JPMorgan And Goldman Sachs Are Playing Whack-A-Mole With Everyone Suing Them Over Their Metal Warehousing Businesses

JPMorgan And Goldman Sachs Are Playing Whack-A-Mole With Everyone Suing Them Over Their Metal Warehousing Businesses

LINETTE LOPEZ AUG. 13, 2013, 2:16 PM 1,554 6

As if on cue, around the country individuals and companies have started filing lawsuits against JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs for allegedly delaying deliveries of aluminum stored in their metals warehouses, thus manipulating the price of the commodity. Lawsuits have been filed in Michigan, Florida and Louisiana. On top of that, The Commodities Futures Trading Commission has subpoenaed JPM, Goldman, and commodities trading firm Glencore for documents related to their warehouse businesses, Bloomberg reports. The thing is — usually, when an issue is this obscure and hard to understand, it’s easily swept under the rug.And so it could have been with a story that appeared in the New York Times last month, accusing Goldman Sachs of using its Detroit metals warehouses to hoard aluminum, driving up the price of the commodity for customers and consumers alike. To understand why you have to understand supply, demand, yield curves and a weird trading term — “contago.”

But there are powerful people unwilling to let this issue go, including Ohio Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown, and beer maker MillerCoors. The company’s global risk manager Tim Weiner, says that these activities have inflated aluminum costs by $3 billion over the last year.

This isn’t to say that Wall Street would take this lying down (have you met them?). In an attempt to preserve this lucrative business from further criticism, Goldman countered the New York Times with its own defense last month, saying that aluminum demand is weak, and that its Detroit-based warehouses control such a small portion of the market that it couldn’t possibly be impacting price. The bank later promised to speed up deliveries of aluminum to customers.

But that didn’t stop the onslaught. It wasn’t long after Goldman’s defense that JP Morgan’s Henry Bath  warehousing businesses (picked up from RBS during the financial crisis fire sale) was under scrutiny as well.

So — the question remains: What’s in these lawsuits?

We took a look at a complaint filed against Goldman and its warehouses, Metro International Trade Services, in Michigan. It’s a class action suit filed by aluminum product manufacturer Superior Extrusion. The defendants also include the London Metals Exchange and “John Does 1-10”.

And here’s what you need to know.

According to the complaint, From 2010 to now Goldman has had a monopoly over London Metals Exchange warehouses in the Detroit area, controlling over 80% of the storage space. That constitutes “75% of the LME aluminum in storage in the United States. It is estimated to constitute more than 50% of the total aluminum in warehouse storage in the United States,” the complaint continues.

Superior Extrusion accuses Goldman of “extreme monopoly pricing power and abusive agreements in very unreasonable restraint of trade.” Those agreements are described as “get paid more to do less” inefficiency agreements.

The LME, say the plaintiffs, have been more than complicit in this. Superior Extrusion alleges that the LME and Goldman have secondary agreements in which Goldman overbids other market participants to get aluminum to its warehouses.

That, argue the plaintiffs, in turn makes costs go up significantly as Goldman is “offering incentives of up to $250 or more per ton to firms to store aluminum in LME Detroit Warehousing for long periods….”

The plaintiffs go on to say that the LME’s actions have an impact on American jobs and American workers (from the complaint):

Far from dissociating itself from Goldman’s anticompetitive purchases and diversions agreements, the LME, per Chris Evans, peremptorily announced in New York during January 2013, that purchasers of aluminum should simply stop paying the high prices. In effect, the LME encouraged users to starve themselves of aluminum and lay off their workers. This classic monopolistic and anticompetitive encouragement, was unlawful because Ford, Novelis, Coca Cola and other users of aluminum do not have to further restrain trade and lay off their workers so that Defendants’ unlawful agreements and abuses of their monopoly powers alleged herein, may continue.

In short: The whole thing is a massive anti-trust conspiracy.

The complaints in all these cases around the country will vary, but likely not by too much. These are all companies suing over the same grievances, hoping that one of them will stick on Wall Street.

The banks, on the other side, will be playing whack-a-mole.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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