The London Metal Exchange’s historic trading Ring is no stranger to shouting. Now the discussion over its future is generating a fittingly noisy debate.
Traders have launched a strong pushback to the LME, which proposed a permanent closure to the more than 140-year-old trading venue in January. On Friday, the exchange said it would decide its future in June, having received “unprecedented” feedback from its members, with a total of 192 formal responses to its consultation on the matter.
The tussle reflects traders’ strong nostalgic attachment to the last open-outcry trading venue in Europe, but also a debate on the benefits of flexibility set against the LME’s desire to create a more computerised “metals market that is fit for the future”.
“The LME acknowledges that market participants would like the outcomes of the process to be communicated as soon as possible in order to provide certainty to the market, but it is also balancing this with ensuring that all the feedback is given careful consideration,” the exchange said on Friday.
The LME is the world’s centre for metals trading, providing prices for industrial metals such as copper, zinc, lead, tin and aluminium. This year the exchange is set to launch trading for lithium — a key metal for electric-car batteries.
The LME has said that closing the Ring could improve pricing and bring in new members more accustomed to trading commodities electronically, such as hedge funds and high-speed traders.
But many traders say the LME’s electronic pricing system is not good enough to handle the complicated physical metal trades that are the foundation of the LME’s unique trading system.
Traders on the Ring gather on and around its famous red sofas and use shouting and hand movements to execute bespoke orders for metals customers, allowing them to hedge prices for specific dates in the future, rather than the fixed monthly and quarterly points that are more common in other commodities. For more than a century, the Ring has been the key to the settlement of the LME’s benchmark daily closing prices.
But the venue has been closed for more than a year because of Covid-19. The LME said on Friday that it would not reopen until it had more clarity about easing of social-distancing measures in the UK as well as the progress of vaccines.
It added that a later reopening would minimise any disruption caused by a decision to retain or permanently close the Ring.
Trading revenue at the LME fell by $53m, or 17 per cent, in the first quarter from a year earlier, according to the LME’s owner Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing. Volumes of metals traded were down by 21 per cent, the exchange said in its first-quarter earnings results.