• JPMorgan Chase kept bags of stones in a warehouse thinking they were nickel.
  • The discrepancy was discovered by the London Metals Exchange last week.
  • But this is not an isolated case — it has happened before. 

JPMorgan Chase received a bag of stones instead of the nickel it ordered, in a surprising mix-up last week at a warehouse in Rotterdam, a Dutch port city. 

It isn't clear if this is due to an accident, theft, or fraud.

The case, which was discovered by the London Metals Exchange last week, highlighted the risks of commodity trading — but it isn't actually the first time a cargo handler's had such a rude surprise.

Swiss trader Mercuria Energy ran into a similar situation as it received spray-painted rocks instead of the $36 million worth of copper it had ordered, Bloomberg reported in March 2021. Mercuria filed a report for theft and fraud.

In November 2022, commodities trading giant Trafigura discovered carbon steel and other types of steel and iron instead of the nickel it had ordered.

The commodities giant then began legal action against Indian businessman Prateek Gupta and several companies connected to him, including TMT Metals and UD Trading Group over alleged systematic fraud. Carbon steel tends to be priced at about 5% of the value of the costlier metal, according to the Financial Times. 

There are other scandals involving nickel — a key raw material in electric vehicle batteries — in recent days, including one involving a Singapore trading firm accused of cheating investors in a fake nickel deal.

Nickel prices surged to around $50,000 a metric ton on March 7, 2022 and then to $100,000 a ton a day later, but have come off to around $22,800 a ton ton now. 

'Commodity fraud is not common, but it is not unheard of'

"Commodity fraud is not common, but it is not unheard of," Nirgunan Tiruchelvam, an analyst at Aletheia Capital, told Insider about the industry at large and not specifically about this week's JP Morgan incident. Tiruchelvam has been looking at commodities and related stocks since 2005. "There are people trying to exploit system and record prices tend to encourage that behavior."

It also goes back ages, as a 3,750-year-old clay tablet documenting a complaint shows. In the complaint, a merchant called Nanni criticized his supplier for sending him low-quality copper ingots and demanded his money back. 

Some of the key factors that aid commodity fraud — then and now — is that much of the paperwork in the supply chain still needs to be manually processed and documented, with little standardization across various companies, regions, and countries.

Sometimes, documents are also forged, increasingly by high-tech photocopiers that can even duplicate watermarks convincingly.

JPMorgan did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment sent outside regular business hours.

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