5 Min Read
* Rusal urges LME to target high warehouse rents
* LME warehouse rents 5 times higher than non-LME rents
* Wants new LME consultation to review different solutions (Adds more details, quotes)
By Eric Onstad and Veronica Brown
LONDON, March 31 (Reuters) - Russian aluminium giant United Company Rusal Plc could fall into line with proposed London Metal Exchange rules to cut logjams in warehouses, with a fuller and fair consultation process, a company executive said on Monday.
A UK legal victory for Rusal last week was a setback to the LME's plans for sweeping reform of metal storage, with the High Court in London ruling that consultations with the metals industry had been "unfair and unlawful".
The court ruled against the world's largest metals market place as it said the new rule-making process to reduce long wait times for metal had presented only one viable option: reduce queues by limiting how much can be brought in and out each day.
The LME now has to decide whether to appeal the court's decision or undertake further consultation, including an option it has long believed is illegal: banning or capping rent that warehouse operators can charge on metal stuck in queues.
Steve Hodgson, Rusal's sales and marketing director, said the company would be happier if the LME tackled the issue of high rents at its depots as it reviews its proposed changes.
"The problem that we have ... is that the LME pretty much didn't consider any alternatives," he told a conference call.
The LME, owned by Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing , had planned to introduce new warehouse rules on April 1 that would cut backlogs to 50 days after heavy criticism about queues of more than a year at some facilities to access metal.
Hodgson said Rusal could live with the LME's so-called "load-in, load-out" rules if they were the result of a new consultation that considered a range of solutions.
"If that was the best solution out of a range of proposals that are all supported by adequate analysis, then I think Rusal would be hard-pressed to disagree with that."
The LME oversees warehouses where companies that buy metals such as aluminium or copper on its futures market can take delivery of quality-assured supplies if needed.
Big banks and traders that own warehouses and charge rent have profited from letting long queues build up for buyers to withdraw metal. Some also keep huge stocks of aluminium tied up, unavailable to manufacturers, in long-term financing deals.
Rusal regarded a lack of competitive rents at LME warehouses, which had surged 65 percent since 2005, as a key issue and hoped it would feature in a new consultation, Hodgson said.
"We would be more supportive of an initiative that was trying to deal with a lack of warehouse competitiveness, whether it's regulating rent, whether it's about size of warehouses - I don't know the precise solution," he said.
"You simply can't sustain and say it's reasonable to have warehouse storage on the LME that is five times at least more expensive than a comparable shed that doesn't have an LME fence around it."
The court ruling last week said the LME should have publicly considered banning or capping the rent that warehouse operators could charge on any metal that got stuck in the queue. The LME had repeatedly shunned that solution because it had been advised it would be deemed anti-competitive.
Hodgson appealed to the LME to release any new legal advice on regulating rents as part of a new consultation.
Loss-making Rusal filed the court case because it feared prices of its products would suffer from the LME's efforts to make owners of warehouses deliver metal more quickly.
Aluminium prices slumped in February to their lowest levels in more than four years amid a global oversupply that has pushed stocks of the metal LME warehouses to record levels of over 5 million tonnes.
Rusal on Friday posted a $3.2 billion loss for 2013, hurt by lower prices and restructuring charges. The company's aluminium output fell nearly 8 percent in 2013 to 3.857 million tonnes due to the curtailment of inefficient capacity. (Editing by Dale Hudson and William Hardy)