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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 November 2005, 11:20 GMT
Metal trader 'racks up huge loss'
Copper mine
The Chinese are trying to cool copper prices
A Chinese metals trader is rumoured to have lumbered China with a giant bill after a disastrous gamble on copper prices.

Liu Qibing, a copper dealer for the Chinese State Reserve Bureau, has disappeared, apparently after betting wrongly that prices were going to fall.

Mr Liu allegedly agreed to sell copper he did not then own, expecting he could buy it more cheaply later.

But the price of copper rose to record highs, leaving him with large losses.

On Monday, copper reached a high of $4,132 a tonne on the main London Metal Exchange (LME).

'Sent home'

Mr Liu is reported to have wrongly predicted that the price of copper would fall between the time he made the deal, and the point at which he had to complete the order.

It appears the SRB is now disowning a trader that I think up until recently had been very successful and had made a lot of money
Metals analyst Robin Bhar

It left him in the position of having to spend significantly more per tonne to buy the copper than the price he was selling it at.

It is estimated that at today's prices, Mr Liu has committed the Chinese government to deliver $800m (460m) worth of copper in December - some 100,000 to 200,000 tonnes - which would leave Beijing with a significant financial loss.

The Chinese State Reserve Bureau (SRB) has denied Mr Liu's existence - despite LME traders saying they know him as China's main copper trader.

The SRB is reported to have sent Mr Liu home and told him to keep a low profile.

Past scandals

Analysts said that since last week China had tried to reduce the global price of copper, with the SRB saying it would sell 20,000 tonnes of copper on Wednesday and that it held 1.3 million tonnes in stockpile.

Traders said the comments smacked of desperation by the normally secretive SRB.

"It appears the SRB is now disowning a trader that I think up until recently had been very successful and had made a lot of money," Robin Bhar, a metals analyst with UBS in London, told the BBC.

Mr Bhar added that Mr Liu appeared to have made a fair decision based on the information he had at the time, only to find copper prices then rose on a number of factors such as strikes and technical problems.

It is not the first time the copper market has been hit by scandal.

In 1996 Japanese trader Yasuo Hamanaka cost his employer, Sumitomo, $2.6bn in trading losses on the copper market.

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