ICBC Standard Bank plans to shut base metals, equities units

ICBC Standard Bank, a venture between the biggest lenders in China and Africa, will close its base metals and equities businesses because of poor performance and difficult market conditions.

The changes will affect 150 jobs and will take place in the first half of 2020, according to a statement from the London-based lender. The bank will keep other businesses, including precious metals and energy, and the decision is subject to shareholder approval.

“We are addressing our cost base and are taking measures against a backdrop of continuing unfavorable market conditions to ensure a position of long-term, sustainable strength,” said Chief Executive Officer Wenbin Wang. “If the closures are approved, we will work on an orderly wind down of client positions.”

The closure comes amid a period of heightened turmoil in the raw materials industry as the trade war, slowing economic growth and shifts in technology disrupt traditional markets.

Other commodity traders have struggled in the current environment. Cargill Inc. said in August that it’ll close the base-metals desk at its risk-management unit. Goldman Sachs, for decades Wall Street’s dominant commodities trader, also made cuts to the division earlier this year, a person familiar with the matter told Bloomberg News in March.

ICBC Standard Bank, also known as ICBCS, is 60% owned by Industrial & Commercial Bank of China and 40% by Standard Bank [JSE:SBK].

The bank suffered a $15m loss last year after declining appetite for emerging-market risk and reduced investment flows hit its trading business. US sanctions against aluminum producer United Rusal also sparked volatility in its base-metals business.

Market conditions have continued to deteriorate for the group. Standard Bank wrote down the value of its holding in ICBCS to $220m at the end of September, from $383m previously. It’s engaging with ICBC to determine the best way forward for the business, it said in a filing last month.

The base metals business includes aluminum, cobalt, copper, nickel, lead, tin and zinc, according to its website. It also has precious metals, crude oil and refined oil products businesses with offices in London, New York, Singapore and Shanghai.

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