The European Commission has taken in responses to a questionnaire it sent out to the metal industry regarding the impact that the merger of Glencore and Xstrata will have on competition, where concern has centred on the zinc market.

It will have to consider whetherGlencore or Xstrata can influence London Metal Exchange prices, and whether Glencore’s ownership of Pacorini warehouses gives it an advantage in the metal markets, Metal Bulletin understands.

Ahead of a self-imposed deadline on November 22, it is paying particular attention to whether the combined entity will hold an anti-competitive position in the European zinc market, and what, if anything, should be done about it.

In addition to that sizable task, the commission has also launched a cartel investigation into the European lead market to establish whether recyclers colluded to bring down the price of battery scrap.

“There is no legal deadline to complete cartel inquiries. Their duration depends on a number of factors, including the complexity of each case, the extent to which the companies concerned co-operate and the exercise of the rights of defence,” the commission said in late September after making unannounced visits to several secondary lead producers.

One such complexity might be that, given the recent surge in scrap prices, any such coordination would appear to have been roundly unsuccessful. Market observers have suggested that the commission might do better to widen its investigation to ask whether scrap prices have in fact been pushed up artificially, not kept down.

And then there is the small matter of establishing whether the queues that have developed to withdraw metal from LME warehouses in Antwerp and Vlissingen are having a disruptive effect on the aluminium and zinc markets.

As with the lead investigation, the commission is likely to take its time with that rather thorny issue, as a spokeswoman told Hotline.

“Lately, in aluminium and zinc there has been a significant rise in LME registered warehouse stocks. Despite the high levels of stocks, the volume of metal available to consumers remains tight, resulting in high metal price premiums,” she said.

“There are different factors determining premiums ... and therefore more in-depth understanding of the issue(s) would be necessary before deciding whether action is necessary or, in this case, envisaging any appropriate concrete proposal,” the spokeswoman added.