The hottest party in the metals world is back, but much smaller

LME Week is set to return amid continued Covid restrictions. (Image courtesy of LME.)

Near-record copper prices are usually a sure sign that the parties will be extravagant and the champagne will flow all night when the metals world descends on London. 

But with Covid-19 still raging across much of the globe, the famously rowdy annual gathering of traders, financiers and producers won’t be quite the same.

Several of the best-attended parties will be missing from this year’s London Metal Exchange Week, which is returning after skipping 2020 due to virus restrictions. And many regular attendees from Asia, the most important driver of metals demand, and from South America, the key mining region, are opting to stay at home.

The resumption of LME Week, when in past years many thousands have descended on London to cram into hotels, bars and nightclubs, is something of a test case for the return of large corporate events as the pandemic moves to a new phase. 

“It’s certainly the case that there are fewer events,” LME Chief Executive Officer Matthew Chamberlain said in an interview. The week’s centerpiece event, a black-tie dinner hosted by the exchange that is normally attended by 2,000 people, is going ahead with a slimmed down 850 guests and larger gaps between the tables.

“We totally understand that some people may not feel comfortable attending, and it will be a smaller event for that reason and because of travel. But we don’t think that we’re off key,” Chamberlain said. “The impression that I’ve got is that people are really looking forward to a good evening.”

While daily Covid infections remain relatively high in the U.K., the government has lifted almost all restrictions and workers have been returning in growing numbers to the City of London in recent weeks. 

However, many banks, brokers and miners — which typically throw their own parties for clients and contacts during LME week — have scaled back the festivities and are instead focusing on business meetings.

Triland Metals, a broker owned by Japanese trading house Mitsubishi Corp., usually puts on a spread of sushi and champagne for 1,000 people in the Dorchester hotel. But this year it called the party off, believing that it wouldn’t be possible to throw a good party that didn’t risk spreading Covid, according to a person familiar with the matter. 

Freeport-McMoRan Inc., the largest publicly traded copper company, is sending a delegation of executives to negotiate supply contracts, but has canceled its annual party. Many banks and consultancies, which typically present their views on the market to clients during LME week, have moved their events online.

A few are pressing ahead with events. “Why shouldn’t we?” asked Jean-Pierre Adamian, chief executive of Transamine, a medium-sized metals trader which prizes its reputation as a host. “It’s a limited party since it will be mostly European as the rest of the world cannot come.”

In addition to its black-tie dinner, the LME itself is also hosting a smaller drinks reception and organizing a seminar in a hybrid format with in-person attendees and online participation. 

StoneX Group, one of the eight brokers that last month returned to the LME’s open outcry trading floor, has booked 15 tables at the LME dinner. While some people are understandably reluctant to travel, StoneX is hoping that things will be back to normal by next year, said Kevin Tuohy, co-head of metals. 

Marex, another large dealer, is hosting its usual cocktail party on Sunday evening.

“On the one hand, we’re expecting it to be fairly subdued, because of travel restrictions,” said President Simon Van Den Born. “But certainly from our point of view, we see a good amount of people who are making the trip, and who do, almost from a personal perspective, crave some face time.”

(By Jack Farchy and Mark Burton)

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