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Glencore IPO: 5 things you don’t know about the world’s largest commodities trader

Glencore’s IPO date is set for May 19, 2011, when the company’s stock will begin trading on the London Stock Exchange. A week later (on May 24 or May 25) Glencore stock will also start trading in Hong Kong. Here are five facts you probably don’t know about the world’s largest commodities trader:

1) Raw materials = massive profits. Last year, Glencore logged earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) of $6.2-billion (per the Globe and Mail). Glencore makes its billions by having its fingers in lots of important raw materials pots from oil to coking coal, rice and aluminum. While it started strictly as a commodity trading firm, the company began acquiring ownership stakes in mines and agricultural producers during the late 1980s. With ongoing global currency debasement, profits at Glencore have mushroomed quickly. One of the company’s biggest assets comes in a 34.5 percent stake in UK miner Xstrata PLC (LON:XTA). Glencore’s proportion of Xstrata’s earnings amounted to $1.7 billion all by itself in 2010 (per the Financial Times).

2) Just how big is the world’s largest commodities trader? Ummm… quite big. Glencore International AG’s revenues hit $145 billion last year. Keep in mind, that’s revenue, not market cap. By comparison, the New York-based Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. (NYSE:GS) generated $49 billion in revenue last year and has a market cap of $79 billion. Pre-IPO, Glencore is one of the largest privately-held companies in the world. Forbes names the agricultural company Cargill as the largest privately-held company in the U.S. at the moment, and they estimate the company generated $109 billion in revenue last year. Glencore employs 57,500 people around the world. In a word, Glencore is massive.

3) Born in a four-room flat. Founded by trader Marc Rich and several colleagues, Glencore had a humble start in a tiny apartment in central Switzerland. The company was called Marc Rich + Co back then, and Rich is often credited with single-handedly founding the spot market for crude oil. The company was successful virtually overnight reaping $28 million in its first year trading minerals, metals and oil, according to Australia’s Sky News. The next year, Marc Rich + Co pulled in $50 million, and its continued growing remarkably ever since.

4) Instant billionaires. After digging through Glencore’s 1,600-page prospectus, Forbes has confirmed that the company will create at least six billionaires overnight when the company goes public. At the top of the list sits Glencore’s current CEO Ivan Glasenberg. Glasenberg will hold 15.8 percent of the company (1.09 billion shares) for a net worth of $9.5 billion. “I can’t think of any other IPO where an individual’s stake was valued this highly,” Jay Ritter, a finance professor at the University of Florida, told Bloomberg. Other instant billionaires include the directors and co-directors of various commodity departments, and Glencore’s CFO, Alex Beard, as well an unnamed mystery shareholder.

5) High risk, high rewards. Part of what’s made Glencore into the massive commodities titan it is today is the company’s propensity to take risks others are unable or unwilling to take. Their stake in Katanga Mining, which operates in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is a prime example. Congo’s loaded with natural resources, but political instability in the region means some of that metal might never make it to market. Another London-listed mining company, First Quantum Minerals, was recently stripped of its copper mines by the DRC government (per the Financial Times). Katanga could suffer the same fate … or it could help make a fabulously profitable Glencore all the more appealing in the years to come. Investors will decide whether they want to go along for the ride in two short weeks.

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The Puda Coal stock collapse: what happened? (NYSE:PUDA)

A black swan has swooped over China’s coal mines. Puda Coal (NYSE:PUDA) shareholders were blindsided when a report surfaced on Friday alleging that the company’s chairman, Ming Zhao, transferred ownership of Puda to himself, then sold off a majority stake to a private equity fund. All this occurred without the knowledge of the SEC or shareholders, according to the so-called Chinese bear-raider Alfred Little.

“The (2009) transfers resulted in Ming Zhao owning 99% of (the company), leaving U.S. investors with nothing,” Little wrote on his blog Little Al’s Big Emerging Market Picks on Friday. “Incredibly, PUDA’s auditor, Moore Stephens, failed to catch this theft of an entire company that is clearly documented in government ownership filings that any lawyer can obtain direct from the source.”

Trading in Puda stock has been halted by the NYSE with the launch of an internal company investigation, but preliminary results from that investigation don’t look promising. The company publicly conceded yesterday that “evidence supports the allegation that there were transfers by Mr. Zhao in subsidiary ownership that were inconsistent with disclosure made by the Company in its public securities filings.”

