Nickel Tycoon Tells Banks He Wants to Keep Shorting

(Bloomberg) — The tycoon whose big short bet on nickel helped trigger one of the most dramatic price spikes in history has told his banks and brokers that he doesn’t intend to reduce his position, according to people familiar with the matter.

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The move is a characteristic display of self-confidence from Xiang Guangda, the owner of Tsingshan Holding Group Co., and means that the nickel market could be set for more fireworks once it reopens.

The London Metal Exchange halted trading in nickel on Tuesday morning after prices spiked as much as 250% in two days, driven by brokers rushing to close out short positions after holders of bearish bets including Tsingshan struggled to make margin calls.

The LME said on Tuesday it would start a process to try to close out short positions by matching market participants with long and short positions before the market reopened, to reduce the risk that this week’s squeeze is repeated when trading resumes. But Xiang, whose short position through Tsingshan still stood in the region of 150,000 tons, has shown little interest in this overture.

In recent conversations, Xiang has told the roughly 10 banks and brokers through which Tsingshan holds its nickel position that he still believes prices will fall and that he would like to keep his short position, according to three people with knowledge of the conversations, who asked not to be identified discussing private information.

That included a meeting with all of the banks on Thursday, one of the people said.

To be sure, the discussions are ongoing, and it’s not clear what stance Tsingshan’s banks will take. People familiar with the matter said earlier this week that Xiang was considering what to do with his short position and might be willing to exit it entirely.

The LME acknowledged late Thursday that there was little appetite from holders of long and short positions to voluntarily reduce the number of positions before reopening the market — “particularly from those with short positions.” It said there were also “considerable differences in view on the appropriate price.”

Tsingshan couldn’t immediately comment outside of regular office hours. In an earlier interview with Chinese news outlet Yicai, Xiang blamed “foreigners making some moves” for nickel’s price spike.

Tsingshan’s difficulties paying its margin calls have put its banks and brokers in a bind, as they have had to make hefty margin calls of their own at the LME to cover their short positions on the exchange.

On Monday, a unit of China Construction Bank Corp. failed to pay a margin call on time, but was given additional time by the LME and made the payment the following morning.

Tsingshan has secured credit promises from banks including JPMorgan Chase & Co. and China Construction Bank that could allow it to avoid defaulting on its margin calls, Bloomberg reported earlier.

Discussions have continued, with Xiang proposing at the meeting on Thursday to pledge some of Tsingshan’s assets in Indonesia as collateral for the money it owes in margin calls, the people said.

Some of the banks are worried that if the market reopens with Tsingshan’s short position still in place, it could see a repeat of the brutal short squeeze earlier this week, the people said. But it may be difficult for them to force Xiang’s hand: if he were to walk away from Tsingshan’s commitments, the banks could lose billions.

(Updates with LME notice in eighth paragraph.)

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