“The potential large-scale roll-out of electric vehicles and energy storage systems looks set to unlock new sources of demand for enabling underlying commodities, including copper, cobalt, zinc and nickel,” CEO Ivan Glasenberg has said.
In July Glencore signed a deal to sell up to 20 000 tonnes of cobalt products to a Chinese firm, which in turn would help Volkswagen secure car batteries.
It is difficult for other producers to challenge Glencore’s cobalt dominance as cobalt is concentrated in the politically unstable Democratic Republic of Congo and is a by-product of copper.
Glasenberg said over time, battery makers would seek alternatives to cobalt because of the prospect of high prices and uncertain supplies.
For other major players, the fluidity of the market as auto makers develop technology is a challenge, and materials such as lithium, also used in batteries, have been dominated by smaller players so far.
As the majors seek greater exposure, BHP on Wednesday said it was investing in its nickel business.
Paul Gait at Bernstein, which rates Glencore “outperforms”, said the company was almost uniquely positioned in terms of exposure to the electric vehicle market. “Today’s results strengthen our view on the stock,” he said.
Although debt has fallen, Glencore says it will remain disciplined and avoid expensive projects, opting for modest bolt-on acquisitions and developing what it already owns.
Glencore said in December it would begin reinstating dividends this year, paying out US$1 billion in 2017 and more in 2018. It said it could “materially increase” the payout if debt falls below US$10 billion.