Puda shares plunged more than 34 percent on Friday, and it now appears U.S. shareholders who didn’t get out in time could be left holding worthless scraps of paper – even after Mr. Zhao tried to transfer ownership of the company from CITIC back to Puda.

“The damage done cannot be reversed,” Alfred Little writes. “There is no way CITIC will give up their 49% of Shanxi Coal, 51% pledged shares, veto rights and other control provisions. … There is significant risk of default due to the very high leverage and servicing cost of the $530.3 million 14.5% debt of Shanxi Coal.”

Kevin McElroy at The Daily Profit Blog speculates that the high incidence of corporate malfeasance in China could be due in part to the flawed executive pay structure in the country.

Puda’s chairman, for example, made just $26,000 in salary, stock and exercised options last year. That’s according to documents filed with the SEC, and we now realize just how corrupt those filings were. Had Ming Zhao had more salary to lose, McElroy reasons, though, he may not have been so quick to (allegedly) defraud investors.

Regardless of how it all plays out, the move could have far-reaching implications. We’ve already seen a strong sell-off in shares of other small-cap Chinese companies, and I’d imagine Chinese companies planning a U.S. IPO in the near-term might take pause before approaching the markets with outstretched hands.

In the meantime, Puda’s Mr. Zhao has agreed to a voluntary leave of absence as Chairman “until the investigation is complete.” I suspect he’ll be out longer than that.

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Not everyone’s bearish on uranium mining stocks in 2011

Not everyone’s bearish on uranium mining stocks in 2011

The nuclear disaster in Japan has governments and citizens around the world re-evaluating their energy sources, and that’s led to a mass exodus out of uranium mining stocks. The Global X Uranium ETF (NYSE:URA), which invests in uranium mining stocks, has fallen more than 21 percent in the month since the reactor damage in Japan.

Still, some investors and writers are calling the sell-off a buying opportunity as there are few realistic alternatives to nuclear power – particularly as countries try to green up their energy supplies and decrease dependence on foreign commodities.

Jeb Handwerger at Goldstocktrades.com blames the media for creating hysteria in the space, and he offers several examples of what’s NOT being reported (and why that bodes well for the future of nuclear power):

  • The U.S. Navy has operated nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers for more than 50 years without a major incident
  • Fossil fuel pollution poses substantially more health risks than nuclear power (barring the effects of natural disasters and/or other problems at reactor sites)
  • Japan’s Fukushima reactor was running on nearly out-dated technology, and the reactor itself was two weeks away from its 40-year expiration date at the time of the tsunami
  • Today’s stringent standards for nuclear power plants make them 1,600 times safer than plants that are several decades old
  • U.S. nuclear regulators gave the go-ahead for the construction of two new nuclear plants near Augusta, Georgia, after the Fukushima disaster

Like it or not, 57 percent of the U.S. energy supply comes from coal and petroleum, according to the United States Energy Information Administration. Nuclear power chips in 9 percent and renewable power sources chip in just 8 percent.

If the U.S. – and every economy around the world, for that matter – hopes to become more energy independent, uranium will have to play to a role. It may take a few years for that to come out in the media, but work on new nuclear power plants is moving quietly ahead regardless.

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Three reasons to invest in Xstrata PLC (PINK:XSRAF)

The world’s largest producer of thermal coal and a world-class copper miner, Xstrata’s (PINK:XSRAF) earnings spiked 86 percent during fiscal year 2010. Metals analyst John Tumazos of John Tumazos Very Independent Research tells Barron’s the company’s significantly under-valued compared to its peers. Indeed, shares trade at a 10 percent discount to Xstrata’s coal and copper assets alone. If that isn’t enough, here are three more reasons to consider adding Xstrata to your portfolio:

1) Leader of the pack. Xstrata has “the greatest growth upside” of any of the large-cap miners, according to analysts at Credit Suisse. Copper and coal volumes are expected to surge at an average of 50 percent over the next five years Barron’s reports. That’s good news as prices for both commodities have surged toward record levels this year. Xstrata’s also got significant nickel, zinc and alloy deposits including primary vanadium and platinum group metals. As a bonus, the company provides technology services for large-cap miners including Anglo Platinum Limited (PINK:AGPPY) and Goldcorp Inc. (NYSE:GG).

