Top Glencore shareholders favor keeping coal over spinoff

Mt Owen coal mine in Australia’s New South Wales. (Image courtesy of Glencore.)

Several of Glencore Plc’s largest shareholders believe that the company should retain its coal assets, according to people familiar with the matter, throwing a proposed spinoff into doubt.

Glencore, the world’s largest shipper of thermal coal with a market capitalization of about $73 billion, had said it intended to spin the business off within two years of closing a deal to buy the steelmaking coal assets of Teck Resources Ltd.

But major Glencore shareholders believe that the company would be better off retaining its coal business, the people said, asking not to be identified because the information is private. The company’s largest shareholders are former chief executive officer Ivan Glasenberg, the Qatar Investment Authority, and BlackRock Inc.

Glencore’s coal business is one of its most profitable units, driving record returns in recent years, and the plan to exit coal and list a new company in New York represented a major strategic pivot under current boss Gary Nagle. The company had long resisted pressure to follow rivals in exiting the business, arguing that the world still needed the dirtiest fuel and that it was more responsible to run the mines itself than sell them.

Glencore’s coal mining business generated earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation of $26 billion in the energy crisis years of 2022 and 2023, more than half of the whole company’s earnings.

Even with lower energy prices, the company said in February that at spot prices and on a pro forma basis, its coal business together with the Teck unit it is acquiring would generate $7.5 billion in Ebitda in 2024, or 42% of the company’s total. What’s more, relatively low capital investments mean the coal business throws off cash.

It’s not clear when and in what form Glencore might put the spinoff to a shareholder vote, with the deal to buy Teck’s coal business yet to close. The shareholders will only form a final view once there is a concrete proposal on the table, and their stance could still evolve, the people cautioned.

While Glencore announced its intention to spin off its coal assets when it agreed to the Teck deal in November, it has since then made clear that the separation would only go ahead if shareholders wanted it.

A Glencore spokesperson referred to comments made by CEO Nagle in February.

“When we announced the transaction, we said our intention was to spin out, and that is our intention,” Nagle told investors. “But it’s always subject to what our shareholders want, and we will consult with our shareholders, and it’s the decision of the shareholders ultimately to do that.”

Glencore’s coal business has long been a source of controversy among climate activists and some investors. In 2020, Norway’s sovereign wealth fund said it had sold its Glencore stake due to the company’s exposure to thermal coal.

When he unveiled the deal to buy Teck’s coal assets in November, Nagle argued that a spinoff made sense because Glencore’s coal and metals businesses would attract higher valuations as separate businesses than as one.

After the spinoff, Glencore’s remaining business would be one of the biggest miners and traders of copper, nickel and cobalt, all essential commodities for the energy transition.

But Glencore’s largest shareholders increasingly view the coal business as a cash cow that strengthens the entire company, the people said, and they see few benefits in spinning it off.

Glasenberg, the company’s largest shareholder according to data compiled by Bloomberg, rose to become Glencore CEO after running the company’s coal business and has long been a fan of the commodity.

Other shareholders like QIA also appreciate the cash flows that coal brings. Some, including BlackRock, might be forced to sell the coal business if it was spun off due to their own policies preventing them from owning coal-focused companies.

(By Thomas Biesheuvel, Dinesh Nair and Jack Farchy)


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