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            逼空大戰中,青山集團全身而退的秘密

            逼空大戰中,青山集團全身而退的秘密

            Alfred Cang, Jack Farchy, Mark Burton, 彭博社 2022-07-16
            以“大佬”綽號聞名中國大宗商品圈的項光達即將從這場倫鎳逼空危機中全身而退,他旗下價值數十億美元的礦業和煉鋼公司——青山控股集團不僅完好無損,甚至還實現了進一步擴張。

            圖片來源:QILAI SHEN—BLOOMBERG/GETTY IMAGES

            北京時間3月8日下午2點08分,事態已經非常明朗,項光達重金押注鎳價下跌的做法大錯而特錯。

            彼時,鎳期貨價格剛剛飆升至每噸10萬美元以上,項光達的賬面損失超過100億美元。在這種規模的虧損面前,不僅項光達的公司面臨破產危機,甚至整個金屬行業都有可能受到沖擊,一如當年的雷曼兄弟(Lehman Brothers)事件,倫敦金屬交易所(London Metal Exchange)本身也可能因為這起事件而灰飛煙滅。

            但項光達卻很平靜。在短短幾個小時之內,已經有50多名銀行家來到他的辦公室,想聽聽他打算如何應對這場危機。他的回答很簡單:“我相信我們能夠戰勝這場危機?!倍泊_實做到了。

            四個月之后的今天,鎳價確實出現了下跌,一如項光達此前的預測。以摩根大通(JPMorgan Chase & Co.)為首、磨刀霍霍的銀行集團也拿到了自己的報償。據熟悉項光達的人士透露,他已經平倉幾乎所有的鎳空頭頭寸,虧損約為10億美元,考慮到他的商業帝國在其他方面獲得的收益,這個數字尚在其承受范圍之內。

            至關重要的是:以“大佬”綽號聞名中國大宗商品圈的項光達即將從這場危機中全身而退,他旗下價值數十億美元的礦業和煉鋼公司——青山控股集團不僅完好無損,甚至還實現了進一步擴張。

            雖然對項光達而言,這場危機已經是過眼云煙,有人卻不得不留下來替他收拾剩下的爛攤子。項光達之所以能夠逃出生天,倫敦金屬交易所功不可沒,面對重重質疑,該機構毅然出手干涉市場,阻止鎳價進一步上漲,并暫停了鎳金屬交易,直至項光達與合作銀行達成協議方才恢復。

            受此影響,項光達的交易對手損失達數十億美元,自然對倫敦金屬交易所感到無比憤怒。在危機爆發數月之后的今天,倫敦金屬交易所官司纏身、不斷遭受調查,而鎳金屬市場也仍未恢復元氣。

            對沖基金集團AQR Capital Management的創始人克利夫·阿斯內斯在推特(Twitter)上發了一條充滿諷刺意味的推文:“很高興看到摩根大通和‘大佬’可以幾乎毫發無損的全身而退,真是一個暖心的故事?!?/p>

            這是一篇有關項光達如何從這場擾動全球金屬市場的逼空大戰中脫身的故事,在撰寫這篇文章的過程里,我們采訪了諸多親歷者,相關人士均要求匿名。對于我們發出的多次置評請求,青山集團均未作回應。

            逼空大作戰

            2021年年底至2022年年初,項光達買入了大量空頭頭寸,一方面為對沖風險,一方面是認為青山集團的大幅增產將會拉低鎳價。但在俄烏沖突爆發后,全球市場出現震動,鎳價開始攀升,起初增幅還較溫和,隨后進入暴走模式,兩天飆升250%。

            3月8日晚,一眾資深銀行家涌入青山集團總部,要求項光達就當前局勢給出答復。無法到現場的則紛紛從倫敦或新加坡打來視頻電話。在到場的銀行家中,有些直到第二天上午才離開。

            由于項光達持有的空頭頭寸涉及約十家銀行和經紀商,所以當天晚上來了很多人(多年以來,青山集團一直是摩根大通等機構的優質客戶)。但在3月7日鎳價開始飆升之后,青山集團已經很難滿足追加保證金的要求。當時,項光達欠各家機構的資金均已達到上億美元。

            在鎳價觸及10萬美元幾個小時之后,倫敦金屬交易所最終選擇出手干預市場,叫停鎳金屬交易。不僅如此,倫敦金屬交易所還取消了數十億美元的交易,將鎳價拉回前一天收盤時的48078美元——項光達和青山集團的生命線。

