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LONDON: The London Metal Exchange's (LME) global warehousing network is shrinking rapidly, including Malaysia.
Over the past year the number of registered storage units has slumped from 604 to 472, the lowest in at least a decade, with the collective retreat reflecting the diminishing pool of metal to be stored.
Total LME stocks, including so-called shadow inventory stored off-market, stood at 1.031 million tonnes at the end of June. That was down 700,000 tonnes from the start of January and 2.24 million tonnes less than in June 2021.
Scarcity in the physical supply chain has drained metal away from the exchange, hitting rental revenue for storage suppliers.
Less metal, particularly aluminium, also means less opportunity to profit from the LME's arcane load-out rules.
Glencore's GLEN.L sale of its Access World warehousing arm this year marked the last departure of the trade houses and banks that moved into the LME storage business in the early 2010s.
The buyer, Malaysia's Infinity Logistics and Transport 1442.HK, typifies the shift in ownership as LME warehousing returns to those in the business of warehousing rather than trading.,
THE LAST ALUMINIUM QUEUE
Goldman Sachs GS.N led the charge into LME warehousing with its purchase of Metro International in 2010. The bank was betting that the global financial crisis would generate a tsunami of unsold aluminium.
It did. LME-registered aluminium inventory mushroomed from 1.17 million tonnes in August 2008, just before the credit storm broke, to 4.6 million tonnes a year later.
What the physical supply chain didn't want was a bonanza for the financial sector as the surplus of metal created a super-contango that turned the prosaic business of financing stock into a major money earner.
With the profitability of the trade hinging on the cost of storage, financiers had every incentive to move aluminium to cheaper off-market rental deals.
This led to the infamous queues, first at Detroit and then at the Dutch port of Vlissingen, as the LME's restrictive load-out rates - designed for low-tonnage industrial users not high-volume financial players - caused massive logjams of departing aluminium.
Operators could use the income from queue-trapped metal to attract fresh inflows, creating a merry-go-round effect and lifting physical premiums ever higher.
The scandal drew the ire of some of the world's biggest aluminium users, caused a stand-off with U.S. regulators and forced the LME to embark on a lengthy campaign to constrain the queue model.