Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

London — Miner and trader Glencore said trade barriers were its “foremost risk”, but climate, political, legal and other risks had become more prominent.

Glencore said in its annual report, published on Friday, that it was seeking to mitigate these challenges through conservative spending and strict compliance. It also said in February it would limit its coal capacity.

Risk is high on the agenda for mining companies after the Vale dam's bursting in Brazil provided a stark reminder of the potential dangers in some parts of the world.

Glencore, which operates in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and is the world's biggest shipper of carbon-intensive seaborne coal, is viewed by analysts as having a high risk appetite.

While that can drive profits, its share price has underperformed as the difficulty of mining in countries such as DRC has risen to the fore and as investors shun coal.

Glencore said trade barriers “could reduce demand for certain of our commodities or restrict our supplies”.

On market volatility, it also said significant falls, especially in copper, coal or zinc prices, would have “a severe drag on our financial performance”.

But while commodity price risk is perennial, other concerns rose in 2018, especially in DRC, where Glencore mines copper and cobalt, needed for electric vehicles.

It has said it is waiting for a new government to stabilise following elections at the end of 2018 to allow it to try to negotiate better terms following a new 2018 mining code.

Glencore is also the subject of a US department of justice investigation related to its activities in DRC. Given the challenges, it said spending was at “controllable levels” to help maintain its strong investment-grade rating.

Glencore has also set up an ethics committee and said it was monitoring climate risk. It regards coal as an opportunity as well as a risk because its assets are high quality and can command a premium as demand, especially in Asia, continues.

It also has more exposure than many miners to the copper and cobalt needed for electrification and electric vehicles.