What's going on?
Shares of Glencore, the world’s largest commodities company, fell by 8% on Tuesday as the US Department of Justice (DOJ) asked it for documents that could be related to corruption and money laundering.
What does this mean?
The DOJ wants to see paperwork related to Glencore’s business dealings in Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Venezuela, all the way back to 2007. Glencore’s said that it’s reviewing the request and will provide information as appropriate. The DOJ’s likely looking to see if Glencore’s breached the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) – which makes bribery of foreign officials illegal – or the Money Laundering Control Act.
Investigators are piling onto Glencore from both sides of the pond. The UK’s Serious Fraud Office said last month that it’s looking into Glencore’s possible involvement in bribery in its Congolese business.
Why should I care?
For markets: Investors are worried that digging could become a crater.
Investors raced to sell Glencore’s stock when the news broke. It slid to its biggest low in two years but recovered from the worst of it, ending Tuesday down by 8%. Investors in Glencore’s bonds had the same idea – the bonds’ value hit a two-year low. They’re likely worried the investigation could reveal wrongdoing at the company, resulting in a potentially hefty fine. The biggest fine so far based on FCPA rules being broken was close to $1 billion.
The bigger picture: The mining sector is rife with more than precious metals.
Glencore has a reputation for operating in notoriously difficult regions – and some investors think the company’s stock should be worth less as a result. Trading millions of tons of commodities (like copper, cobalt and oil) in 50 countries means Glencore, along with other miners, might not be able to escape corrupt regions. In 2016, Liberia indicted some of its own government officials and a mining company on bribery charges. Then, last year, the DOJ charged five people regarding bribery plots in Venezuela.