Glencore won’t renew Rusal aluminum deal as things stand

Aluminum smelter. (Reference image by UC Rusal Photo Gallery, Wikimedia Commons).

Glencore Plc is willing to walk away from a $16 billion deal to buy aluminum from Russia’s No. 1 producer, in a move that would distance itself from one of its biggest rivals.

Under the company’s current policy of not doing any new business with Russia, it won’t renew a deal with United Co. Rusal International PJSC when that expires next year, according to Glencore chief executive officer Gary Nagle. The trading house introduced that policy a month after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but continued to honor existing contracts.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Nagle said in an interview last week. The company has said it will only do new business with Russia if asked to by governments.

The ending of the contract would provide a rare opportunity for Glencore’s biggest rivals to gain greater sway in the global aluminum market, assuming they’re comfortable trading Russian metal that many consumers are refusing to buy. If Rusal can’t strike a new deal of an equivalent size, it may lead to increased deliveries of Russian aluminum into London Metal Exchange warehouses, which could add to pressure on global prices during a weak period for demand.

Still, Nagle said the company’s stance could change depending on how the situation unfolds in Ukraine. “You can’t foresee every single situation that involves a change of policies.”

“You review your policy based on what goes on in the world,” he said. “If there’s peace in Ukraine tomorrow, and the world is comfortable with people doing business with Russia again, yes, we’ll be involved.”

Nagle’s comments come just weeks after Bloomberg reported that one of its biggest trading rivals, Trafigura Group, is in talks about securing its own supply of metal from Rusal. Trafigura has said it will comply with sanctions. Rusal is not under Western sanctions.

Read More: Trafigura lines up Russia aluminum deal in challenge to Glencore

For Glencore, ending its relationship with the Russian giant would signal a major change as Rusal’s metal has for years underpinned its status as the dominant global aluminum trader. The agreement has been vital for Glencore as unlike many other commodities, such as copper and coal, it does not have its own producing assets.

In 2020, Rusal announced the $16 billion deal, under which it would sell about one-third of its production to Glencore. The deal would run until 2024, with an option to extend it through 2025, the Russian company said at the time.

Nagle said Glencore doesn’t need to cut new deals with Russia to deliver for its customers or shareholders, with energy driving record trading profits of $6.4 billion last year.

“Look how well we did last year with our policy,” Nagle said. “We had a fabulous year doing that by trading non-Russian material. So we provided a service to the world and we had a great return on our trading business.”

Glencore still owns a 10.6% stake in Rusal’s parent company EN+ Group International PJSC. It has previously said there is “no realistic way to exit” in the current environment.

(By Thomas Biesheuvel and Will Kennedy, with assistance from Mark Burton)

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