Profits at Noble Group’s mining and metals division fell by 33% year-on-year in the first quarter on a weak performance in aluminium and continued pressure on the steel industry, which buys coke, coal and iron ore from the trading company.

Profit before interest and tax in the mining and metals division fell to $52.9 million from $78.8 million in January-March 2014.

“Weak results in aluminium as demand flattened and margins declined, but alumina margins were robust with strong demand from smelters and firm pricing,” the company said.

Net profit for Noble Group, which also trades oil, gas and coal, were $107 million in the first quarter, up almost $350 million on the preceding quarter. Net profit was down $45 million on the first quarter of 2014 when the company benefited from exceptional conditions in the energy market as a result of the Polar vortex.

“The investments we have made in our oil, power and gas, and metal, franchises over the past few years continue to drive the growth of our bottom line, as well as the increasing diversity of our business model,” Noble Group ceo Yusuf Alireza said in a conference call.

“Our more traditional China-related commodities, iron ore, freight and coal, continue to face significant headwinds, with sentiment in these sectors at historic lows,” sharpening Noble’s belief in the strength of its diversified business model, Alireza said.

On the base metals that Noble trades, there were “robust sales in copper to North America and Asia, with increased supply from the western US… [and] strong performance in zinc, lead and nickel with an increase in both tonnage and profitability, securing access to high quality product from key partners”, the company said.

The company also said leaders have committed $2.25 billion to Noble’s revolving credit facility, which will be completed on schedule.

“The support of our financing partners in committing to our revolving credit facility is most encouraging, while our success is also dependent upon our partnerships with our key associates.

“As Noble Agri builds out its existing operations the prospects for our two key start-ups, X2 Resources and Harbour Energy, with over $15 billion available for acquisitions, are very exciting,” Alireza said in a statement.

The company has increased the level of disclosure in its filings, it said, by showing earnings for more of its divisions and making quarterly disclosures that previously it did on an annual basis.

The company has recently faced questions about its business and accounting, and said it would take legal action against an entity called Iceberg Research, which had made various claims about the trading company.

Alex Harrison
Twitter: @alexharrison_mb