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Another mining giant hollers ‘uncle’ as prices tumble

Anibal Contreras clears slag at the Altonorte metallurgical facility, north ChileAnibal Contreras clears slag at the Altonorte metallurgical facility, north Chile

Swiss-based miner and commodities trader Glencore Plc (GLNCY) has become the latest victim of the collapse in commodity prices caused by China’s economic slowdown.

The company said Monday it will raise $2.5 billion in new equity, stop dividend payments until at least the middle of next year, sell billions of dollars’ worth of assets and suspend production at loss-making mines, in an effort to reverse a 60% drop in its share price. It will also cut net debt by around a third to $20 billion from $30 billion by the end of next year.

The measures come less than a month after investors said Glencore’s latest try at adjusting to a world of sharply lower commodity prices wasn’t enough. Its shares had fallen 30% since unveiling its half-year results three weeks ago, but rebounded 7.3% by early afternoon in London Monday, making it the best performer in the London market.

Glencore’s senior management, who have been able to take billions out of the company in dividends in recent years, will re-inject around $550 million of that money, subscribing to 22% of a proposed stock offering of up to $2.5 billion. Citigroup and Morgan Stanley are underwriting the rest.

At the same time, CEO Ivan Glasenberg and his cohorts will have to do without dividends at least until the middle of 2016–a move Glencore says will conserve $2.4 billion of cash.

It won’t be just the top brass that suffers: Glencore will also stop operations at two copper mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia for 18 months, until it completes upgrades that will cut their cash costs by around a third.

Copper prices have slumped to their lowest in six years as the world has revised down its estimates of future growth in China. New York copper futures currently trade around $2.35 a pound, barely half their post-crisis peak of $4.48/lb. The two African mines in question, Katanga and Mopani, have cash costs over $2.50/lb at present. Analysts at Barclays said shutting them would save $560 million by the end of next year, if prices stay where they are.

“These are big and achievable steps by management,” Barclays said in a note to clients.

To a large degree, Glencore’s actions were dictated by the international ratings agencies, who have been threatening to cut their rating to the verge of “junk” if it didn’t do more to shore up its balance sheet. Given the scale of Glencore’s debts, it could hardly afford a bigger bill to service them.

Moody’s said last month the company needed to do more to support the Baa2 rating it had on Glencore’s long-term debt, while Standard & Poor’s cut the outlook on its BBB rating to negative from stable.

Glencore’s moves lifted both commodity prices and the share prices of some of the more battered miners, as investors cheered the prospect of supply being cut to rebalance weak global markets.

But the sight of a major commodities blue-chip axing its dividend had a mixed effect on some companies in the peer group, amplifying fears that traditionally dependable dividend payers like BHP Billiton (BHP) and Rio Tinto plc (RIO) could be forced to follow suit. The read-across was the worst for companies operating in the commodity where there’s no sign of the market coming back into balance: crude oil. Shares in both BP Plc (BP) and Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSA) fell to levels close to multi-year lows.