Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Inside Noble Group, Asia's Largest Commodity Trader

Big numbers.
From Bloomberg:

Hong Kong Taipan Rebuffed by China Digs Into U.S. Natural Gas
 Richard Elman, who got his start as a scrap metals laborer before creating Asia’s No. 1 commodities trader by revenue, surrounds himself with reminders of his hard- won success.

In his 18th-floor office in Hong Kong, the executive chairman of Noble Group Ltd. keeps a photo of himself with Bill Clinton, a hunk of coal from an Australian mine and two abstract paintings by Chinese artists. The billionaire attributes part of his good fortune to the amber bead bracelet that he fiddles with on his wrist, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its December issue. He’s been wearing it for more than 10 years after someone told him it keeps bad energy out and good energy in. 

“I am afraid to take it off,” says Elman, a Briton, with a smile. “Sometimes, you gotta be lucky.”
Elman, 72, founded Noble Group in 1986 and today presides over a commodities powerhouse with annual revenue of $80.7 billion. That makes Noble as big as Decatur, Illinois-based Archer Daniels Midland Co., the world’s No. 1 grain processor, and almost half the size of Glencore International Plc, the biggest publicly traded commodities supplier, which has its headquarters in Baar, Switzerland.

Noble’s meteoric rise has been fueled by the decade-long commodities boom -- a product of surging demand in emerging markets. Noble has roughly doubled in size every two years since 2001 by purchasing coal, soybeans and other commodities in countries such as Australia, Brazil and Indonesia and selling them to China, India and the Middle East.

Founder’s Rise
“People in the trading business have a lot of respect for Richard Elman for what he has built,” says Vijay Iyengar, chairman of Agrocorp International Pte, a commodities trader in Singapore who personally owns Noble shares. “They are aggressive. And they know what they are doing.”

Now, after amassing a fortune worth about $1.7 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, Elman faces some of the most daunting challenges in his long career. The torrid expansion in China and other developing nations has fizzled. After growing at an annual average of 10.4 percent from 2001 to 2011, China’s economy expanded 7.4 percent in the third quarter, the seventh straight quarterly deceleration.

On Nov. 9, 2011, Noble announced its first quarterly loss in 14 years, partly due to cotton trades that went wrong. The company’s stock plunged 27 percent the following day to S$1.18 on the Singapore Exchange. And Elman has had to cope with cooling markets at a time of management turmoil within Noble over choosing his successor....MORE