In a hole
Glencore’s attempt at reinventing mining has run into trouble
From the edge of the Kamoto Copper Company’s pit, it is hard even to see the mechanical diggers toiling dozens of tiers below. The 280-metre hole on the southern edge of the Democratic Republic of Congo is deeper than Africa’s tallest building is tall. Lorries take the best part of an hour to crawl out from its heart. The greenish ore they lug is given its hue by copper but much of its value by cobalt nestled within. Usually driven to South Africa, then often shipped to China, the cobalt will emerge from a series of factories as the priciest component of a battery powering a smartphone or, increasingly, an electric car.
站在卡莫托铜矿公司（Kamoto Copper Company）的矿坑边上，几乎看不清在下面几十层处作业的挖掘机。这个位于刚果民主共和国南部边陲的矿坑深 280 米，超过非洲最高建筑的高度。卡车从矿坑的中心处开出坑需要大半个钟头。车上装载的矿石因含铜而泛绿色，但其价值主要在于其中所含的钴。这些矿石通常先运往南非，然后多数再转运到中国，经过几家工厂加工后，钴就变身为电池中最昂贵的部分，用于智能手机，也越来越多地用于电动汽车。
A sign at the mine indicates it is 1,320km to Kinshasa, the capital, half a week’s drive away. Another arrow points to a less likely destination: Baar, a sleepy suburb of Zurich, 6,600km away at the foot of the Swiss Alps. Located in a business park there are the headquarters of Glencore, the company that ultimately controls the Congolese mine. Once a commodities trader that merely bought and shipped stuff others dug out of the ground, in recent years Glencore has gatecrashed an august club of global mining companies, such as Rio Tinto and Anglo American, whose histories stretch back to colonial times.
矿坑的一个路标显示这里距离首都金沙萨（Kinshasa）1320 公里，开车要三四天。另一个箭头指向一个和矿坑关系不大的目的地：巴尔（Baar）。这是苏黎世郊区的一座宁静小镇，坐落于距矿坑 6600 公里之遥的瑞士阿尔卑斯山脚下。嘉能可（Glencore）公司的总部位于这里的一个商业园区，这家公司掌握着这个矿坑的最终控制权。嘉能可曾经只是个大宗商品交易商，买下他人从地下挖出的矿产再运至别处。近年来，它已闯入了一个高贵的全球矿业公司俱乐部，成员包括力拓（Rio Tinto）和英美资源集团（Anglo American），这些公司的历史可以追溯到殖民时期。
Its transformation has not been problem-free, however. Glencore’s dealings in Congo have landed it in a hole as deep as Kamoto. Authorities in America, Canada and Britain are probing whether its executives, known in the industry for their sharp suits and elbows, deployed even sharper business practices to get ahead. Investors have started to question the firm’s prospects; its share price has slumped. Mining firms once encouraged to emulate Glencore’s aggressive culture now wonder whether their old-fashioned approach might not have more merit after all.
Glencore is to mining what Goldman Sachs is to high-street banking: nominally in the same trade but in a turbo-charged way. Like the Wall Street stalwart, it thrived first as a private partnership, set up in 1974 as Marc Rich + Co. Its eponymous founder gained fame as a consummate trader, and infamy for evading American authorities irked by his busting of sanctions and dodging of taxes. (He was ousted from the firm in 1993, after which the company was rechristened Glencore.)
嘉能可在采矿业的地位就像高盛在零售银行业的地位：名义上是同一行业的，但却是涡轮增压版的。嘉能可成立于 1974 年，和华尔街老店高盛一样，最初发家时是私人合伙公司，当时名为马克·里奇公司（Marc Rich + Co）。其同名创始人因高明的交易手段而闻名业界，又因违反制裁令和逃税惹恼了美国政府而遭通缉，在逃避通缉中声名扫地。（他于 1993 年被逐出公司，之后公司改名为嘉能可。）
When the firm listed its shares in London in 2011, it was the first in a generation to be propelled straight into the blue-chip ftse 100 index. Its top brass, particularly Ivan Glasenberg, a brusque South African who joined in 1984 and who has been chief executive since 2002, were lauded as visionaries in a staid field. At least five senior executives were revealed to be billionaires—almost unheard of for employees rather than founders of any company, whatever the industry. Around 40 top traders held shares valued at over $200m each.
