SINGAPORE - As Glencore contemplates a leap into the great unknown of public ownership, it can take comfort from at least one notable peer that has thrived in the listed spotlight -- Asian trading house Noble Group.
As the world's biggest commodity trader, Glencore International AG GLEN.UL has no equal, with over $150 billion in revenue split between its powerful trading desks and its ownership of mines, oilfields and smelters across the globe.
In some respects, Hong Kong-based Noble Group is its most similar rival -- albeit with revenues less than one-quarter those of Glencore's -- with a profile that mixes Brazilian iron ore mines and Chinese soy crushing operations with trading savvy.
Founded by Richard Elman in 1987 with $100,000 in savings, the Noble Group has grown into a $4 billion enterprise and has reaped dividends in the form of easier credit and access to cheaper forms of capital since listing in Singapore a decade ago.
Even with most markets still nursing the wounds of last year's financial crisis, Noble this month obtained an $800 million standby borrowing facility and in May raised $126 million through a share sale. Its stock is up almost four times since October on hopes of a recovery in commodity prices.
And its ability to quickly raise cash has helped the firm to do major cross-border acquisitions, the latest being the $429 million takeover of Australian miner Gloucester Coal (GCL.AX).
There is liquidity in capital markets and appetite for listed companies such as Noble and Olam. You can see how they have been able to raise millions of dollars in the past few months from public markets, said an investment banker.
Noble Group's success suggests that exposing a company to investor scrutiny need not necessarily cost it its trading edge.
The Financial Times reported on Friday that Glencore, the Swiss-based commodities trader founded by Marc Rich to become one of the world's biggest private companies, is considering a stock market listing.
Such a move, still considered remote by many industry sources and bankers, would effectively require Glencore to relinquish the veil of privacy and secrecy that has aided it for 35 years in order to access cheaper capital, a need underscored by a spike it in its credit default swaps last year.
Being a public listed provides an extra avenue to raise money, since there is only so much debt they could put on their balance sheet, said Ho Choon Seng, an analyst at Malaysian bank CIMB in Singapore.
Even as the credit crisis began to cut deep, Noble managed to raise $500 million in five-year bonds with its BB+ rating in May last year, at a time when investors shunned the junk bond market.
Olam International, which trades in commodities such as cotton and wheat, last month sold a 13.76 percent stake to Singapore's Temasek Holdings TEM.UL for $303 million.
If I am a strategic investor, I would rather go into a listed company because they would have some level of disclosure and transparency, the investment banker said.
Just as the company itself has begun releasing more financial information to soothe anxious debt holders, Glencore's traders are already showing a degree of openness that would have been all but unthinkable just a few years ago.
Building on an alliance formed in 2006, Glencore and Credit Suisse this month launched a commodities index that allows investors to draw on traders' views of prices.
For rival traders, the prospect of even a bit more insight into its operations is tantalising, suggesting to some that Glencore won't take the plunge unless it has no other option.
No one knows their strategy until you sometimes see signs of it in the market. There would have to be something forcing them into this. No one willingly shares wealth, an Asian trader who was formerly connected with Glencore said.
(additional reporting by James Regan in SYDNEY; Editing by Jonathan Leff)