Glencore’s update is better than expected, but miners are set for more pain

On a day like this, Glencore must still be plagued with shopper’s remorse over its badly timed acquisition of miner Xstrata back in 2013. The deal added masses of mining operations to the commodities trader’s business, which have struggled in the commodities price rout.

But the company, which is making grand efforts to reduce its staggering $30bn (£19.8bn) debt pile, today surprised the market with a more ambitious than expected plan to cut its borrowing and hopefully save its treasured investment grade credit rating.

It has increased its debt reduction measures to $13bn, up from $10.2bn, and has a new net debt target of $18-19bn by the end of 2016, an improvement from its previous target of low $20s bn.

It says it has $8.7bn of these cuts already locked in.

Safe to say, the market loved it. Glencore, which has seen its share price plunge by almost three quarters on the FTSE 100 index this year, gained 14 per cent by mid-morning trading.

“Glencore is well placed to continue to be cash generative in the current environment –
and at even lower prices,” said boss Ivan Glasenberg. “We retain a high degree of flexibility and will continue to review the need to act further as required.”

But will Glencore’s efforts be enough? With slowed growth in China and the eurozone severely denting demand, everyone can speculate but noone quite knows just how far commodities prices could fall. As Ivan suggests, there may be a need for Glencore to act further. I certainly do not think this will be the last of it. How can it be, when there is no end in sight to weak pricing?

As for the other miners, Anglo American made its own savage cuts earlier this week, shedding 85,000 staff, with all eyes on BHP Billiton to make the next move.

It seems likely that the latter will follow Glencore and Anglo and suspend its dividend as part of its cost cuts. The sector is hemorrhaging money and nothing seems quite big enough to stem the flow…