嘉能可于 2011 年在伦敦上市时，是 20 多年来首家甫上市就跻身富时 100 指数蓝筹股的公司。外界盛赞其高管层身在一个古板的行业却具远见卓识，尤其是伊凡·格拉森伯格（Ivan Glasenberg）。格拉森伯格是个直率的南非人，1984 年加入公司，自 2002 年以来一直担任首席执行官。据披露，嘉能可至少有五位高管身家过十亿。无论是在哪个行业，公司创始人之外的雇员有如此巨大的财富几乎都是闻所未闻的。约 40 位顶级交易员每人持有的股票价值超过 2 亿美元。
Bosses of mining firms are mostly engineering types, as comfortable down a mineshaft as in a boardroom. An accountant by training, Mr Glasenberg’s spiritual home is the trading floor. Unlike hedge funds, commodities-traders do not make money on fluctuating prices, but by working out how to get the best price for whatever they can source. The job is more logistics than speculation. A wrinkle in markets might mean a pile of high-quality coal and a low-quality one are worth more if blended together into a medium-quality grade. Access to natural resources is vital, and tricky. In recent years, Glencore has made loans to “state-owned” oil firms in Libya and Iraqi Kurdistan, for example, to be repaid in barrels. (That trick works so long as the “state” in question keeps control of the oilfields.) Glencore handles over 90 commodities, from soyabeans to aluminium.
矿业公司的老板大多有工程背景，在井下和在董事会会议室里一样自在。格拉森伯格是会计专业出身，他的精神家园是交易大厅。与对冲基金不同，大宗商品交易商不利用价格波动来赚钱，而是研究如何为可买到的任何商品谋取最佳价格。这项工作更多关乎物流，而非如何投机。市场上的一丝动静可能意味着一批优质煤炭和一批低质煤炭如果混成中等品质的煤炭会更值钱。获取自然资源至关重要，也很复杂。近年来，嘉能可向利比亚和伊拉克库尔德斯坦（Iraqi Kurdistan）的“国有”石油公司提供贷款，对方以石油偿还。（只要所涉“国家”能继续控制油田，这招就管用。）从大豆到铝，嘉能可交易的大宗商品超过 90 种。
Trading is a fabulously lucrative business. Returns on equity at Glencore’s operation can top 40% a year. But there are limits to how big it can get. So Glencore branched out. Instead of just securing the offtake of mines, it wanted to own them. With little in-house engineering nous, it has mostly bought facilities set up by others (or so sniffy rivals decry). Its transformation was complete when in 2013 it took full control of Xstrata, a big coal and metals venture.
交易业务非常有利可图。嘉能可业务的股本回报率每年可高达 40%。但业务规模受到限制。因此嘉能可开始拓展业务，不仅想确保获得矿石，还想直接拥有矿山。由于自身缺乏工程能力，它主要是买下已由其他公司建好的设施（至少嗤之以鼻的竞争对手是这么贬损它的）。2013 年，嘉能可完全控制了大型煤炭企业斯特拉塔（Xstrata），至此完成转型。
Glencore is now overwhelmingly a mining group—around two-thirds of its $8.6bn in adjusted operating profits last year came from stuff coming out of the ground. But its dna is still that of a trader’s. Sometimes it cuts its own production to support prices: a sort of one-firm opec. It is nimbler than rivals, and more opportunistic. “Glencore has a different culture to other miners. They are quick, they trust their own judgment,” says Paul Gait of Sanford C. Bernstein, a research firm.
现在的嘉能可绝对算是一个矿业集团——去年其调整后的营业利润总计 86 亿美元，其中约三分之二来自矿业。但它骨子里仍是个交易商。它有时会为了支撑价格而削减自己的产量——就像个只有一家公司的欧佩克。它比竞争对手更敏捷，也更机会主义。研究公司盛博的保罗·盖特（Paul Gait）说：“嘉能可的文化与其他矿业公司不同。嘉能可的人动作迅速，相信自己的判断。”
The superlatives are less frequently heard now than they were at the time of listing. Investors who bought Glencore shares at the time have lost 48% of their money since 2011—a worse return than any of its big ftse mining peers except for Anglo American (see chart). Mr Glasenberg failed to spot a commodities-price wobble coming in 2015. A humbling $2.5bn capital infusion was required to fix the balance-sheet. After recovering, its shares have slipped again since the start of 2018 and trade at just 7.3 times this year’s estimated earnings.
