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Singing the LME Week Blues

This week, James van Bregt takes a counter-intuitive view of the LME Week phenomenon.

The annual stand-and-shout extravaganza that is LME Week was looming. Invitations to events had started dropping on the doormat some two months prior, as they had done, regular as clockwork, for the preceding 25 or so years. This number — which it’s obligatory to tell everyone at every opportunity — is a clue as to why I finally decided to quit the circus in 2015 and reclaim my liver.

Free Food…and Drink…

Why, I hear you ask, would anyone miss the opportunity to load up on free ‘cocktails’ (read wine and beer) and canapés in salubrious West End venues, merely by virtue of having made it onto the hosts’ annual guest list? It is probably the nearest thing to a free lunch, after all. Well, because it is pointless, that’s why.

I should declare a disinterest. Since leaving a metals publisher a couple of years ago, my interest in things metallic has been mostly personal, bar a number of consulting gigs. That’s not to say that the social aspect can’t be enjoyable, catching up with old friends, colleagues and contacts made over what seems a lifetime in the industry. But this whirl of events is hardly conducive to business.

Common Agenda?

My problem with LME Week is that there is no common business agenda. Unless a supplier, trader or consumer, in town to negotiate deals at private meetings, the exercise is futile. Brokers, bankers, fund managers, regulators, friends-of-friends and hangers-on are there solely because everyone else is. This might have served a purpose in the days before instant global communication and social/professional online networking, though today it really doesn’t. Most of the week’s functions are like watching a chat show whose guests who have nothing new to plug; apart from the nice chit-chat, there is no point to it.

Faceless Cards

The primary objective for most LME Week attendees is to gather a pile of business cards in order to justify time away from the office, with “look at all the people I met!”. The truth is that these cards are usually exchanged fleetingly after some small talk about the market, the crowd, the quality of the food, last night’s events, tomorrow’s hangover, or tales of LME Week lore. Having collected hundreds such faceless cards over the years, mostly without recall of their context, these brief encounters probably account for zero new business in my metals career. Apart from a new batch of names against whom one might someday allot some phantom expenses, the business benefit of LME Week nowadays is really close to nil.

One can never dismiss entirely the role of networking or even swapping business cards — though the advent of NFC chipped cards means these should soon be redundant — but emailing later with “Hello, you may remember, we met at so-and-so function” is as likely to draw a response as the unsolicited offer of a nubile Russian bride.

Of course, these functions are a good place to sidle up to potential business or employment targets while they’re ‘out in the open’, without an obstructive PA or spam filter to get past, though it requires luck. Attempting to ‘bump into’ one target of mine with a proposition, I confess to once having stood in the exact same spot for two hours at one broker’s drinks reception, standing precisely in the place where I had chatted with him the previous year.

Upon arrival, my man’s name was among the hundreds of badges on the reception counter, so no doubt he would arrive at some point. I stood there, rocking back and forth with a fixed grin, resisting all attempts to draw me away from the strategic vantage point from where I would pounce upon my unsuspecting prey. No, I would stand fast, scanning the venue constantly while mouthing inane niceties to any loner brazen enough to introduce themselves to me.

Having left empty-handed, I learned later that my target wasn’t in town. It transpired that he had been neither in the country nor the continent. Which only goes to show the hit-and-miss nature of these receptions. 

More Hope then Expectation?

We go along in the hope that we make that lucrative new connection, or revive an old one, to justify the merriment. In reality, much time is spent making polite conversation with monosyllabic foreign visitors, while looking over their shoulder for someone more ‘useful’ to talk to. The ability to offload a bore or an undesirable hanger-on, to an unsuspecting colleague, or frankly, anyone, is an art form that every LME Week veteran has down pat.

My lack of enthusiasm this year for LME Week may have something to do with the global malaise affecting the wider industry, including the exchange itself, of course. Who knows, if the market’s fortunes improve by next October, I may yet be tempted back into the fray. However, judging by the strong turnout for the ‘Regulation’ session of the LME Seminar on Monday afternoon (yes, the afternoon), I don’t hold out much hope…

This article was written by James van Bregt. All views and opinions expressed are strictly his own.




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