            為重啟市場,倫敦金屬交易所提出了一個解決方案:項光達應與多方達成協議,并按協議價平倉。但5萬美元左右的價格相當于項光達買入空頭頭寸時的價格的兩倍有余,如果接受這一提議,項光達就將損失數十億美元。

            俄烏沖突爆發后,全球市場出現震動,鎳價開始攀升,起初增幅還較溫和,隨后進入暴走模式,兩天飆升250%。圖片來源:Cole Burston—Bloomberg/Getty Images

            現年60歲出頭的項光達堅決不同意接受這一方案。起家于溫州的項光達,從生產汽車門窗框架開始,一步步將青山集團建設成為全球最大的鎳金屬和不銹鋼生產商,其商業帝國版圖遼闊,從中國東部沿海地區的鋼鐵廠一直延伸到印度尼西亞偏遠島嶼上的礦山。在締造這一帝國的過程中,他為自己贏得了“富于遠見”和“喜押重注”的名聲。

            在此之前,項光達也曾經引起過倫敦金屬交易所的注意,2019年,青山集團身處逼空戰的另一方,當時,該集團從倫敦金屬交易所撤出了大量鎳庫存,導致鎳價大漲。

            這一次,項光達激進交易手法造成的影響比上一次要深遠得多。

            鎳價飆升、交易凍結對下游公司(例如不銹鋼工廠和電動汽車電池制造商)造成了巨大沖擊,有些干脆不再接受新訂單。在倫敦金屬交易所這邊,交易商們竭力從那些無力支付的客戶處收回欠繳的追加保證金,至少有一家公司不得不向母公司尋求資金支持。

            但在整個行業空前混亂的情況下,(3月9日凌晨仍然在面對其合作的銀行家的)項光達擁有一個關鍵優勢,那就是其他人比他更為恐懼。

            如果項光達拒不還錢,則債主們就將只能在印度尼西亞和中國的法院對其進行追索。此外,項光達是通過一系列公司實體進行的相關鎳金屬交易,比如電池制造商——瑞普能源有限公司的香港分公司,當時上述銀行甚至不清楚自己是否有權沒收青山集團最有價值的那部分資產。

            當時在場的一位人士回憶道,那些銀行家很清楚,如果與項光達的交易出現問題,他們的職業生涯也就完了。

            風險敞口最大的摩根大通扮演了領導者的角色。涉足相關交易的銀行包括渣打銀行(Standard Chartered Bank Plc)和法國巴黎銀行(BNP Paribas SA)等一些國際機構,但也有許多是中國和新加坡的銀行,后者幾乎沒有處理這種情況的經驗。

            個人擔保

            項光達告訴聚在自己辦公室的銀行家,他絲毫無意在5萬美元價格附近平倉。幾個小時后,他向倫敦金屬交易所的首席執行官馬修·張伯倫傳達了同樣的信息。他說,青山集團實力雄厚,(在這件事情上)不會讓步。

            相反,項光達列出了一份自己愿意用作抵押的資產清單:若干位于印度尼西亞的鎳鐵工廠。但對部分在場的銀行家來說,這種抵押不足以讓他們安心。受新冠疫情影響,未來幾周甚至幾個月的時間里他們都無法對這些位于印度尼西亞的資產進行任何盡職調查,即便那些與青山集團合作非常密切的合作伙伴也已經多年未造訪過這些工廠。

            因此,項光達再次讓步,決定提供個人擔保,如果青山集團未能償付欠款,銀行家們就可以將其趕出家門,此種做法不僅意味著項光達要拿出個人財富作為抵押,還是一種中國文化上放低姿態的表示,這也是他最后開出的條件,如果不接受就意味著談判破裂。

            銀行家們并沒有太多的選擇。3月14日,在鎳市陷入混亂一周之后,青山集團宣布與相關銀行達成協議,根據協議,銀行同意在一段時間內不再追究該公司所欠的數十億美元債務。作為交換,項光達同意,在鎳價跌到3萬美元以下后,將在一系列位置進行減倉。