与上市时相比，现在对嘉能可的褒奖之词没那么多见了。在其上市时购买了股票的投资者自 2011 年以来已经损失了 48%，回报率比富时指数中除英美资源集团以外的其他任何大型矿业公司都低（见图表）。格拉森伯格未能预见 2015 年的大宗商品价格波动，为此不得不以注入 25 亿美元资本这样难堪的举措来修复资产负债表。恢复元气之后，其股价自 2018 年初以来再次下滑，今年的市盈率仅为 7.3 倍。
Many people in mining think Glencore’s buccaneering business model is now haunting the firm rather than helping it. Mr Glasenberg’s strategy has been not so much contrarian as actively seeking out opportunities others shun. His firm has snapped up coal mines that rivals have been all but forced to divest by environmental activists: it is now the world’s biggest seaborne exporter of thermal coal, for example. Peers might panic at being exposed to Vladimir Putin’s Russia; Glencore has stakes in Rosneft and Rusal, two firms active in oil and aluminium respectively, both battling American sanctions.
Most worrisome to investors has been its investment in Congo, a country avoided as too risky by Glencore’s big rivals. Tricky conditions have necessitated $7bn in investment to improve its mines there. At first the payoff seemed worth it, especially given a surge in the price of cobalt, a by-product that was a mere afterthought when Glencore had first invested in 2007.
最让投资者担忧的是它在刚果的投资。嘉能可的主要竞争对手都因风险太大而避开这个国家。由于采矿条件恶劣，嘉能可需要投资 70 亿美元来改善刚果的矿山。起初这些投入看起来很划算，尤其是因为钴价飙升了——2007 年嘉能可启动首轮投资时并没有注意到这件副产品。
But just as production has been ramping up, the political landscape has worsened. Old agreements to freeze royalties paid by Glencore have been all but torn up by the government. Remitting profits abroad is harder. Under duress, in June Glencore wrote off $5.6bn it loaned to a joint venture with a government-owned miner, in exchange for equity. To add to its woes, in November cobalt at Kamoto was found to be contaminated with uranium. Sales are suspended until a plant to remediate the radiation can be built.
但就在产量逐步增加之时，政治局面恶化了。冻结嘉能可支付的特许权使用费的旧协议几乎被政府撕毁。向境外汇出利润变得更加困难。迫于无奈，嘉能可在今年 6 月勾销了它提供给与刚果一家国有矿业公司的合资企业的 56 亿美元贷款，换成了股权。雪上加霜的是，11 月卡莫托的钴矿被发现受到铀污染。在治理辐射的工厂建成之前，销售暂停。
Yet even radioactivity is not Glencore’s biggest problem in Congo. Since first investing a decade ago, it has relied on a deep-seated alliance with Dan Gertler, a controversial Israeli businessman who started in the diamond trade. According to a un report, after arriving in 1997 Mr Gertler won favour with the ruling Kabila family by offering $20m to finance the purchase of arms, which the current president’s father used to win a bloody civil war. That gained him a perch as an unavoidable middle man to just about anyone looking to dig something from the ground in Congo. Mr Gertler is said to be the inspiration for the film “Blood Diamond” (presumably not for the hero). Through a spokesman, Mr Gertler declined to comment but reiterated claims of having committed no impropriety.
然而，就算是放射性污染也说不上是嘉能可在刚果的最大问题。自从十年前首次投资刚果以来，它一直依赖与备受争议的以色列商人丹·格特勒（Dan Gertler）的深度联盟。格特勒从钻石贸易起家，据一份联合国报告所述，自 1997 年来到刚果之后，他向统治该国的卡比拉（Kabila）家族提供了 2000 万美元用于购买武器，现任刚果总统的父亲用这些武器在血腥的刚果内战中赢得了胜利。格特勒因而受到卡比拉家族的青睐而地位尊崇。不管是谁要在刚果采矿，他都是一个无法绕过的中间人。据说格特勒是电影《血钻》（Blood Diamond）的灵感来源（但应该不是主角的原型）。格特勒通过发言人表示拒绝发表评论，但重申自己没有任何不当行为。
American authorities now have Mr Gertler in their sights. Under “Global Magnitsky” sanctions first enforced to target Russian wrongdoing, in December 2017 he was among 13 kleptocrats and their cronies placed under sanction for egregious breaches of human rights and for corruption—a problem for Glencore, whose boss once described Mr Gertler as “a supportive shareholder” in a joint venture in Congo. It has found it hard to cut ties with him.
