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Glencore rewards shareholders after coal-fuelled profits

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Coal helped plump up Glencore's profits./AFP
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Feb 16, 2023 - 12:56 AM

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND — Swiss mining giant Glencore said Wednesday it would dish out $7.1 billion to shareholders after posting record profits driven by a surge in coal prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Glencore said its core profit — earnings before interest, taxes, depreciations and amortisation — rose 60 percent to a record $34.1 billion in 2022.

Despite big fines over corruption cases, net profit soared more than threefold to $17.3 billion at the company.

Glencore said the US Inflation Reduction Act, a $370 billion package for clean technologies, and Europe’s own green industry plans show the growing need for raw materials required for energy transitions.

But it was a surge in prices for fossil fuels, notably coal, that propelled profits at Glencore, which runs mines but also has a commodities trading unit.

Commodity prices soared last year in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and sweeping Western sanctions on Moscow.

“The unprecedented developments in global energy markets were material drivers for both our marketing and industrial businesses,” said Glencore chief executive Gary Nagle.

The commodities trading unit posted a record $6.4 billion core profit as it “successfully” navigated “extreme market imbalances” and volatility in crude oil, liquefied natural gas, coal and refined products, Nagle said.

Glencore said it would return $7.1 billion to shareholders following the strong performance.

“High inflation rates and associated tighter monetary conditions present some risk to the economic outlook in 2023,” Nagle said.

“China’s reopening, however, together with a continued global focus on energy security and decarbonisation/electrification, mean that demand for many of our commodities is likely to remain healthy,” he added.

Unlike its rivals, Glencore has chosen to remain in the coal business, buying from BHP and Anglo American the remaining shares it did not own in the Cerrejon mine in Colombia.

“Glencore’s reluctance to follow in the footsteps of its peers, who’ve cut ties with their less than ESG (environment, social and governance) friendly coal portfolios, is proving a highly profitable decision,” said Matt Britzman, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown.

“Whether you agree or not from a moral standpoint, it’s likely to be a choice that continues to plump up profits over the medium term,” he said.

Glencore’s bottom line was not hurt by the graft cases.

Glencore pleaded guilty in the United States last year and agreed to pay more than $1 billion in fines and criminal forfeiture to resolve US investigations into corruption in several countries and commodity price manipulation.

The settlement was undertaken in coordination with authorities in Britain and Brazil.

The allegations involved bribery in several African nations, Brazil and Venezuela.

The company set aside $1.5 billion for the settlements.

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