Poached baby gorilla, Virunga Park
Anglo American, a British company, and one of the world’s biggest miners, and a ‘producer’ (actually just a miner, how did those two terms ever get mixed up?!) of platinum (world no. 1), diamonds, copper, nickel, iron ore and coal, said today it would scrap dividends AND fire 85,000 of it 135,000 global workforce (that’s 63%!).
Anglo is just the first in a long litany line we’ll see going forward. Commodities ‘producers’ are being completely wiped out, hammered, killed, murdered. They’ve been able to hedge their downside risks so far, but now find they can’t even afford the price of the hedges (insurance) anymore. And then there’s all the banks and funds that financed them.
And they’ve all been gearing up for production increases too, with grandiose plans and -leveraged- investments aiming for infinity and beyond. You know, it’s the business model. 2016 will be a year for the record books.
Just check this Bloomberg graph for copper supply and demand as an example. How ugly would you like it today?
And what’s true for copper goes for the whole range of raw materials. Because China went from double-digit growth to shrinking imports and exports in pretty much no time flat. And China was all they had left.
Iron ore is dropping below $40, and that’s about the break-even point. Of course, oil has done that quite a while ago already. It’s just that we like to think oil’s some kind of stand-alone freak incident. It is not. With oil today plunging below $37 (down some 15% since the OPEC meeting last week), it doesn’t matter anymore how much more efficient shale companies can get.
They’re toast. They’re done. And with them are their lenders. Who have hedged their bets too, obviously, but hedging has a price. Or else you could throw money at any losing enterprise.
But there’s another side to this, one that not a soul talks about, and it has Washington, London and Brussels very worried. Here goes:
These large mining -including oil- corporations most often operate in regions in the world that are remote and located in countries with at best questionable governments (the corporations like it like that, it’s how they know who to bribe to be able to rape and pillage).
The corporations de facto form a large part of the US/UK/EU political/military control system of these areas. They work in tandem with the CIA, MI5, the US and UK military, to keep the areas ‘friendly’ to western industries and regime.
This has caused unimaginable misery across the globe, in for instance (a good example) the Congo, one of the world’s richest regions when it comes to minerals ‘we’ want, but one of the poorest areas on the planet. No coincidence there.
Untold millions have died as a result. ‘We’ have done a lot more damage there than we are presently doing in Syria, if you can imagine. And many more millions are forced to live out their lives in miserable circumstances on top of the world’s richest riches. But that will now change.
Thing is, with the major miners going belly up, ‘our’ control of these places will also fade. Because it’s all been about money all along, and the US won’t be able to afford the -political and military- control of these places if there are no profits to be made.
They’ll be sinkholes for military budgets, and those will be stretched already ‘protecting’ other places. The demise of commodities is a harbinger of a dramatically changing US position in the world. Washington will be forced to focus on protecting it own soil, and move away from expansionist policies.
Because it can’t afford those without the grotesque profits its corporations have squeezed out of the populations in these ‘forgotten’ lands. That’s going to change global politics a lot.
And it’s not as if China will step in. They can’t afford to take over a losing proposition; the Chinese economy is not only growing at a slower pace, it may well be actually shrinking. Beijing’s new reality is that imports and exports both are falling quite considerably (no matter the ‘official’ numbers), and the cost of a huge expansion into global mining territory makes little sense right now.
With the yuan now part of the IMF ‘basket‘m Beijing can no longer print at will. China must focus on what happens at home. So must the US. They have no choice. Other than going to war.
And, granted, given that choice, they all probably will. But the mining companies will still be mere shells of their former selves by then. There’s no profit left to be made.
This is not going to end well. Not for anybody. Other than the arms lobby. What it will do is change geopolitics forever, and a lot.