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Miners face up to climate challenge

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The world’s biggest exporter of thermal coal makes for an unlikely eco-champion. Yet that is how Glencore is seeking to position itself.

The London-listed company stole a march on its rivals in December with new targets that will make it the first miner to be fully aligned with the goals of the Paris agreement on climate change.

By 2050 Glencore is aiming to be carbon neutral — including the carbon dioxide generated when customers burn or process its raw materials. 

These “Scope 3” emissions are emerging as a huge challenge for the industry, particularly miners that produce commodities for hard-to-abate sectors such as steelmaking, which accounts alone for about 7 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Accounting for 95 per cent of the mining sector’s overall emissions, according to Barclays, a clear strategy to tackle them will be crucial for the sector wants to attract investment from fund managers who are themselves facing pressure from regulators and clients to make sure the assets they hold are aligned with the Paris deal.

Without a credible path to carbon neutrality, big miners will struggle in their efforts to present themselves as vital in the shift to a green economy through their production of energy transition metals — copper, cobalt, nickel and zinc.

Lollipop chart showing global miners emissions reduction targets for selected companies

“Scope 3 emissions often account for the largest portion of a company’s overall greenhouse gas footprint. They simply cannot be ignored or written off as too difficult,” said Stephanie Pfeifer, chief executive of the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change and a steering committee member of Climate Action 100+, an influential investor group that has more than $52tn of assets under management.

“Those companies that continue to sidestep the issue can expect to face increasing scrutiny from investors.”

All of the big miners have set targets for carbon neutrality. Anglo American intends to reach net zero emissions by 2040, while BHP and Rio Tinto are aiming at 2050.

But those targets do not include Scope 3 emissions. Rio and Anglo have not even disclosed their end-use emissions for 2019, while BHP publishes a range to reflect the potential double-counting of coking coal and iron ore, the two ingredients needed to make steel in blast furnaces.

Miners' exposure to transition commodities

Only Glencore and to a lesser extent Vale, the world’s biggest iron ore producer, have set Scope 3 goals.

Vale is targeting a 15 per cent reduction in Scope 3 emissions by 2035 through the use of carbon offsets, eco-friendly shipping and partnering with its customers on low-carbon steelmaking technology.

“If you really want to lead . . . on climate change you really have to set bold goals on Scope 3,” said Vale chief executive Eduardo Bartolomeo.

Glencore is aiming to cut its total emissions by 40 per cent over the next 15 years with the ambition of reaching carbon neutrality by 2050. Glencore does not count the third-party commodities bought and sold by its powerful trading arm in its target.

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It plans to do this primarily by running down its Colombian and South African coal assets so that by 2050 most of its reserves will be depleted with only some of its Australian mines — utilising carbon capture and storage technology — still in operation. The cash harvested from these operations will be reinvested in energy transitions metals.

The company, which faces a number of other environmental, social and governance (ESG) challenges, is hoping its targets will it more investable for funds with absolute coal exclusion thresholds, although if the pressure gets too much its outgoing chief executive Ivan Glasenberg says it would be prepared to spin off the business.

As for Anglo American, BHP and Rio, analysts say their reluctance to commit to Scope 3 targets is understandable if increasingly difficult to justify to the investment community.

Unlike Glencore they are all big producers of iron ore, the key ingredient needed to make steel. As such, most of their Scope 3 emissions are generated by customers such as Chinese state-owned steel mills, over which they have little control.

Scope 3 emissions are the mining industry’s biggest challenge

Analysts at Jefferies put Rio Tinto’s Scope 3 emissions at 491m tonnes of CO2 equivalent and BHP’s at 448m. This compares with their operational emissions of 26.8m and 15.8m tonnes respectively.

Rio and BHP are seeking to address Scope 3 emissions by working with big steelmakers on the development of new low-emission technologies that are not yet viable at scale, mainly because of the costs involved.

BHP has set aside $400m for climate projects and is seeking to help develop technologies and approaches to make steelmaking 30 per cent less carbon intensive and shipping 40 per cent less carbon intensive by 2030.

Rio recently announced plans to invest $10m with China Baowu, the world’s largest steel producer, over the next two years on low-carbon steelmaking projects and research. Critics point out $10m is tiny fraction of the more than $10bn Rio generated in underlying earnings last year.

Anglo American, which has a big footprint in South Africa and South America, says it needs to do more work before it can set Scope 3 targets. That is because many of its customers and host governments “can’t give answers yet” on their net-zero pathways, according to its chief executive Mark Cutifani.

“I am not being critical of Vale or Glencore . . . I applaud them for taking a view,” he said. “But from our point of view there is more work to be done. For us to come out with targets that are credible, it has to involve both our stakeholders and customers.”