            兩天后,鎳市重啟,價格走低,項光達和相關銀行的壓力有所減輕。此后,鎳價一度跌破3萬美元,青山集團也趁機減持了約20%的空頭頭寸。

            而倫敦金屬交易所面臨的壓力卻有增無減。相關監管機構開始對該交易所的治理和監管工作進行審查。美國達拉斯聯邦儲備銀行(Dallas Federal Reserve)和國際貨幣基金組織(International Monetary Fund)加入了聲討倫敦金屬交易所的大軍,許多對沖基金也對倫敦金屬交易所取消交易的決定感到憤怒不已。

            掌管著67億美元資金的荷蘭算法基金Transtrend表示:“在我們意識到真正發生了什么的時候,我們感覺以后再也不能把客戶的錢委托給倫敦金屬交易所了?!彪S著交易商紛紛離場,該交易所六大主要金屬合約的可用庫存降至十多年以來的最低水平。

            青山集團及其合作銀行每個月都會對雙方達成的暫停還款協議進行審查。在最初的下跌之后,鎳價有很長時間一直在33000美元左右徘徊

            那段時間,雙方都繃緊了神經。由于當時青山集團仍然持有大量空頭頭寸,一旦鎳價再次上漲(例如對俄制裁導致鎳供應中斷,截至目前尚未出現這種情況),青山集團及其合作銀行仍然可能面臨巨額虧損。

            最后,在5月,由于中國的封控措施令金屬市場熱度大減,鎳價跌穿3萬美元的關鍵位置。此后幾周,青山將其空頭頭寸(3月初曾經超過15萬噸)減持至6萬噸。

            此時的鎳價已經低于3月初青山集團停止追加保證金時的水平,也就是說,項光達與其合作銀行間已經沒有任何債務關系。于是他提議取消雙方協議中個人擔保的部分,認為相關規定是其身處財務困境時的無奈之舉。部分合作銀行愿意讓步,但摩根大通表示反對,最終,雙方同意,減少用作抵押的鎳廠數量,但項光達仍然需要提供個人擔保。摩根大通發言人拒絕對此事予以置評。

            還有其他一些跡象也表明,這場危機已經損害了項光達與其合作銀行之間的關系。今年6月,由于全球市場擔心經濟陷入衰退,項光達的空頭頭寸似乎將迎來轉機。于是項光達要求合作銀行給他一些靈活性,允許他不在協議到期時平倉,延長空頭頭寸持有時間。該請求再次遭到摩根大通拒絕。截至6月底,項光達已經完全平倉其在摩根大通及其他幾家銀行開立的頭寸,剩余的空頭頭寸已經不到2萬噸。

            據知情人士估計,青山集團在相關交易中的損失約為10億美元。對此,項光達并不在意。他手下的鎳礦業務在這段時間產生的利潤基本能夠彌補上述虧損。相關暫停還款協議的期限原為三個月,經項光達延期后,將于7月中旬到期。

            現在,“大佬”已經開始了全新生活,專注于規劃青山集團(該集團去年營收達到560億美元)的未來。至少就目前而言,他或許無法再像過去那樣在倫敦金屬交易所呼風喚雨,但他仍然可以在上海期貨交易所進行交易。項光達仍然抱有擴張野心,不僅想在亞洲再進一步,還將目光投向了廣袤的非洲大地。青山集團對鎳金屬市場的影響力一如既往,正如他預測的那樣,鎳價是否走低在相當程度上取決于其印度尼西亞工廠是否大幅增產。

            不過,雖然項光達已經開啟了人生的新篇章,但倫敦金屬交易所仍然在收拾殘局。監管機構指出,鎳市出現混亂局面表明,大宗商品市場存有潛在風險,并呼吁加強對整個行業的監管。對沖基金——埃利奧特投資管理公司(Elliot Investment Management)和交易公司Jane Street已經對倫敦金屬交易所發起訴訟,要求后者賠償近5億美元損失。

            相關人士表示,鎳市元氣目前仍未恢復,由于許多交易商不再在合約中使用倫敦金屬交易所價格,未平倉合約和交易量均遠低于此前水平。據資深鎳金屬市場觀察家、Red Door Research Ltd.的董事總經理吉姆·倫農估計,目前全球的鎳產量中,只有不到25%以倫敦金屬交易所價格出售,而在3月危機爆發前,這一數字為50%。

            他說:“許多業內人士已經暫時退出倫敦金屬交易所。目前市場仍在運轉,只是情況不容樂觀?!保ㄘ敻恢形木W)