2) Rain, rain go away. Flooding in Australia has temporarily halted output at the company’s Ulan mine, which has an annual output capacity of 4 million tonnes of thermal coal, according to The Australian. The flooding has also affected coal output at BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, Peabody Energy and Anglo American, stoking coal prices around the world. Xstrata’s strong balance sheet should help the company get the mine back online quickly, and Xstrata claims the shutdown will have little effect on profits.

3) Dividends are good. Xstrata recently returned its dividend to pre-crisis levels with a year-end payout of 20 cents. It was a move that was significantly higher than expected, Paul Galloway, analyst at Sanford Bernstein, tells the Financial Post. If copper and coal prices keep climbing, expect even better dividends in the years to come.

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Top 10 best stock sectors for 2011

One of the toughest parts of investing is being in the right stocks at the right time. In general, sectors move together on a combination of factors: the macroeconomic outlook, changes in demand, materials costs and the regulatory outlook among other things. Based on those considerations, here are the sectors that I believe have the best prospects for a break-out year in 2011:

1) Rare earth stocks. Rare earths mining companies seek out or dig up deposits of rare earth metals – a collection of 17 chemical elements that are increasingly used in high-tech products from iPhones to wind turbines and electric vehicles. Rare earth stocks exploded upward at the start of the year on news that China is hacking exports of the metals by 35 percent through the first six months of 2011. That’s not good considering the fact that China produces 95 percent of the world’s rare earths supply. Rare earth mining stocks outside of China will have to make up for the plummeting supply in coming years. While shares in rare earths companies have cooled off recent weeks (putting several of them in the red since the start of the year), I fully expect the long-term trend to be intact. Among my favorite stocks in the sector? Avalon Rare Metals Inc. (AMEX:AVL), which is up 19 percent on the year.

2) Technology IPOs. A number of multi-billion dollar technology IPOs appear to be on the slate in 2011. From LinkedIn to Groupon, expect lots of press, surging prices and a good opportunity to make a quick buck. Check out my unofficial tech IPO calendar for 2011 to see all the tech companies that might IPO this year.

3) Oil stocks. Political turmoil coupled with rising demand pushed oil over $100 a barrel in London for the first time in three years. The IEA expects demand to grow 1.7 percent to 89.3 million barrels this year, and that’s pushing up share prices for the majors and small-cap exploratory companies as well. Shares in Exxon Mobil Corporation (NYSE:XOM) are up 13 percent since the start of the year.

4) Precious metal stocks. It’s been a tough start to the year for gold and silver as investors have cheered corporate profits and robust consumer spending. That’s had some predicting gold’s peaked, but I’m convinced the long-term outlook for gold – and particularly silver – is still up. Central banks became net buyers of gold last year, and they’re expected to continue that trend in 2011. The SPDR Gold Trust (NYSE:GLD) is down 4.5 percent and the iShares Silver Trust (NYSE:SLV) is up 2 percent since the start of the year.

5) Fertilizer stocks. Rising food costs are the product of inflation and rising demand. As producers try to cope with growing demand, they’ll rely on phosphates, nitrates and potash to try to squeeze more food out of the same acreage. That’s caused an explosive surge in small-cap phosphate exploration stocks. Allana Potash Corp. (CVE:AAA) is up more than 100 percent since the start of the year. Bellweather fertilizer stocks like Potash Corp. (NYSE:POT) and The Mosaic Company (NYSE:MOS) are both up more than 20 percent as well.

6) Copper stocks. The looming threat of a supply crunch has helped push copper prices above $10,000 per ton for the first time in history. Analysts are calling for a worldwide deficit of about 500,000 tons of copper this year, and that will help propel copper mining stocks after what’s already been a great start. Shares in small-cap and mid-tier copper stocks have performed the best to date with Augusta Resource Corp. (AMEX:AZC) rising 21 percent YTD.

7) Uranium stocks. Uranium prices have been on a tear rising 70 percent in the past seven months. In January alone, the spot price for uranium shot up 17 percent to $73 a pound. Uranerz Energy Corp. (AMEX:URZ) in particular has been shining with its shares up 35 percent this year. As countries around the world look to go green, nuclear power will get less press than wind and solar, but it will likely be the backbone of any plan to move away from coal.

