• Commodity firm cuts back on copper, zinc to focus on aluminum
  • Will Randall to take control of running metal business

Noble Group Ltd. is cutting back on copper and zinc trading and focusing on aluminum and alumina, according to a person familiar with the situation.

At least five traders in the U.S. and the U.K. this month left the commodity trader that’s battling criticism of its accounting, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the matter is private. Noble President Will Randall, who joined the company 18 years ago and is one of only three executives on the board, has taken control of the day-to-day metals trading business, the person said.

The Singapore-listed company is moving funds to other areas which may be more profitable. Chief Executive Officer Yusuf Alireza told shareholders in August that the focus would be on businesses that can deliver results immediately, rather than in 18 months or two years. The shares plunged 64 percent this year and touched a seven-year low last month.

Stephen Brown, a spokesman for Noble in Hong Kong, declined to comment on personnel changes. Previously announced measures to cut costs and reallocate capital meant there would be changes to headcount, he said.

Metals Expansion

Noble, which has traditionally focused on trading aluminum and alumina, expanded into other industrial metals after hiring Mark Hansen from hedge fund Brevan Howard Capital Management LP in 2012 to head the business.

It won a contract in 2013 to market part of the the zinc production of Nyrstar NV. The deal is unaffected by the business overhaul, the person said.

In the last month, metals traders David Freeland, Scott Evans, Jeff Romanek, Erik Bay Gundersen and Paul Wilkes have left, according to the person. Metal Bulletin reported the departures earlier.

The firm’s accounting, including the way it assigns value to its assets, has been criticized by a group calling itself Iceberg Research. Others including short-seller Muddy Waters LLC have since joined in the scrutiny.

Noble Group has published a report commissioned from PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP in the wake of the criticism of its accounts. The auditor said the company complied with international rules in valuing its long-term contracts.

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