Sydney — The mining industry these days resembles that old cartoon about a person torn between prudence and temptation. On one shoulder, a white-clad angel is whispering about the virtues of capital discipline, shareholder value and generous dividends. On the other sits Glencore CEO Ivan Glasenberg, clad in red and promising to buy or build everything in sight. The reason for that contrast was laid out clearly at the start of a Glencore investor presentation Tuesday. Uniquely among its peers, Glencore derives a substantial slice of its earnings from trading commodities, rather than producing them. When mining is weak, marketing can take up the slack, and vice versa. Another way of thinking about this is that whereas BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Vale all saw a gap of more than $20bn between their record-high and record-low earnings half-years over the past decade, just $3bn separated Glencore’s peak and trough. In an industry that’s been characterised by boom and bust since the first ...

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