Which Metals to Short?

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At the annual London Metals Exchange (LME) Week, which began Monday, no one expects major changes to the way the exchange manages its warehousing system for aluminum, copper and other base metals. The LME is considering a commitment of traders’ report similar to the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) report published in the United States, but a decision on that is not expected until later this month. The exchange is already among the targets of lawsuits for failing promptly to deliver orders for certain commodity metals, including aluminum.

In a non-scientific survey, LME Week attendees were asked which base metals they would most like to take a short position in over the next 12 months. Nearly 40% said aluminum, which should come as no surprise to anyone. One-third said their first choice for a short play was copper.

Rio Tinto PLC (NYSE: RIO) and Alcoa Inc. (NYSE: AA) do not need to hear this. Alcoa’s stock posted a two-year low in early September and is down about 18% over the past two years. Rio Tinto stock is essentially flat over the past two years, though it is down about 20% from its two-year high.

Copper, which is selling for around $7,260 a metric ton today, is not expected to show any significant gain next year. That is due mainly to lower demand from China. The LME Week survey indicated that 90% of those responding thought Chinese growth would be no better than equal to this year’s growth.

Shares of Alcoa were down about 1.4% in late afternoon trading Monday, at $7.85 in a 52-week range of $7.63 to $9.37. Alcoa reports third-quarter results after markets close Tuesday night. Analysts expect the company to post earnings per share of $0.05 on revenues of $5.66 billion.