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MB CENTENARY: The 1940s – closure of the LME
April 02, 2013 - 12:26 GMT
Metal Bulletin centenary
By Christmas 1940, the “phoney war” of late 1939 and early 1940 was over and after a year in rented offices and homes in Leatherhead, Metal Bulletin settled into its wartime residence: Newland House in Eynsham, near Oxford.
In residence were the Tarring and Cordero families, plus office
manager Jack Harrison, his family and the editors' secretaries.
The Rice-Oxley family lived separately nearby.
Printing took place at Aldens in Oxford. The difficulty - or
impossibility - of sending Bulletins overseas cut the pre-war peak circulation of 1,800 in half,
although advertising suffered less than might have been
expected in the government-controlled markets of the time.
Announcements of changes to government controls on metals usage
and prices became an important part of the coverage.
A surprising amount of information was also garnered from
published and private sources in Germany and enemy-occupied
The problems of paper supply, dispatch and printing experienced
during the first world war were repeated, but, once again, no
issue was lost.
In May 1940, the cost of a subscription was increased for the
first time in 21 years.
Advertisement manager William C. Adderley remained at Ibex
House despite the bombing of London; miraculously, the building
was never seriously hit, although it lost its windows.
As late as March 1940, Harry Cordero was able to make a trip by
air to Paris and Brussels. Though these cities were closer to
the German army than London, preparations for invasion were
During the conflict, Leslie Tarring liaised regularly with Non
Ferrous Metals Control in Rugby, where Ronald Prain - later to
head Rhodesian Selection Trust - was a contact.
Another "neighbour" was Ross Stubbs, who single-handedly kept
the Zinc Development Assn going from offices in Oxford. Like
those working for the Tin Research Institute in Greenford, he
had to invert his prewar remit from promoting the use of metal
to conserving its use.
Tarring's other ports of call included the Ministry of Economic
Warfare and the US Embassy in London - but they made no
contribution to writing the journal since all conversations
With imports curtailed by U-boat attacks on allied shipping,
scrap became a much more vital element of UK metal supplies.
Early in the war, Metal Bulletin suggested that a trade
association for non-ferrous scrap was needed. In 1942, one was
duly formed, only to start squabbling with the ferrous scrap
merchants' association, which also had a non-ferrous branch.
Metal Bulletin was also an early commentator on the folly of
armed services departments sticking to gold-plated materials
specifications demanding virgin metals, when scrap would have
worked just as well.
Metal price controls were introduced at the outbreak of war,
though the LME continued trading tin until December 1941. The
prices in force for most of the war were: copper £62, tin
£276, lead £25 and zinc £25 15s.
Immediately after VE day in 1945, Harry Cordero was back on the
trail in Europe, having been accredited as a war correspondent,
while Leslie Tarring took one of the first transatlantic
civilian sailings to New York.
Along with Winston Churchill and the British nation,
Metal Bulletin celebrates VE Day, and urges the government 'to
give us the tools and labour to start the peace job'
With markets closed and conventional metal
merchanting at its lowest ebb, the traditional problem of
squeezing a quart of editorial into a pint pot of space was at
times turned inside-out, despite the reduced size of issues
imposed by paper rationing.
This was when Harry Cordero started writing a series of
articles entitled "Strange Stories of the Metal Trade" that
formed the basis for the book From Babylon to
Birmingham after the war.
In the same vein was a series of articles called "In a Metal
Merchant's Office", which detailed the principles and practices
of metal trading. These articles continued after the war and
also became a book. It was later resurrected as the textbook
Trading in Metals, which has run to several editions.
Almost coincidentally with the D-Day landings of allied troops
in France, Metal Bulletin moved back to London - not to the
City, but to the West End where rents were cheaper. The postal
address was Jermyn Street, but the offices were in fact located
in the Piccadilly Arcade, between that street and Piccadilly.
Before the decade was out, growth necessitated another move to
27 Albemarle Street, on the opposite side of Piccadilly, where
the previous tenants had been the Polish government-in-exile.
The vital Bretton Woods meeting of 44 allied nations took place
in June 1944. The implementation of the agreement in 1945 gave
the world fundamentally fixed currency exchange rates against
the US dollar for the next 27 years. Its more permanent legacy
includes the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
At the same time, Metal Bulletin's worldwide circulation began
to slowly pick up again, but conditions in the UK were in some
ways worse than they were during wartime, with continued food
rationing, shortages of industrial raw materials and
occasionally inexplicable government regulation.
