In China, the mystery of the “lost” 490 million copper dollars

Commodity trading is not an easy job. A few months ago, we told you the story of the treasure on which Vietnam was sitting, a stock of aluminum that the country could not however put on the market, then in full shortage.

More recently, it was a Chinese nickel billionaire who saw his empire collapse following a bad bet on the markets, and dragged down a number of investors with him. It is this time a case of missing copper that agitates the world of raw materials in the Middle Kingdom. A group of companies, worried about their wallets, are investigating the activities of a storage site in the northeast of the country.

At the center of the case, explains the American media, is a firm called Huludao Risun Trading Co., a medium-sized intermediary which, each year, trades between 800,000 and 1 million tonnes of copper. To do this, it finances itself with other companies, which it reimburses once the material has been resold to the founders of the country.

As reported by Bloomberg, these firms, majority owned by the Chinese state, financed the purchase of 300,000 tonnes upstream. However, it seems that the Qinhuangdao depot only has a third, or 100,000 tons. It is therefore not an easy task: the counter is missing the equivalent of 490 million dollars, about as much in euros, of the precious raw material.

Opacity

This could be a typical case of fraud, in a complex environment where the high volatility of the markets, since the Covid crisis, the global economic recovery and the war in Ukraine, pushed companies in need of financing to diversify their sources. A greater opacity which has, it seems, sometimes allowed them to perform very nice accounting sleight of hand.

What happened to the phantom, yet paid off stock of Huludao Risun Trading Co. is not yet known. This hole of 200,000 tonnes, despite the seemingly colossal figure, should not have too great an impact on the downstream market, as foundries can use the large stocks they have already built up, explains a Mysteel specialist to Bloomberg. .

This strange story of lost copper, whatever its real nature and its final explanation, nevertheless follows another case of the same type, in which loans for the purchase of aluminum had revealed, here too, very large holes in the inventories.

These hiccups with crazy sums push the authorities to look more seriously on materials financing systems and their players, apparently not always with the utmost seriousness, or even the greatest honesty. These errors or thefts can sometimes expose larger business accounts to large losses, such as when du «scandale de Qingdao», en 2014.

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