            譯者:梁宇

            審校:夏林

            北京時間3月8日下午2點08分,事態已經非常明朗,項光達重金押注鎳價下跌的做法大錯而特錯。

            彼時,鎳期貨價格剛剛飆升至每噸10萬美元以上,項光達的賬面損失超過100億美元。在這種規模的虧損面前,不僅項光達的公司面臨破產危機,甚至整個金屬行業都有可能受到沖擊,一如當年的雷曼兄弟(Lehman Brothers)事件,倫敦金屬交易所(London Metal Exchange)本身也可能因為這起事件而灰飛煙滅。

            但項光達卻很平靜。在短短幾個小時之內,已經有50多名銀行家來到他的辦公室,想聽聽他打算如何應對這場危機。他的回答很簡單:“我相信我們能夠戰勝這場危機?!倍泊_實做到了。

            四個月之后的今天,鎳價確實出現了下跌,一如項光達此前的預測。以摩根大通(JPMorgan Chase & Co.)為首、磨刀霍霍的銀行集團也拿到了自己的報償。據熟悉項光達的人士透露,他已經平倉幾乎所有的鎳空頭頭寸,虧損約為10億美元,考慮到他的商業帝國在其他方面獲得的收益,這個數字尚在其承受范圍之內。

            至關重要的是:以“大佬”綽號聞名中國大宗商品圈的項光達即將從這場危機中全身而退,他旗下價值數十億美元的礦業和煉鋼公司——青山控股集團不僅完好無損,甚至還實現了進一步擴張。

            雖然對項光達而言,這場危機已經是過眼云煙,有人卻不得不留下來替他收拾剩下的爛攤子。項光達之所以能夠逃出生天,倫敦金屬交易所功不可沒,面對重重質疑,該機構毅然出手干涉市場,阻止鎳價進一步上漲,并暫停了鎳金屬交易,直至項光達與合作銀行達成協議方才恢復。

            受此影響,項光達的交易對手損失達數十億美元,自然對倫敦金屬交易所感到無比憤怒。在危機爆發數月之后的今天,倫敦金屬交易所官司纏身、不斷遭受調查,而鎳金屬市場也仍未恢復元氣。

            對沖基金集團AQR Capital Management的創始人克利夫·阿斯內斯在推特(Twitter)上發了一條充滿諷刺意味的推文:“很高興看到摩根大通和‘大佬’可以幾乎毫發無損的全身而退,真是一個暖心的故事?!?/p>

            這是一篇有關項光達如何從這場擾動全球金屬市場的逼空大戰中脫身的故事,在撰寫這篇文章的過程里,我們采訪了諸多親歷者,相關人士均要求匿名。對于我們發出的多次置評請求,青山集團均未作回應。

            逼空大作戰

            2021年年底至2022年年初,項光達買入了大量空頭頭寸,一方面為對沖風險,一方面是認為青山集團的大幅增產將會拉低鎳價。但在俄烏沖突爆發后,全球市場出現震動,鎳價開始攀升,起初增幅還較溫和,隨后進入暴走模式,兩天飆升250%。

            3月8日晚,一眾資深銀行家涌入青山集團總部,要求項光達就當前局勢給出答復。無法到現場的則紛紛從倫敦或新加坡打來視頻電話。在到場的銀行家中,有些直到第二天上午才離開。

            由于項光達持有的空頭頭寸涉及約十家銀行和經紀商,所以當天晚上來了很多人(多年以來,青山集團一直是摩根大通等機構的優質客戶)。但在3月7日鎳價開始飆升之后,青山集團已經很難滿足追加保證金的要求。當時,項光達欠各家機構的資金均已達到上億美元。

            在鎳價觸及10萬美元幾個小時之后,倫敦金屬交易所最終選擇出手干預市場,叫停鎳金屬交易。不僅如此,倫敦金屬交易所還取消了數十億美元的交易,將鎳價拉回前一天收盤時的48078美元——項光達和青山集團的生命線。

            為重啟市場,倫敦金屬交易所提出了一個解決方案:項光達應與多方達成協議,并按協議價平倉。但5萬美元左右的價格相當于項光達買入空頭頭寸時的價格的兩倍有余,如果接受這一提議,項光達就將損失數十億美元。

            現年60歲出頭的項光達堅決不同意接受這一方案。起家于溫州的項光達,從生產汽車門窗框架開始,一步步將青山集團建設成為全球最大的鎳金屬和不銹鋼生產商,其商業帝國版圖遼闊,從中國東部沿海地區的鋼鐵廠一直延伸到印度尼西亞偏遠島嶼上的礦山。在締造這一帝國的過程中,他為自己贏得了“富于遠見”和“喜押重注”的名聲。

