Whenever I see a picture of Rusal CEO Oleg Deripaska, I know that Neanderthals still walk the earth. This particular Neanderthal is in serious financial difficulties these days. When Rusal IPOd about four years ago, it was priced at HK$10.20/share, and it’s been all downhill since. The stock is now trading for about 75 percent less, at HK$2.32. Rusal is levered up to the wazoo, and Deripaska has other pressing obligations, including construction projects at Sochi made at Putin’s insistence which will almost certainly be huge white elephants.
The main reason for My Favorite Neanderthal’s financial distress is the depressed price of aluminum, which is down by about a third in the past three years. For a smelter like Rusal, the only saving grace is the high premium of cash aluminum over the prices of metal in LME warehouses. That premium is inflated by a bottleneck at LME warehouses like Goldman Sachs’s Metro in Detroit. If that bottleneck is widened, the huge stocks accumulated during the financial crisis will make their way onto the market, crushing premiums and bringing down the price that Rusal (and Alcoa and Chinalco) get for their production. This would probably be enough to put Rusal and Deripaska over the brink.
Stung by intense criticism, the LME has announced rule changes intended to loosen the bottleneck. The mooted rule changes are a mortal threat to Deripaska, so he’s suing in London. This is not surprising, because Deripaska has nothing to lose.
What is somewhat surprising is the specific claim that Rusal/Deripaska are making:
“Rusal has alleged that the consultation conducted by LME was unfair and procedurally flawed, that the LME’s changes to its warehousing policy are irrational and disproportionate, and that Rusal’s human rights have thereby been breached,” Hong Kong Exchange and Clearing, also known as HKEx, said in a news release. [Emphasis added.]
Human rights. What a riot. I know that many Russians have sued in European courts claiming that their human rights have been violated by the Russian government. In 2012, there were over 22000(!) such claims filed in the European Court of Human Rights, which I believe is the largest total for any country. The Court rejects virtually all these claims, but still enough proceed to make Russia consider invalidating the Court’s decisions. (Ironically, this story appears today. Merry Christmas!)
So I guess Rusal is playing turnabout is fair play. Good luck with that, Oleg. Methinks the LME will prevail, cash aluminum premiums will fall $75/$80 per tonne or so, and Rusal will soon be staring bankruptcy in the face. And maybe Neanderthals will become extinct after all. Financially, anyways.