美国当局现在盯上了格特勒。根据《全球马格尼茨基人权问责法案》（Global Magnitsky，一开始是针对俄罗斯的不当行为实施制裁），格特勒在 2017 年 12 月入列 13 名腐败官员及其亲信，因严重侵犯人权和腐败行为而受到制裁。这对嘉能可来说是个麻烦，因为其老板曾将格特勒描述为在刚果一家合资企业中“持支持态度的股东”。嘉能可很难和他一刀两断。
Glencore might have known from the outset of Mr Gertler’s sulphurous reputation. The un report that outlines his past was written in 2001. In the wake of an American hedge fund facing scrutiny for allegedly dealing with him in 2016, before he was sanctioned, Glencore bought him out from its mines, including Kamoto, for $534m. But the deal entitled its erstwhile partner to further royalty payments in the region of over $20m this year and $100m in 2019. When Glencore at first refused to make these payments, citing the sanctions, Mr Gertler filed a lawsuit and, in essence, threatened to close down Glencore’s Congolese operations. Keen to avoid that outcome, Glencore decided to pay him.
嘉能可或许从一开始就知道格特勒的恶名。联合国概述此人过往经历的报告是于 2001 年撰写的。2016 年，一家美国对冲基金因涉嫌与他打交道而受到审查，从这以后到格特勒受到制裁的期间，嘉能可以 5.34 亿美元买下了格特勒在包括卡莫托在内多个矿山的股份。但根据双方协议，嘉能可还需在今年和明年分别向这位前合伙人支付超过 2000 万美元和一亿美元的特许权使用费。嘉能可一开始以制裁为由拒绝支付这些款项，格特勒随即提起诉讼，实质上就是威胁要停止嘉能可在刚果的业务。为避免这种结果，嘉能可决定给钱。
Glencore has insisted it did not violate American sanctions, largely by means of having paid Mr Gertler his dues in euros, and outside America. It has made the case to American and Swiss authorities that penalising it would be tantamount to self-inflicted industrial sabotage: Congo is the source of two-thirds of the world’s cobalt, an element which is crucial to modern electronics. If it were to leave the place, Glencore has argued, Chinese miners already active there would send ever-more precious cobalt straight to China (as Glencore itself often does, too).
Whatever its merits, this argument seems to have fallen on deaf ears. Three weeks after Glencore paid part of this year’s dues to Mr Gertler, on July 3rd, it announced it had received a subpoena from America’s Department of Justice (doj) in respect to compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act; its activities in Congo, as well as in Venezuela and Nigeria, were cited. Britain’s Serious Fraud Office is also reported to be investigating Glencore on matters relating to Congo, as is the Ontario securities regulator in Canada.
无论是否有其道理，这种说法似乎并未被采信。7 月 3 日，也就是嘉能可向格特勒支付了今年的部分特许权使用费的三周后，公司宣布收到了美国司法部就《反海外腐败法》（Foreign Corrupt Practices Act）合规问题发出的传票，调查涉及它在刚果以及委内瑞拉和尼日利亚的业务。据报道，英国重大诈骗案检察局（Serious Fraud Office）和加拿大安大略省的证券监管机构也都在调查嘉能可涉及刚果的操作。
“Paying Gertler was a blatant finger in the eye of us authorities,” says a senior executive at a rival firm. “You can’t do that and hope to get away with it, even if you are Ivan Glasenberg.” Worse, the matter is not even fully resolved: Glencore has yet to publicly announce whether it intends to pay Mr Gertler the money he is entitled to in 2019 under existing agreements. (The company declined to comment.)
“给格特勒付钱就是公然和美国政府对着干，”竞争对手公司的一位高管表示， “谁也不能这么干还指望能平安无事，哪怕你是伊凡·格拉森伯格。”更糟糕的是，格特勒的事甚至还没彻底解决：嘉能可尚未公开宣布是否打算根据现有协议在 2019 年向格特勒付款 （公司拒绝就此发表评论。）
Glencore’s market value fell by $5bn on the news of the doj investigation—an amount more than five times greater than the biggest fine ever meted out under the relevant statute. That reflects investors’ fear not only of a large penalty, but also that American authorities could in effect force a change of direction at the company.
被美国司法部调查的消息一出，嘉能可的市值蒸发了 50 亿美元——这个数字是根据相关法规所能给出的最高罚款金额的五倍多。这反映了投资者不仅担心嘉能可会遭到巨额罚款，还担心美国当局此举实际上可能会迫使这家公司改变发展方向。
The miner is hardly unique in the corporate world in having faced the attention of American authorities. But Glencore’s case stands out. Other American investigations have mostly been against firms where the alleged wrongdoing was peripheral to their activities, where the top brass could blame underlings and where the problem was not seen as indicative of wider culture. Yet some analysts estimate that Congo, at least before its current woes, represented around a quarter of Glencore’s market value (now at $51bn). Mr Glasenberg is reported to be a regular visitor. And the doj investigation targets three countries, suggesting it is investigating a pattern of problems.
