The US drought provided a fillip for Glencore's agriculture
division – helping it return to the black - by driving crop trading to other
countries, where the Swiss-based group has a stronger presence.
The sugar cane-to-zinc giant, in a results statement which like
that of rival Noble highlighted the appeal of capital discipline, said that underlying
group earnings for 2012 fell 25% to $3.06bn, reflecting declines in both energy
However, Glencore's agriculture division reported an
operating profit of $361m, showing a "marked improvement" compared with a loss
of $47m in 2011.
The return to the black reflected largely the ending of the
cotton market disruptions which marred 2011, when a spike to record prices
prompted many farmers to default on supply contracts, with a collapse
thereafter seeing many mills renege on purchasing agreements.
"Cotton prices, which fell sharply early in 2012, were
particularly subdued compared to 2011 and tightly range-bound in the second
half of the year," the group noted.
US vs rest of the world
The group also noted a boost from the US drought which
reduced the country's corn harvest by more than 20%, compared with initial
expectations, taking a toll too on output of other crops, such as soybeans.
Glencore said its own grain trading volumes had risen by
22%, to 30.9m tonnes, despite the US setback, with oilseed volumes rising 26%
to 13.6m tonnes.
These rises were "in part due to the overall increase in
non-US seaborne trade as US exports, a market in which Glencore has only a
small presence, were particularly curtailed by the drought".
The group is better known for its footholds in the European
and former Soviet Union grain export markets, and has gained a strong presence
in Australia and Canada from its acquisition of Viterra.
Indeed, of Glencore's 22 grain port facilities, with storage
of 5.9m tonnes and annual throughput of about 46m tonnes, none are in the US.
Back to the black
With prices of grains and oilseeds, if not cotton and sugar,
higher too last year, Glencore raised its revenues in crop marketing by 29% to $17.8bn,
and recorded an underlying operating profit of $371m, compared with an $8m loss
a year before.
The result dwarfed the $10m loss from the group's industrial
operations, which extend from Russian farms to Argentine soybean crushing, although
this result reflected an improvement on the $39m operating loss in 2011.
Revenues from the industrial operations fell 8.5% to $3.07bn,
reflecting lower prices of many commodities, and decreased production of
others, which the group reported last month.
misallocation of capital'
Glencore also used its statement to enter the debate on
commodity sector funding, which has been a high-profile topic in recent months,
with reports of many investors switching cash to other assets.
Richard Elman, the billionaire chairman of Noble Group, last
week backed "restraint" on investment plans at a time when "funding is
pulling out of the sector".
Ivan Glasenberg, the Glencore chief executive, said that 2012
would "prove to have been a turning point in the history of the mining industry
in respect of capital allocation.
"It has been evident for some time that capital discipline
in the sector had been eroded by the period of higher commodity prices," a
factor which spurred "a material misallocation of capital across the sector".
"This year investors called time with results for all to
see. This development augurs well for long-term returns in the sector though
investors are likely to have to remain vigilant."
Glencore shares closed 5.7% higher at 391p in London.