Shares of Europe's top copper producer in Frankfurt trading plummeted following an announcement that it might have fallen victim to a massive theft, potentially leading to losses of several hundred million euros --adding to the series of turbulence to rock the global metals sector in recent years.
Bloomberg reported that Hamburg-based Aurubis 'found discrepancies' in its metal inventories. It said suppliers had manipulated details about the scrap metal shipments, with even its employees in the sampling department covering up the scam.
"What we currently know is that some of our recycling suppliers appear to have manipulated details about the raw materials they deliver to us, and they have been working with employees in our sampling department to hide the shortfall from us," Angela Seidler, vice president for investor relations and corporate communications, told Bloomberg by phone.
Seidler continued, "Then, in the production process, we have found that the metal is missing, but it is something we have discovered over time because in the case of copper, for example, it takes four weeks for the material to be processed."
Aurubis expects a detailed report will be completed by the end of September. It said preliminary figures show losses could be in "the low, three-digit-million-euro range."
The news of the metal theft forced the company to admit its previously forecast operating earnings before taxes of 450 to 550 million euros for this fiscal year is no longer attainable.
"It's a very serious incident, but the impact of it will be digested within our current fiscal year, and it will not have an impact on our expansion plans and our strategic priorities," Seidler said.
Shares of Aurubis crashed as much as 17% in Frankfurt trading. Salzgitter, which has a 30% stake in Aurubis, sank 7.3% as it slashed guidance.
Morgan Stanley analyst Ioannis Masvoulas told clients the revelation of the scam is a "negative surprise, which raises uncertainties around inventory management."
More from Masvoulas' note (breakdown courtesy of Bloomberg):
Shows a more extensive impact related to alleged criminal activities than previously anticipated
While suggests an inventory writedown in the order of about 3% of market cap, the impact may be bigger on market sentiment toward the company
This setback follows a weaker operating performance that translates to a soft exit rate for FY23
There have been a series of scandals to rock the global metal market. The latest was "Giant Commodity Trader Faces Massive Losses After 'Missing Nickel' Fraud Uncovered."