Hermes Betting Against Zinc as Smelters in China to Boost Supply

Aug 08, 2014 8:11 am ET

Aug. 8 (Bloomberg) -- Hermes Fund Managers Ltd., the pension fund manager with $1.6 billion in commodities, is betting against zinc as smelters in China will be encouraged to boost output to take advantage of higher prices.

Stockpiles in bonded warehouses in China are rising, Joseph Murphy, an analyst at Hermes, said in an interview in London this week. Money managers were the most bullish on zinc out of six main industrial metals on the London Metal Exchange as of Aug. 1 with stockpiles in bourse-approved depots falling 26 percent this year.

“The market is seeing LME stocks drawing but is not appreciating that bonded are rising at the same time,” Murphy said. “There is a huge incentive for smelters to produce more. In the next few months, the fizzle will come off zinc.”

Zinc for delivery in three months declined 1.7 percent today to $2,290.25 a metric ton on the LME, trimming this year’s advance to 12 percent. Prices climbed the past four months, the longest streak since October 2010 amid expectations supplies will fall short of demand.

The metal will average $2,205 a ton this quarter and $2,270 a ton in the fourth quarter, BNP Paribas SA said in a report e- mailed July 31. Refined zinc demand will exceed supply by 250,000 tons in 2014 and 200,000 tons next year, according to the bank.

LME Stockpiles

LME stockpiles climbed 36,350 tons, or 5.5 percent, this week to 691,625 tons, the biggest weekly advance since April, exchange data today showed. Inventories in bonded warehouses in China rose to over 240,000 tons at the end of May from less than 50,000 tons at the end of 2013, according to Macquarie Group Ltd.

Speculative money is moving out of zinc and into aluminum, nickel and probably even lead, Xconnect Trading Ltd. said in a report yesterday. Money managers had 39,367 short positions in zinc as of Aug. 1, down from 40,332 on July 28, according to LME commitment of traders data on its website. Their long position came to 135,849 futures and options, or 30 percent of total open interest, the data show. That position was 31 percent at the start of last week.

Ample supplies of concentrate and rising charges to treat it in addition to higher domestic metal prices should encourage smelters in China to boost output, according to Murphy.

Metals Investigation

With recent scrutiny by Chinese officials into the use of copper as a financing tool, zinc is becoming increasingly popular, according to Murphy. Imports of refined zinc by China climbed 41 percent to 68,476 tons in June, the highest since January, according to customs data. That compares with a 10 percent drop in copper imports.

Authorities are investigating whether metals stored at China’s northern port of Qingdao were pledged multiple times as collateral for loans.

Zinc has benefited as hedge funds in China took speculative long positions on the Shanghai Futures Exchange, according T- Commodity srl, a Milan-based consultancy. Zinc for October delivery in Shanghai has climbed 10 percent this year.

“It’s another proof of how powerful Chinese hedge funds are now on metals,” Gianclaudio Torlizzi, partner at T- Commodity, said by phone yesterday. “We are not seeing any kind of real supply tightness in the market now. The recent run was really excessive. We are advising clients to wait for a consolidation.”

Some people decided to step back from zinc after the release of the LME data, which pointed to the role of funds and money managers in driving up the price, according to Vivienne Lloyd, an analyst at Macquarie in London.

“That has caused people’s bullish sentiment on nickel and people decided to step back from zinc,” Lloyd said by phone yesterday. “We have and other people have been saying for some time that the fundamentals don’t support the bullishness in the zinc price rally.”