8) Coal stocks. Flooding in Queensland and rapidly-growing demand in China have led to a surge in coal prices around the world. If oil prices remain high, coal will be the go-to substitute for power generation in many countries around the world. Year-to-date, the Market Vectors-Coal ETF (NYSE:KOL) is nearly flat, but its up almost 40 percent over the past six months.

9) Blue chip stocks. As the dollar begins falling relative to currencies in other countries, shares in high-quality, blue-chip U.S. stocks begin to look very attractive – particular blue-chip stocks with international exposure. The beneficial exchange rates should make U.S. exports look more attractive and will overfill the coffers at America’s biggest corporations. Shares in General Electric Company (NYSE:GE) are up more than 19 percent since the start of the year.

10) China e-commerce stocks. A recent report by Credit Suisse predicts that e-commerce will grow by 400 percent through 2015 in China. With most of the leading Chinese retail sites in private hands, investors on American exchanges don’t have a whole lot of options to cash in on the trend outside of the Amazon-like site E-Commerce China Dangdang, Inc. (NYSE:DANG). Taobao.com controls 75 percent of all e-commerce transactions in China. If they IPO in 2011 or 2012, I’d recommend cleaning up your portfolio and taking a long position.

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Uranium price forecast for 2011 and 2012

One of my favorite investments right now is often one of the most undervalued by investors: uranium. As the general public fixates on wind and solar energy as the rock stars in the transition to green power, it’s coming increasingly clear that nuclear power will play a major role in getting countries around the world off of coal and oil.

Uranium prices have been on a tear rising 70 percent in the past seven months. In January alone, the spot price for uranium shot up 17 percent to $73 a pound, according to the Financial Post.

How high will uranium prices go in 2011 and 2012?

At least one analyst, Patricia Mohr, vice-president of economics and commodities specialist at Bank of Nova Scotia, sees prices hitting $85 by the middle of 2012. She cites the Megatons to Megawatts program’s end in 2013 as a big factor in the upward pressure on prices. The 20-year agreement between Russia and the U.S. mandated that the two countries convert 500 tons of weapons grade uranium into useable fuel for power plants. With the deal set to expire in two years, uranium supplies will be strained.

“While that seems like a long time from now, countries need to plan ahead,” Mohr tells the Financial Post.

A confluence of other factors are expected to push uranium prices higher in the near and long-term. Flooding in a major Australian uranium mine owned by Energy Resources of Australia Limited (ASX:ERA) will put short-term strain on supplies. Demand increases are expected in just about every country in the world, from South Africa to China, Canada and the U.S., and stocks that hold physical uranium including Uranium Participation Corp. (TSE:U) could manipulate spot prices on the open market.

President Obama’s declaration, too, that the United States’ need to move to cleaner energy is tantamount to another “Sputnik Moment” proves not that the government is committed to cleaning up the environment so much as a concession that green energy is a matter of national security as prices for coal and oil are expected to surge in coming years. Solar and wind power get the press, but uranium will be the backbone in any move toward a greener economy.

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South Africa plans to cut coal consumption in half, boost nuclear power

After nearly pushing the national power grid to collapse and instituting nationwide rolling blackouts in January of 2008, the South African government has proposed a $125 billion plan that would cut the country’s dependence on coal nearly in half.

“We need to make sure that we have adequate electricity going into the future,” Nelisiwe Magubane, Director General of the Department of Energy, said at a briefing, after calling the 2008 rolling blackouts “one of the worst crises in the history of South Africa.”

Today, 90 percent of South Africa’s power comes from coal and just 6 percent from nuclear fuel. The government hopes to cut coal consumption to 48 percent by 2030, and more than double nuclear power to 14 percent. Another 16 percent of the country’s power supply would come from solar and wind energy, and the remaining 22 percent would come from gas and imported hydropower.

The proposed plan comes as the country struggles with rising coal prices. The Stowe Global Coal Index (COAL) has climbed more than 13 percent in the past three months and more than 44 percent over the past year as inflation, flooding in Australia (the world’s largest coal producer) and increasing demand in China and India drive up coal prices.

The proposed plan will likely be echoed by other countries as the world adjusts to rapidly rising demand for energy, and that’s providing ample opportunity for investors with an intermediate- to long-term investing time lines. Some major coal mining stocks have risen more than 80 percent in the past three months. Among them? U.S. coal mining company Patriot Coal Corporation (NYSE:PCX), which is up 86 percent.