This regime was not always to the disadvantage of UK
semifabricators, however. With LME trading in copper denied by
the government, allegedly in support of foreign exchange
controls, controlled prices on the home market were set by
reference to US quotations - namely the weekly E&MJ Metal
and Mineral Markets export quotations.
The resumption of LME trading
The US quotations were sent to the Ministry of Supply by the
British Embassy in Washington in the diplomatic bag. Metal
Bulletin's New York correspondent cabled them to London, where
the journal did a brisk trade in selling the information to UK
consumers two days ahead of the related UK government price
Not surprisingly, when the arguments against the resumption of
copper trading on the LME had finally been worn out by the
autumn of 1953, UK semifabricators lobbied for a continuation
of the control system.
In 1946, US president Harry Truman signed the act creating the
US Strategic Stockpile. Its purchases, sales and holdings have
been something of a wild card in metal markets ever since.
An event not immediately of metal significance - except to an
important proportion of traders - was the formation in 1948 of
the state of Israel. Its politico-economic impact has
reverberated in the Middle East ever since.
Tin was the first metal to resume trading on the LME in 1949,
as the Federated Malay States - a major supplier to the UK
market, despite a hangover of problems from Japanese occupation
- were in the sterling area. Lead did not follow until 1952,
while zinc had to wait until January 1953.
Meanwhile, the two features that were to dominate steel news in
the 1950s - British nationalisation and the formation of the
European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) - were already on the
The UK coal industry was nationalised in 1947 and most
of the steel industry followed in 1948. An
energy crisis in the UK in the winter of 1947 was due as much
to climatic causes as to political ones, but it brought the
country's fragile economy to its knees and succeeded in costing
Metal Bulletin four issues.
Also coming to the fore in the late 1940s was militant trade
unionism and its associated strikes and go-slows, in both
Europe and North America. These remained a major factor in
business life for the next 35 years.
At the macro level, the late 1940s saw the start of the Cold
War between the Soviet Union and the west and the dismantling
of old colonial empires. These events had huge implications for
metals trading. Germany was the loser on both fronts, saying
goodbye to its African colonies and losing almost half of its
homeland to the USSR.
Berlin was landlocked in communist East Germany and then
divided into four zones under US, UK, French and Soviet
control. The Soviets thought that by blocking land access to
Berlin from the west they would totally control it, but a
massive airlift of food and fuel, starting in April 1948 and
lasting for just over a year, faced down the threat.
At the same time, the Soviet bloc was progressively becoming a
trade partner of the west. State-owned trading organisations
eventually came to think much like their western counterparts,
but initially their sometimes unnecessarily competitive metals
offers were seen as a deliberate threat to the stability of
1949 was a busy year: it saw the formation of Nato and Comecon
(the free-trade area for the USSR's satellite states); the
proclamation of the People's Republic of China; and the first
devaluation of the pound sterling since the Bretton Woods
The world - and the publication - reshaped
The USA, as the west's superpower, increased its influence
around the world, not least through its programme of Marshall
Aid to war-ravaged countries in Western Europe and elsewhere,
and its occupation of Japan.
Former colonial powers, notably the UK and France, granted
independence to many of their former colonies. The most
important of these moves was Britain's withdrawal from India in
1947, leading to the formation of three states, originally
called India, East Pakistan and West Pakistan. East Pakistan
would later become Bangladesh.
France's withdrawal from North Africa, Belgium's from the Congo
and the Netherlands' from its territories in Southeast Asia
Metal Bulletin was something of a beneficiary of these moves,
as new trading entities sprang up in the former colonies that
needed their own subscriptions and advertisements.
As the 1940s drew to a close, the publication's next generation
of potential directors began to arrive.
First was FB Rice-Oxley's son Frank in 1948, following his
military service. Harry Cordero's second son, Raymond, joined
in 1949, also following his military service. The baby of the
three, Leslie Tarring's elder son Trevor, was unfit for
military service, but went to Oxford and arrived in 1953.
The closure of the LME at the start of the decade means a
reading of world market metal prices in 1940 (except tin) is
not easy, so the prices in the table below are for August 31
1939, the last day of LME trading.
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