* 60,000 tonnes LME lead move to Trafigura sheds in Antwerp
* Stock no longer visible to industry, not registered with
* Lead at Glencore's Dutch sheds swells, industry can't
By Maytaal Angel
LONDON, Sept 18 Commodity traders Glencore and
Trafigura are keeping most of Europe's stocks of spare lead out
of the market's reach, pushing up premiums for a metal dogged by
global surplus and anaemic demand growth in Europe.
Since mid-May, more than 61,000 tonnes of lead has left
London Metal Exchange (LME) monitored warehouses in Italy and
Spain. Trade sources said the material has been moved to
Antwerp, where Trafigura subsidiary NEMS owns 13 storage
The metal has yet to reappear on LME data, however, leaving
the total stocks on which industrial users can draw as a last
resort down at just 39,025 tonnes, versus some 110,000 tonnes
this time last year.
The only location in Europe where LME lead stocks have risen
since mid-May is Vlissingen, where Glencore's Pacorini
subsidiary owns all but two of the port's 37 LME-registered
Stocks in the port currently stand at around 18,000 tonnes,
up from some 12,500 in mid-May.
As far as the market is concerned, however, this metal is
out of reach given that warehouses at Vlissingen are backlogged
with aluminium, with clients having to wait around a year to get
metal out, all the while paying hefty rent to Pacorini.
"It's hard to get your hands on (lead) at the moment. It's
all quite tight. The problem is Pacorini are bidding for
material in Vlissingen, so that's putting pressure on premiums,"
a London-based trader said.
Another trader also based in London said: "You can't get
lead from the LME and producers don't have much in terms of spot
supply. Trafigura say they're moving lead to service the
physical market. I find it hard to believe."
The warehouse logjam is not just confined to lead, but
extends to copper, zinc and aluminium, where stocks in
Vlissingen have all jumped since mid-May and are now backlogged.
The LME, the world's biggest marketplace for industrial
metals, has come under criticism for tolerating the backlogs
that have built up at some of the warehouses it approves to
deliver metal against its contracts.
Critics say the warehouse delays undermine the exchange's
role as a market of last resort, where industrial users should
be able to always get hold of the metal they need, as well as
distorting market balances and inflating premiums.
There are some locations where no queues exist, such as
But critics question whether banks and trade houses who
speculate on price should be allowed to run the warehouses and
therefore gain special insight into one of the key drivers of
price, namely, LME inventories.
OUT OF STEP
Lead premiums - money paid over the LME cash price
to secure physical delivery - are stronger in Europe, rising
from some $40 a tonne in mid-May to around $60 at present. This
is for ex-works producer lead, picked up from the factory gate.
Although the rise is not huge, it is out of step with
Demand for lead, a metal used mostly in car batteries,
slowed more than usual in Europe this summer as the continent
faced an escalating sovereign debt crisis.
It has improved slightly in September, but not enough to
cause a pull on a lead market that faces a global surplus. In
other words, the rise in premiums has as much to do with
warehouse storage plays as with changes in supply-demand
Glencore and Trafigura both declined to comment, although
Charles Bucknall, Managing Director of NEMS, said: "NEMS has
increased its current storage capacity in Antwerp because the
port has all the advantages of Rotterdam, but with more space
available and at competitive prices."