            在此之前,項光達也曾經引起過倫敦金屬交易所的注意,2019年,青山集團身處逼空戰的另一方,當時,該集團從倫敦金屬交易所撤出了大量鎳庫存,導致鎳價大漲。

            這一次,項光達激進交易手法造成的影響比上一次要深遠得多。

            鎳價飆升、交易凍結對下游公司(例如不銹鋼工廠和電動汽車電池制造商)造成了巨大沖擊,有些干脆不再接受新訂單。在倫敦金屬交易所這邊,交易商們竭力從那些無力支付的客戶處收回欠繳的追加保證金,至少有一家公司不得不向母公司尋求資金支持。

            但在整個行業空前混亂的情況下,(3月9日凌晨仍然在面對其合作的銀行家的)項光達擁有一個關鍵優勢,那就是其他人比他更為恐懼。

            如果項光達拒不還錢,則債主們就將只能在印度尼西亞和中國的法院對其進行追索。此外,項光達是通過一系列公司實體進行的相關鎳金屬交易,比如電池制造商——瑞普能源有限公司的香港分公司,當時上述銀行甚至不清楚自己是否有權沒收青山集團最有價值的那部分資產。

            當時在場的一位人士回憶道,那些銀行家很清楚,如果與項光達的交易出現問題,他們的職業生涯也就完了。

            風險敞口最大的摩根大通扮演了領導者的角色。涉足相關交易的銀行包括渣打銀行(Standard Chartered Bank Plc)和法國巴黎銀行(BNP Paribas SA)等一些國際機構,但也有許多是中國和新加坡的銀行,后者幾乎沒有處理這種情況的經驗。

            個人擔保

            項光達告訴聚在自己辦公室的銀行家,他絲毫無意在5萬美元價格附近平倉。幾個小時后,他向倫敦金屬交易所的首席執行官馬修·張伯倫傳達了同樣的信息。他說,青山集團實力雄厚,(在這件事情上)不會讓步。

            相反,項光達列出了一份自己愿意用作抵押的資產清單:若干位于印度尼西亞的鎳鐵工廠。但對部分在場的銀行家來說,這種抵押不足以讓他們安心。受新冠疫情影響,未來幾周甚至幾個月的時間里他們都無法對這些位于印度尼西亞的資產進行任何盡職調查,即便那些與青山集團合作非常密切的合作伙伴也已經多年未造訪過這些工廠。

            因此,項光達再次讓步,決定提供個人擔保,如果青山集團未能償付欠款,銀行家們就可以將其趕出家門,此種做法不僅意味著項光達要拿出個人財富作為抵押,還是一種中國文化上放低姿態的表示,這也是他最后開出的條件,如果不接受就意味著談判破裂。

            銀行家們并沒有太多的選擇。3月14日,在鎳市陷入混亂一周之后,青山集團宣布與相關銀行達成協議,根據協議,銀行同意在一段時間內不再追究該公司所欠的數十億美元債務。作為交換,項光達同意,在鎳價跌到3萬美元以下后,將在一系列位置進行減倉。

            兩天后,鎳市重啟,價格走低,項光達和相關銀行的壓力有所減輕。此后,鎳價一度跌破3萬美元,青山集團也趁機減持了約20%的空頭頭寸。

            而倫敦金屬交易所面臨的壓力卻有增無減。相關監管機構開始對該交易所的治理和監管工作進行審查。美國達拉斯聯邦儲備銀行(Dallas Federal Reserve)和國際貨幣基金組織(International Monetary Fund)加入了聲討倫敦金屬交易所的大軍,許多對沖基金也對倫敦金屬交易所取消交易的決定感到憤怒不已。

            掌管著67億美元資金的荷蘭算法基金Transtrend表示:“在我們意識到真正發生了什么的時候,我們感覺以后再也不能把客戶的錢委托給倫敦金屬交易所了?!彪S著交易商紛紛離場,該交易所六大主要金屬合約的可用庫存降至十多年以來的最低水平。

