LME to implement warehouse reforms, shed owners restrain rent hikes
* Average rents for aluminium to rise by 1.3 pct
* LME urged warehouse firms to be prudent in rent rises
* New LME rules could cut warehouse profits
By Eric Onstad and Silvia Antonioli
LONDON, Dec 30 (Reuters) - The London Metal Exchange will push ahead with proposed reforms to its warehousing policy, it said on Monday, and warehouses announced lower average rent increases than last year in response to the LME's calls for restraint.
The LME, the world's largest marketplace for metals such as copper and aluminium, has come under regulatory and legal pressure to reform its oversight of the global network of warehouses - many owned by large banks and traders - where consumers can collect materials bought via the exchange.
Some industrial companies complained that warehouse firms have let long queues develop to withdraw metal from warehouses, prolonging the time they have to pay rent for its storage and lifting the premiums consumers have to pay to obtain metal.
The LME earlier this year proposed new rules slashing maximum wait times and it said on Monday that, after months-long consultations with market participants and warehouses, it had decided to implement the changes.
Meanwhile, warehousing companies will increase rent charges by an average of 3 percent in April - weighted according to the size of their stocks - down from a 7 percent increase last year, after the LME urged them to be prudent.
The proposed regulations, which aim to cut waiting times to a maximum of 50 days from over a year, are expected to reduce profits for warehouse companies. Higher rents could have offset that.
"The LME is grateful to those warehouse operators that respected the call for restraint in setting their charges for the forthcoming period," the exchange said in a statement.
The LME released a members' notice with maximum rents levels decided by warehouse firms, which vary by metal and location.
It shows that simple average rents for aluminium, the most widely stored metal, will rise by 0.6 cents starting from April 1, up 1.3 percent from the current level of 46.50 cents per tonne a day, according to a Thomson Reuters calculation.
Warehouse companies set their rents annually and independently of each other.
About a month ago, the LME took a tough stance with warehouse firms over rents even though it cannot force changes in the actual levels.
In late November, the exchange and Britain's Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) held talks with warehouse companies, metals industry sources said.
Sources at the meeting in London said the LME and FCA stopped short of threatening legal action against companies planning sharp rent rises. But they were very persuasive.
Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Ltd, which bought the LME last year for some $2.2 billion in the midst of the controversy over warehousing, aims to restore confidence among traders, producers and consumers who use the LME's prices.
But it faces a hard task in reconciling different interests. While consumers of metal such as drinks can makers want the warehousing reforms, some producers fear these could lower earnings from their metal.
This month the world's biggest aluminium producer Rusal filed a UK judicial review aimed at having the LME overturn the planned warehousing policy reforms.
At the same time the LME is facing U.S. lawsuits alleging the exchange, two of Wall Street's biggest banks and big commodity merchants conspired to raise the price of aluminium.
The firms and the LME say the claims are baseless.
Daily rents for LME aluminium have risen almost 50 percent since 2007/2008, according to Reuters calculations.
They jumped by about 7 percent on a stock-weighted average last year to offset an earlier attempt by the LME to cut queues by insisting on higher load-out rates.
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