But while investors are sympathetic to that argument, the moment is fast approaching when big miners will have to acknowledge Scope 3 emissions and put in place targets that are sufficiently ambitious, according to Adam Matthews, director of ethics and engagement at the Church of England Pensions Board and co-chair of the Transition Pathway Initiative.

“We absolutely recognise that Scope 3 emissions are challenging and miners are not in control of their customers,” said Mr Matthews. “But they must still devise strategies to mitigate and reduce those emissions. I think companies that do that will carry the confidence of investors.”



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Wall Street stocks follow European and Asian bourses lower

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Equities updates

Wall Street stocks followed European and Asian bourses lower on Friday after markets were buffeted this week by jitters over slowing global growth and Beijing’s regulatory crackdown on tech businesses.

The S&P 500 closed down 0.5 per cent, although the blue-chip index still notched its sixth consecutive month of gains, boosted by strong corporate earnings and record-low interest rates.

The tech-focused Nasdaq Composite slid 0.7 per cent, after the quarterly results of online bellwether Amazon missed analysts’ forecasts. The tech conglomerate’s stock finished the day 7.6 per cent lower, its biggest one-day drop since May 2020.

According to Scott Ruesterholz, portfolio manager at Insight Investment, companies which saw significant growth during the pandemic may see shifts in revenue as consumers move away from online to in-person services.

“[Consumers are] going to start spending more on services, and so those businesses and industries which have benefited in the last year, companies like Amazon, will be talking about decelerating sales growth for several quarters,” Ruesterholz said.

The sell-off on Wall Street comes after the continent-wide Stoxx Europe 600 index ended the session 0.5 per cent lower, having hit a high a day earlier, lifted by a bumper crop of upbeat earnings results.

For the second quarter, companies on the Stoxx 600 have reported earnings per share growth of 159 per cent year on year, according to Citigroup. Those on the S&P 500 have increased profits by 97 per cent.

But “this is likely the top”, said Arun Sai, senior multi-asset strategist at Pictet, referring to the pace of earnings increases after economic activity rebounded from the pandemic-triggered contractions last year. Financial markets, he said, “have formed a narrative of peak economic growth and peak momentum”.

Column chart of S&P 500 index, monthly % change showing Wall Street stocks rise for six consecutive months

Data released on Thursday showed the US economy grew at a weaker than expected annualised rate of 6.5 per cent in the three months to June, as labour shortages and supply chain disruptions caused by coronavirus persisted.

Meanwhile, China’s regulatory assault on large tech businesses has sparked fears of a broader crackdown on privately owned companies.

“It underlines the leadership’s ambivalence towards markets,” said Julian Evans-Pritchard of Capital Economics. “We think this will take a toll on economic growth over the medium term.”

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index closed 1.4 per cent down on Friday, while mainland China’s CSI 300 dropped 0.8 per cent, after precipitous slides earlier in the week moderated.

Japan’s Topix closed 1.4 per cent lower, after the daily tally of Covid cases in Tokyo surpassed 3,000 for three consecutive days. South Korea’s Kospi 200 dropped 1.2 per cent.

The more cautious investor mood on Friday spurred a modest rally in safe haven assets such as US government debt, which took the yield on the 10-year Treasury, which moves inversely to its price, down 0.04 percentage points to 1.23 per cent.

The Federal Reserve, which has bought about $120bn of bonds each month throughout the pandemic to pin down borrowing costs for households and businesses, said this week that the economy was making “progress” but it remained too early to tighten monetary policy.

“Tapering [of the bond purchases] could be delayed, which in many ways is not bad news for the market,” said Anthony Collard, head of investments for the UK and Ireland at JPMorgan Private Bank.

The dollar, also considered a haven in times of stress, climbed 0.3 per cent against a basket of leading currencies.

Brent crude, the global oil benchmark, rose 0.4 per cent to $76.33 a barrel.

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US regulators launch crackdown on Chinese listings

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US financial regulation updates

China-based companies will have to disclose more about their structure and contacts with the Chinese government before listing in the US, the Securities and Exchange Commission said on Friday.

Gary Gensler, the chair of the US corporate and markets regulator, has asked staff to ensure greater transparency from Chinese companies following the controversy surrounding the public offering by the Chinese ride-hailing group Didi Chuxing.

“I have asked staff to seek certain disclosures from offshore issuers associated with China-based operating companies before their registration statements will be declared effective,” Gensler said in a statement.

He added: “I believe these changes will enhance the overall quality of disclosure in registration statements of offshore issuers that have affiliations with China-based operating companies.”

The SEC’s new rules were triggered by Beijing’s announcement earlier this month that it would tighten restrictions on overseas listings, including stricter rules on what happens to the data held by those companies.