            青山集團及其合作銀行每個月都會對雙方達成的暫停還款協議進行審查。在最初的下跌之后,鎳價有很長時間一直在33000美元左右徘徊

            那段時間,雙方都繃緊了神經。由于當時青山集團仍然持有大量空頭頭寸,一旦鎳價再次上漲(例如對俄制裁導致鎳供應中斷,截至目前尚未出現這種情況),青山集團及其合作銀行仍然可能面臨巨額虧損。

            最后,在5月,由于中國的封控措施令金屬市場熱度大減,鎳價跌穿3萬美元的關鍵位置。此后幾周,青山將其空頭頭寸(3月初曾經超過15萬噸)減持至6萬噸。

            此時的鎳價已經低于3月初青山集團停止追加保證金時的水平,也就是說,項光達與其合作銀行間已經沒有任何債務關系。于是他提議取消雙方協議中個人擔保的部分,認為相關規定是其身處財務困境時的無奈之舉。部分合作銀行愿意讓步,但摩根大通表示反對,最終,雙方同意,減少用作抵押的鎳廠數量,但項光達仍然需要提供個人擔保。摩根大通發言人拒絕對此事予以置評。

            還有其他一些跡象也表明,這場危機已經損害了項光達與其合作銀行之間的關系。今年6月,由于全球市場擔心經濟陷入衰退,項光達的空頭頭寸似乎將迎來轉機。于是項光達要求合作銀行給他一些靈活性,允許他不在協議到期時平倉,延長空頭頭寸持有時間。該請求再次遭到摩根大通拒絕。截至6月底,項光達已經完全平倉其在摩根大通及其他幾家銀行開立的頭寸,剩余的空頭頭寸已經不到2萬噸。

            據知情人士估計,青山集團在相關交易中的損失約為10億美元。對此,項光達并不在意。他手下的鎳礦業務在這段時間產生的利潤基本能夠彌補上述虧損。相關暫停還款協議的期限原為三個月,經項光達延期后,將于7月中旬到期。

            現在,“大佬”已經開始了全新生活,專注于規劃青山集團(該集團去年營收達到560億美元)的未來。至少就目前而言,他或許無法再像過去那樣在倫敦金屬交易所呼風喚雨,但他仍然可以在上海期貨交易所進行交易。項光達仍然抱有擴張野心,不僅想在亞洲再進一步,還將目光投向了廣袤的非洲大地。青山集團對鎳金屬市場的影響力一如既往,正如他預測的那樣,鎳價是否走低在相當程度上取決于其印度尼西亞工廠是否大幅增產。

            不過,雖然項光達已經開啟了人生的新篇章,但倫敦金屬交易所仍然在收拾殘局。監管機構指出,鎳市出現混亂局面表明,大宗商品市場存有潛在風險,并呼吁加強對整個行業的監管。對沖基金——埃利奧特投資管理公司(Elliot Investment Management)和交易公司Jane Street已經對倫敦金屬交易所發起訴訟,要求后者賠償近5億美元損失。

            相關人士表示,鎳市元氣目前仍未恢復,由于許多交易商不再在合約中使用倫敦金屬交易所價格,未平倉合約和交易量均遠低于此前水平。據資深鎳金屬市場觀察家、Red Door Research Ltd.的董事總經理吉姆·倫農估計,目前全球的鎳產量中,只有不到25%以倫敦金屬交易所價格出售,而在3月危機爆發前,這一數字為50%。

            他說:“許多業內人士已經暫時退出倫敦金屬交易所。目前市場仍在運轉,只是情況不容樂觀?!保ㄘ敻恢形木W)

            譯者:梁宇

            審校:夏林

            By 2:08 p.m. Shanghai time on March 8, it was clear that Xiang Guangda’s giant bet on a fall in nickel prices was going spectacularly wrong.

            Futures had just skyrocketed above $100,000 a ton and his trade was more than $10 billion underwater. It was threatening not only to bankrupt Xiang’s company, but to trigger a Lehman Brothers-like shock through the entire metals industry and possibly topple the London Metal Exchange itself.

            But Xiang was calm. Within hours, more than 50 bankers had arrived at his office wanting to hear how he planned to respond to the crisis. He told them simply: “I’m confident that we will overcome this.”

            And he did.

            Four months on, the nickel price is falling, as Xiang had predicted. The coterie of banks led by JPMorgan Chase & Co. that were baying for his blood has been repaid. He has closed out nearly all his short position in nickel, making a loss on the trade of about $1 billion — a manageable sum given the profits being generated elsewhere in his business empire, say people who know him.

