Submitted by Tyler Durden on 06/16/2011 23:57 -0400.
About a month ago we reported on an inquiry launched into JPM’s “anti-competitive” and “monopolistic” practices on the LME which have resulted in artificially high prices for a series of commodities which had been hoarded by the Too Big To Fail bank. Today, the WSJ continues this investigation into a practice that is not insular to JPM but also includes Goldman Sachs and “other owners of large metals warehouses” which can simplistically be characterized as a De Beers-like attempt to artificially keep prices high for commodities such as aluminum, courtesy of warehousing massive excess supply, artificially low market distribution of the final product, while collecting exorbitant rents in the process. Specifically, “Goldman, through its Metro International Trade Services unit, owns the biggest warehouse complex in the LME system, a series of 19 buildings in Detroit that house about a quarter of the aluminum stored in LME facilities. Coca-Cola and other consumers say that Metro in particular is allowing the minimum amount of aluminum allowed by the LME—1,500 metric tons a day—to leave its facilities, and that Metro could remove much more, erasing supply bottlenecks and lowering premiums for physical delivery in the process. Coca-Cola, which has complained to the LME, says it can take months to get the metal the company needs, even though warehouses are allowing aluminum to come in much more quickly. Warehouses, meantime, collect rent and other fees.” It is not only Goldman’s Metro operations, but includes JP Morgan’s Henry Bath division, and naturally commodities behemoth Glencore, all of which are taking advantage of the LME’s guidelines and rules which make the imposition of a pseudo-monopoly an easy task. The primary driver of this anti-competitive behavior is the fact that GS, JPM and Glencore now control virtually the entire inventory bottlenecking pathways: “In recent years, major investment banks like Goldman and J.P. Morgan and commodities houses like Glencore have been snapping up warehouses around the world, turning the industry from a disperse grouping of independent operators into another arm of Wall Street. The LME has licensed about 600 warehouses around the world. The transformation has raised questions about whether the investment banks, which also have big commodity-trading arms, are able to use their position as owners of warehouses to manipulate prices to their advantage.“And since the outcome of this anti-competitive delayed tolling collusion ends up having quite an inflationary impact on end prices, the respective administrations are more than happy to turn a blind eye to this market dominant behavior which buffers the impact of deflation on input costs. We may have seen the end of the OPEC cartel. Alas, it has been replaced with a far more vicious one – this one having Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan as its two key members.
WSJ explains further:
The warehousing issue alarmed one trader enough to seek government intervention. Anthony Lipmann, managing director of metals trader Lipmann Walton & Co. Ltd., gave evidence to the U.K. House of Commons Select Committee in May 2011, raising concern about large banks and trading houses owning facilities that store other people’s metal.
The U.K.’s Office of Fair Trading dismissed concerns that ownership of warehouses gives certain market players an unfair advantage, saying on Tuesday that there were no “obvious competition issues that would merit further investigation at this stage.”
Goldman’s Detroit warehouse holds about 1.15 million tons out of a total 4.62 million tons in LME-approved warehouses.
Since Goldman bought Metro early last year, the wait time for aluminum delivery in Detroit has increased to about seven months.
Metro charges its customers 42 cents a day for storing one metric ton of aluminum in Detroit, which is about the industry average. At 900,000 tons in the warehouses, Goldman is earning $378,000 a day on rental costs, or about $79 million in seven months.
“Warehouses are making a lot more money,” said Jorge Vazquez, managing director of aluminum at Harbor Commodity Research. Goldman is “really the winner clearly, because if you want to take metal away from the location, you have to wait up to 10 months to get your metal out, and in the meantime you’re paying rent.”