The surge in prices will likely retrace in the coming months, but the long-term trend is clear. Rising coal prices are going to be a reality moving forward, and governments will need to adjust their energy policies to facilitate a move to alternative energy.

“At the end of the day people want to have electricity,” Magubane told the press. “You might have all sorts of technologies in place but if you are not sure that they can deliver what you need at a specific time, then you are going to have a serious problem.”

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How to stomach volatility in gold and silver markets

One of the trickiest parts of investing is refusing to get caught up in the day-to-day whims and volatility of the markets. I learned this the hard way in 2008. I was just getting started in stocks, and I thought banks were getting unfairly punished by the markets. I bought at precisely the wrong time, and watched some 60 percent or more of my portfolio evaporate. I was eventually forced out of my positions courtesy of a margin call. If I hadn’t been trading on margin, I would have been in the green by now, but alas, I didn’t have enough of a cushion to absorb the panic that struck the markets just a few short years ago.

It was a valuable lesson, and it’s one that I keep thinking about as I watch the volatility in the gold and silver markets. Over the past 30 days, writes analyst James West, the price of gold has swung between $1,340 and ounce, and $1,420 an ounce, giving it a volatility ratio of 5.6%. Silver, in the same period traded between $25.38 and 30.50, which gives it a 16% volatility ratio. Oil’s volatility range over thirty days lies between $80.28 and $90.87, or 11.65%.

Unlucky timing in your silver investment means you could be down double-digits on your precious metals investment in just four short weeks. That’s not a good feeling. During such times, though, it’s particularly important that you look at why exactly you’re investing in gold and silver in the first place.

For me, it’s not so much certainty that the price of metals is going to keep rising; it’s rather a certainty that the value of the dollar is going to keep falling. QEII is nothing more than a fancy name for borrowing cash. The U.S. government is pulling out its debit card in an attempt to spur banks into lending, small businesses into hiring and big fish investors into scrambling out of bonds and into riskier, more lucrative investments such as stocks.

When money’s cheap, it makes no sense to leave it stashed in a money-market account. Even my “high-yield” Virtual Wallet savings account with PNC is pulling in just 1 percent a year. That’s pitiful compared to the nearly 20 percent returns I could get from a well-picked REIT. We’re in an environment where borrowing pays, and that’s precisely the sort of environment that breeds bubbles. And the writing on the wall says that the bubble is going to be in commodities. Demand for things like gold, silver, copper, coal, oil and natural gas – even wheat, cotton and sugar – is going to keep rising, even as the value of the dollar and other currencies falls. That will push up commodity prices over time.

It doesn’t matter what prices do in the short-run. It’s the end result that everyone knows is coming that’s important. Keep that in mind while your silver stocks bounce around like a buoy in a storm, and you’ll be a lot better off than you would if you keep checking the charts every 20 minutes. I learned that the hard way, and I expect a lot of people are doing the same thing right now. Don’t be one of them, and you stand to come out ahead of the inflation that’s just starting to peek over the horizon.

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Flooding in Australian coal mines could drive coal prices even higher

Coal Price Chart

Coal prices are up more than 30 percent over the past three months.

Coal stocks have been outperforming most of the holdings in my portfolio of late (besides perhaps my uranium stocks). Indeed, the price of the Market Vectors-Coal ETF (NYSE:KOL) is up 32.9 percent over the past three months. Driven by increased demand from China, coal now has even more reasons to go up: excessive rains in Australia.

Flooding in Queensland has shuttered up to 40 open-cut coal mines, and that could trim some $3 billion per month in revenues from the Bowen Basin region. Michael Roche, a spokesman for the Queensland Resources Council, is warning that “current stockpiles of coal may not be enough to meet export obligations.” Some coal mines in the region have been affected since September after a decade-long drought seems to have come to an end. There’s no telling when the rains will let up, and it will take significant time to drain the water away and get rail transport in the region up and running again.

Here’s a shortlist of my favorite coal stocks at the moment and their change in prices over the past three months. All three are based in China:

  • Puda Coal, Inc (NYSE:PUDA), +97 percent
  • L&L Energy, Inc. (NASDAQ:LLEN), +53 percent
  • SinoCoking Coal and Coke Chem Ind, Inc. (NASDAQ:SCOK), -31 percent

[Disclaimer: I currently hold shares in SCOK and PUDA]

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