            Crucially: the man nicknamed ‘Big Shot’ in Chinese commodities circles is poised to walk away from the fiasco with his multibillion-dollar mining and steelmaking company, Tsingshan Holding Group Co., intact and even expanding.

            But while Xiang moves on, others are left dealing with the destruction wrought by the crisis. His miraculous escape was thanks in no small part to the actions of the LME, which controversially intervened to prevent prices from rising and then suspended trading until Xiang had struck a deal with his banks.

            Those on the other side of the trade, who lost billions, were furious. Months later, the LME is dealing with a raft of investigations and lawsuits, and the nickel market is still reeling.

            “Nice to see that @jpmorgan and The Big Shot got out of this whole thing with only scratches,” Cliff Asness, founder of AQR Capital Management, said last week in a tweet?thick with sarcasm. “It’s just heart warming.”

            This account of how Xiang extricated himself from a short squeeze that rocked the global metals markets is based on numerous interviews with people who were involved, all of whom requested anonymity. Multiple attempts to seek comment from Tsingshan were unsuccessful.

            Massive Short Squeeze

            Xiang had built up his massive short position in late 2021 and early 2022 partly as a hedge, partly as a bet that a planned jump in Tsingshan’s production this year would drag down prices. But when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine jolted global markets, nickel started climbing — gradually at first, before rocketing 250% in an epic squeeze.

            On the evening of March 8, senior bankers crowded into a room at Tsingshan’s headquarters demanding answers. Others dialed in for video calls from London or Singapore. Of those present, some didn’t leave until early the next morning.

            The crowd that night was so large because Xiang’s position was spread across about 10 banks and brokers — he had been a good client for many of them, including JPMorgan, for years. But after nickel started spiking on March 7, Tsingshan struggled to meet its margin calls. Now he owed each of them hundreds of millions of dollars.

            The LME had eventually intervened to halt trading a couple of hours after nickel hit $100,000. It also canceled billions of dollars of transactions, bringing the price back to $48,078, where it closed the previous day, in what amounted to a lifeline for Xiang and Tsingshan.

            To reopen the market, the LME proposed a solution: Xiang should strike a deal with holders of long positions to close out his trade. But a price of around $50,000 would be more than twice the level at which he had entered his short position, and would mean accepting billions of dollars in losses.

            Xiang, who is in his early 60s, stood firm. From a start making frames for car doors and windows in Wenzhou, eastern China, he’d built Tsingshan into the world’s largest nickel and stainless steel producer, with an empire stretching from mines in remote Indonesian islands to steel mills on China’s east coast. Along the way, he’d acquired a reputation for visionary thinking and a taste for betting big.

            He had caught the attention of the LME before, when in 2019 Tsingshan was on the other side of a short squeeze, withdrawing large amounts of nickel inventories from exchange warehouses and causing prices to jump.

            This time, his aggressive approach to trading was having much wider ripple effects.

            The spike in prices and the trading freeze caused havoc for companies that use nickel, like stainless steel mills and makers of batteries for electric vehicles. Some simply stopped taking new orders. On the LME, dealers were left frantically trying to recoup missed margin calls from clients who couldn’t pay, and at least one had to seek financial support from its parent company.

            Yet with unprecedented chaos rippling through the industry, Xiang — still facing his bankers in the early hours of March 9 — had a key advantage. They were more terrified than he was.

            If he refused to pay, they would have to chase him in courts in Indonesia and China. What’s more, he had executed his nickel trade through a variety of corporate entities – such as the Hong Kong branch of battery unit Ruipu Energy Co. – and it wasn’t clear the banks would even have the right to seize Tsingshan’s most valuable assets.

            The bankers understood that if things went wrong, their careers would be over, one person who was in the room remembered.

            JPMorgan, which had the biggest exposure, took the lead. The group included some international players like Standard Chartered Bank Plc and BNP Paribas SA, but many were Chinese and Singaporean banks that had little experience handling a situation like this.

            Personal Guarantee

            Xiang told the assembled bankers he had no intention of closing the position anywhere near $50,000. A few hours later he was delivering the same message to Matthew Chamberlain, chief executive of the LME. Tsingshan was a strong company, he said, and it had the support of the Chinese government. There would be no backing down.

