.
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.
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.
“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.
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The Red Kite metals fund posted returns of just over 50% in 2013 after a well-timed switch from a short to a long position in the copper market around the time that prices posted their lows for the year, well-placed sources told Metal Bulletin.
Simply put, they were the market (buying it up in hopes to corner the market)...
The long position delivered returns as copper prices rebounded to finish the year up nearly $700 from its 2013 low, but Red Kite also made strong returns on physical inventory and spreads as copper premiums jumped in Asia and the LME forward curve moved into backwardation, market sources told Metal Bulletin.
"The Red Kite switch was definitely up there as one of the big trades of the year; the volumes were huge," a source active in the copper market told Metal Bulletin.
At the time, sell-side analysts in particular were turning strongly bearish on the copper market, reacting in part to lagged evidence of the slowdown in demand that prompted Red Kite to run short positions around the start of the year, sources said.
"Good data is very hard to come by in the copper market, and at the time I think a lot of people were trading looking in the rear-view mirror," one observer of the company told Metal Bulletin.
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Summing it all up - Is Red Kite the next Amaranth?
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The irony of someone cornering another metals market a week after the death of Nelson Bunker Hunt is not lost on us.