The Chinese internet regulator specifically accused Didi, which had raised $4bn with a New York flotation just days earlier, of violating personal data laws, and ordered for its app to be removed from the Chinese app store.

Beijing’s crackdown spooked US investors, sending the company’s shares tumbling almost 50 per cent in recent weeks. They have rallied slightly in the past week, however, jumping 15 per cent in the past two days based on reports that the company is considering going private again just weeks after listing.

The controversy has prompted questions over whether Didi had told investors enough either about the regulatory risks it faced in China, and specifically about its frequent contacts with Chinese regulators in the run-up to the New York offering.

Several US law firms have now filed class action lawsuits against the company on behalf of shareholders, while two members of the Senate banking committee have called for the SEC to investigate the company.

The SEC has not said whether it is undertaking an investigation or intends to do so. However, its new rules unveiled on Friday would require companies to be clearer about the way in which their offerings are structured. Many China-based companies, including Didi, avoid Chinese restrictions on foreign listings by selling their shares via an offshore shell company.

Gensler said on Friday such companies should clearly distinguish what the shell company does from what the China-based operating company does, as well as the exact financial relationship between the two.

“I worry that average investors may not realise that they hold stock in a shell company rather than a China-based operating company,” he said.

He added that companies should say whether they had received or were denied permission from Chinese authorities to list in the US, including whether any initial approval had then be rescinded.

And they will also have to spell out that they could be delisted if they do not allow the US Public Companies Accounting Oversight Board to inspect their accountants three years after listing.



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Wall Street stocks climb as traders look past weak growth data

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Equities updates

Stocks on Wall Street rose on Thursday despite weaker than expected US growth data that cemented expectations that the Federal Reserve would maintain its pandemic-era stimulus that has supported financial markets for a year and a half.

The moves followed data showing US gross domestic product grew at an annualised rate of 6.5 per cent in the second quarter, missing the 8.5 per cent rise expected by economists polled by Reuters.

The S&P 500, the blue-chip US share index, closed 0.4 per cent higher after hitting a high on Monday. The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite index climbed 0.1 per cent, rebounding slightly after notching its worst day in two and a half months earlier in the week.

The dollar index, which measures the US currency against those of peers, fell 0.4 per cent to its weakest level since late June after the GDP numbers.

“Sentiment about the economy has become less optimistic, but that is good for equities, strangely enough,” said Nadège Dufossé, head of cross-asset strategy at fund manager Candriam. “It makes central banks less likely to withdraw support.”

Jay Powell, the Fed chair, said on Wednesday that despite “progress” towards the bank’s goals of full employment and 2 per cent average inflation, there was more “ground to cover” ahead of any tapering of its vast bond-buying programme.

“Last night’s [announcement] was pretty unambiguously hawkish,” said Blake Gwinn, rates strategist at RBC, adding that Powell’s upbeat tone on labour market figures signalled that the Fed could begin tapering its $120bn a month of debt purchases as early as the end of this year.

The yield on the 10-year US Treasury bond, which moves inversely to its price, traded flat at 1.26 per cent.

Line chart of Stoxx Europe 600 index showing European stocks close at another record high

Looking beyond the headline GDP number, some analysts said the health of the US economy was stronger than it first appeared.

Growth numbers below the surface showed that consumer spending had surged, “while the negatives in the report were from inventory drawdown, presumably from supply shortages”, said Matt Peron, director of research and portfolio manager at Janus Henderson Investors.

“This implies that the economy, and hence earnings which have also been very strong so far for Q2, will continue for some time,” he added. “The economy is back above pre-pandemic levels, and earnings are sure to follow, which should continue to support equity prices.”

Those upbeat earnings helped propel European stocks to another high on Thursday, with results from Switzerland-based chipmaker STMicroelectronics and the French manufacturer Société Bic helping lift bourses.

The region-wide Stoxx Europe 600 benchmark closed up 0.5 per cent to a new record, while London’s FTSE 100 gained 0.9 per cent and Frankfurt’s Xetra Dax ended the session 0.5 per cent higher.

In Asia, market sentiment was also boosted by a move from Chinese officials to soothe nerves over regulatory clampdowns on the nation’s tech and education sectors.

Beijing officials held a call with global investors, Wall Street banks and Chinese financial groups on Wednesday night in an attempt to calm nerves, as fears spread of a more far-reaching clampdown. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng rose 3.3 per cent on Thursday, although it was still down more than 8 per cent so far this month. The CSI 300 index of mainland Chinese stocks rose 1.9 per cent.

Brent crude, the global oil benchmark, gained 1.4 per cent to $76.09 a barrel.



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