            Instead, he wrote a list of the assets he was willing to put up as collateral: a string of ferronickel plants in Indonesia. But for some of the bankers, that wasn’t enough. They wouldn’t be able to do any due diligence on the Indonesian assets for weeks or months, and even those who worked closely with Tsingshan hadn’t seen the facilities for years because of the pandemic.

            So Xiang made a further concession that was both valuable and, in Chinese business culture, humbling: a personal guarantee. If Tsingshan didn’t pay its debts, the bankers could turf him out of his home. That was what he was willing to offer. Take it or leave it.

            It wasn’t much of a choice. On March 14, a week after the chaos that engulfed the nickel market, Tsingshan announced a deal with its banks under which they agreed not to pursue the company for the billions it owed for a period of time. In exchange, Xiang agreed a series of price levels at which he would reduce his nickel position once prices dropped below about $30,000.

            When the market reopened two days later, prices moved lower, easing the strain on Xiang and the banks. A brief dip below $30,000 allowed Tsingshan to cover about 20% of its short position.

            The pressure on the LME was only intensifying, however. The exchange’s regulators launched reviews of its governance and oversight. The Dallas Federal Reserve and International Monetary Fund joined in a chorus of public criticism, and many hedge funds were still furious at the LME’s decision to cancel trades.

            “The moment we realized what was really happening, we felt we could no longer entrust the LME with our clients’ money,” said Transtrend, a $6.7 billion Dutch algorithmic fund. Open interest across the exchange’s six main metals slid to the lowest in more than a decade as traders headed for the exit.

            Each month, Tsingshan and its banks reviewed their standstill agreement. After the initial dip, nickel spent long stretches in limbo with prices hovering around $33,000.

            It was a nervous time. Tsingshan still had a vast short position, meaning it and its banks could still be exposed to large losses if prices started rising again — for example, if sanctions against Russia led to an actual disruption in nickel supplies, which so far they hadn’t.

            Finally, in May, prices tumbled decisively below the key $30,000 level after China’s lockdowns dented metals market sentiment. Over the following weeks, Tsingshan reduced its position — which in early March had been over 150,000 tons — to just 60,000 tons.

            By this point, prices were below the level at which Tsingshan had stopped being able to pay its margin calls in early March, which meant Xiang no longer owed the banks any money. He proposed dropping the personal guarantee from the deal, seeing it as a humiliating concession to his earlier financial troubles. Some of the banks were willing to do so, but JPMorgan was not: the number of nickel plants used as collateral was reduced, but the personal guarantee would stay. A JPMorgan spokesman declined to comment.

            It was not the only sign that the crisis had soured Xiang’s relationship with his banks. In June, as recessionary fears swept global markets, Xiang’s short position was beginning to look like a smart trade. He asked some of his banks for a little flexibility, allowing him to run the position for longer than had been envisaged under their deal. Again, JPMorgan said no, and by the end of June Xiang had exited his position entirely with JPMorgan and several other banks, leaving him with a remaining short of less than 20,000 tons.

            People familiar with the matter estimate Tsingshan’s losses on the trade at around $1 billion. Xiang isn’t concerned. The loss has been roughly offset by the profits of his nickel operations over the same period. The standstill agreement, which Xiang extended from the initial three months, is set to expire in mid-July.

            Now ‘Big Shot’ is moving on with his life, focusing on plans for the future at Tsingshan, which had revenues of $56 billion last year. His ability to trade on the LME may be reduced, for now at least, but he is still able to trade on the Shanghai Futures Exchange. He has ambitions to expand, not only in Asia, but also to Africa. And Tsingshan is as powerful as ever in the nickel market: a massive increase in production from his plants in Indonesia is one of the key factors driving prices lower, much as Xiang predicted.

            But while Xiang may be moving on, the LME is still dealing with the fallout. Regulators have pointed to the chaos in nickel as a sign of the risks lurking in commodity markets, and called for greater oversight of the entire sector. Hedge fund Elliot Investment Management and trading firm Jane Street have launched legal action against the LME, seeking nearly $500 million.

            And the nickel market is still broken, say people involved in it, with both open interest and trading volumes stuck at sharply lower levels as traders step away from using LME prices in their contracts. Jim Lennon, a veteran nickel market-watcher and managing director of Red Door Research Ltd., estimates that less than 25% of global nickel output is now being sold on the basis of LME prices, down from 50% before the crisis in March.

            “A lot of the industry now has temporarily disengaged from the LME,” he says. “The market is still functioning, but it’s struggling.”

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