By Louise Armitstead and Rowena Mason
December 4, 2010
The $1.5 billion (£1billion) trade was described in the LME’s daily update as “between 50% and 80%” of the 350,000 tonnes in reserves. This pushed up the price for the immediate delivery of copper to $8,700 – its highest level since the financial crisis in October 2008.
A high premium on the spot copper price normally reflects fear of a shortage of the metal, which is in hot demand across the world as a vital component in a mass of products from electrical gadgets to wiring.
A source close to the situation said that JP Morgan had bought the copper contracts, adding that amount is closer to the “lower portion of the range” disclosed by the LME.
Traders said JP Morgan’s name had been circulating the market all day as the most likely buyer, especially since it is about to launch a physically-backed “exchange-traded fund” (ETF) in copper imminently.
One metals broker dealing on the LME said: “The story is that they’re positioning themselves in front of the ETF. There’s been a lot of speculation it’s them.”
Traders noted that there was no physical shortage of copper in the markets but that fears of a squeeze have persisted ever since a raft of investment banks announced their intention to launch ETFs this autumn.
Last month metal traders wrote to the Financial Services Authority (FSA) claiming that licensing the funds, which are also likely to be launched by BlackRock, Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank, may amount to “approving the next financial bubble”.
It is estimated that if the copper funds are fully subscribed they would be looking to buy more than half the total stocks in LME warehouses.
Traders’ concerns are based on the ETF model that will require the investments to be backed by physical metals, such as copper, lead, aluminium and nickel, rather than paper assets offered by futures contracts.
Daniel Major, a metals analyst at RBS, said: “There isn’t a huge buffer available for the market. The supply situation can quite easily tighten in copper.”
The LME moved to quash claims that a rogue speculator was attempting to corner the copper market.
Diarmuid O’Hegarty, head of compliance, said: “The LME has noted recent comments about the current circumstances in the copper market. Such circumstances are not unusual and the exchange is exercising its well established procedures for maintaining an orderly market.”
He added that large trades were not a cause for concern because the market’s rules dictate that holders have to lend out a proportion of their stock to ensure a smooth supply of the metal.
Fundamental supply pressures have also been pushing up the copper market. Rio Tinto, the mining giant, warned last week that next year’s copper production would be lower than expectations. And a strike at an Xstrata mine in Chile, the third largest in the world, has been going on for longer than predicted.
JP Morgan declined to comment.
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