It almost has the air of a Scooby-Doo mystery. The canine sleuth and his gang are confronted by mysterious ghosts, but once the mask is uncovered it turns out to be the local banker.
The phantom in this case was the mysterious buyer of more than half of the world’s copper stockpiles traded on the London Metal Exchange. And while the identity of the trader has not been confirmed, speculation among commodities insiders has unmasked a banker, namely J.P. Morgan. The London Daily Telegraph cites “sources close to the situation” in naming J.P. Morgan.
The motive leading LME traders to finger Morgan is the firm’s plan, announced in a public SEC filing in late October, to launch a physically backed copper exchange traded product.
The heavy buying also explains why the price of copper has soared recently to its highest level in over two years, at over $8,700 per ton.
LME officials have sought to assure investors that the large-volume trading is not an indication of disorder in the copper market and that there no attempt is being made to corner the market. The infamous cornering of the silver market by the Hunt brothers in 1979 caused the price of silver to jump from $6 to the all-time high of $48.70 per ounce.
But many analysts have noted the increasingly tight supplies of copper — exacerbated by ongoing miner strikes in Chile, the largest source of copper production, and sharply growing demand, especially from No. 1 importer China.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of all these metals machinations is how retail securities investors will respond to the new exchange-traded products from J.P. Morgan and its ETF rival BlackRock, which also filed its registration for the competing iShares Copper Trust in late October.
Not so long ago gold was seen as something that eccentric grandfathers still held, while younger sophisticates invested in fast-growing stocks. Who foresaw when State Street launched its SPDR Gold Trust (GLD) six years ago that it would become a $57 billion behemoth and “the fastest growing major investment fund ever” according to a Lipper report cited by The Wall Street Journal?
Could copper become the new gold? Financial blogger Joshua Brown says speculators are betting that the advent of these physically backed funds will mean big buying in the copper market.
That’s a possibility that might elicit an emphatic “Zoinks” from Shaggy.