嘉能可并非企业界受到美国当局关注的唯一公司，但这家矿业公司的案例引人注目。其他被美国调查的企业大多是非核心业务涉嫌存在不法行为，企业高层可以将责任推给下属，这些问题也不会被认为代表了整个企业的文化。然而，一些分析师估计，至少在嘉能可陷入目前的困境之前，刚果就已占据其市值（目前为 510 亿美元）的四分之一左右。据报道，格拉森伯格是刚果常客。美国司法部此次重点调查三个国家，表明它正试图查明一种问题模式。
Analysts have fretted about Glencore itself coming under “secondary sanctions” for its relationship with Mr Gertler. That seems unlikely. But even the slightest whiff that Glencore is abetting sanctions-busting will jangle the nerves of the compliance department of its banks. Commodities trading is fuelled by ample and cheap bank financing; Glencore has $33bn in bonds and loans outstanding.
分析师担心嘉能可本身会因为与格特勒的关系而受到“次级制裁”。这似乎不太可能。但即使有一点点风声暗示嘉能可同谋违反制裁，都会牵动向其提供贷款的银行的合规部门的神经。大宗商品交易依靠大量廉价的银行融资，嘉能可共有 330 亿美元的未偿债券和贷款。
Mr Glasenberg has had to reassure analysts about this. “He knows that if banks start worrying about getting caught up in sanctions stuff just by doing business with Glencore, that would be a terminal issue,” says one. It was worried banks that pushed Mr Rich from his perch in 1993. Given its supportive shareholders—30% are Glencore employees, and the Qatari sovereign-wealth fund has a further 8.5%—the firm’s lenders are the most likely source of pressure on its business model.
格拉森伯格需要打消分析师在这方面的疑虑。“他知道，如果银行开始担心只是因为和嘉能可做生意就会卷入制裁问题，那么对嘉能可就很要命。”一位分析师说。1993 年将里奇推下尊贵之位的就是心生不安的银行。鉴于嘉能可的股东总体对公司持支持态度——其中 30% 是公司员工，另外 8.5% 是卡塔尔主权财富基金——那些向该公司提供贷款的银行最有可能对其商业模式施加压力。
Some industry executives worry that Glencore is turning mining into the new banking: a sector aggressively pursued by American authorities, with the power to dictate fresh faces at the top of firms they deem to fall short. “The doj worries about sectors that don’t take compliance seriously. Industries only wake up after one of them is hammered, like hsbc in Mexico,” says one industry figure. The bank’s money-laundering of cartel drug money earned it a $1.9bn fine in 2012, along with five years of intense monitoring, prompting wider change in the banking industry’s culture.
一些业内高管担心嘉能可正在把矿业变成又一个银行业：受到美国当局的密切关注，且当局有权在它认为有问题的公司中指派新高管。一位业内人士表示：“司法部对那些不认真对待合规问题的行业不放心。各个行业只有在其中一员受到重罚之后才会重视，就像汇丰银行墨西哥分行的情况那样。”这家银行因为为贩毒组织洗钱而在 2012 年受到 19 亿美元的罚款，还要在五年内接受严密监控，这件事促使银行业文化发生了广泛的变化。
How and when the Glasenberg era ends is what investors are most curious about now. Aged 61, he has already started indicating to investors he won’t be around for more than three to five years—as it happens, roughly the time frame of a doj investigation of the scale Glencore faces. None of his lieutenants are in line for promotion; even in the gossipy world of mining, no one has any idea who will succeed him. Once, the obvious choice would have been a swashbuckling trader willing to win at all costs and to plough on in the face of criticism. Less so, now.
投资者现在最好奇的是格拉森伯格时代会如何以及在何时终结。现年 61 岁的格拉森伯格已经开始向投资者表明自己在三到五年内就会离任——正好是嘉能可面临的这种规模的司法部调查大致所需的时间。他的副手都不在接班之列，即使在采矿业的八卦圈里也没有人知道谁会接替他。曾几何时，显而易见的选择是一个愿意不惜一切代价打胜仗、面对反对声披荆斩棘的勇士型交易员。现在看来，这不大行得通了。