Are Glencore plc and Sirius Minerals plc the perfect commodity combination?

FTSE 100 listed Glencore (LSE: GLEN) is a globally-diversified Anglo-Swiss mining behemoth with a market cap of £18.58bn. In 2011, it was fast-tracked onto the FTSE 100 after the biggest stock exchange float in British history. It has production facilities all around the world supplying metals, minerals, crude oil, oil products, coal, natural gas and agricultural products to its international customer base. It’s massive.

Sirius-ly Speaking

The contrast with Sirius Minerals (LSP: SXX), which has a market cap of just £438m, couldn’t be greater. While Glencore straddles the world,  Sirius is pinning its hopes on a single site three miles south of Whitby in the picturesque North Yorks Moors National Park, where it hopes to build the world’s largest potash mine, by exploiting huge deposits of fertiliser-friendly polyhalite.

So far it has produced nothing apart from a lot of investor excitement, with latest reports suggesting projected earnings from its York project of between $1bn and $3bn a year, depending on volume and price outcomes.

Glencore is a company with a turbulent past, one of the worst performers on the FTSE 100 last year dropping 75%, as the commodity slump hammered profits. While all commodity stocks suffered last year, the perceived arrogance of billionaire chief executive Ivan Glasenberg – once billed the world’s smartest trader – has been partially blamed for Glencore’s annus horribilis.

Bible Belters

Glasenberg is rumoured to be worth £6bn. How Chris Fraser, chief executive at Sirius Minerals, must wish he could get his hands on some of that, as he battles to raise the estimated £2bn he needs to develop his mine, and the export facilities at Teeside.

His task should be easier following a feasibility study published earlier this month, which put the potash project’s net present value at $15bn on a 10% discount rate, rising to $27bn once production begins.

Over the last two years, David has slain Goliath, with the share price at Sirius Minerals up 53% in that time, while Glencore’s is down 62%. So does plucky Sirius represent the future and weary Glencore the past? Not so fast.

Glasenberg’s aggressive cost-cutting and debt reduction programme has helped drive a share price recovery, aided by the wider revival in commodity sentiment. Those who were crowing about his downfall have had to find a different song to sing.

Core Holdings

Sirius is also powering ahead, its share price spiking 47% in the last three months, helped by a hike in its probable ore reserve to 280.2m tonnes and an increasingly bullish Fraser, who said this is “added further confirmation of the outstanding nature of this deposit“.

First production is expected in 2021, with a ramp-up rate of 10m tonnes per year anticipated by 2023, with an ultimate aim of 20m tonnes. The company has already signed tentative contracts and although there’s a long way to go, its potential is enormous.

Glencore’s future looks more promising than it did after this year’s impressive turnaround, although I reckon the commodity sector still faces headwinds, as China continues to slow. Fertiliser has fewer challenges than metals right now and this makes Sirius my preference, although these two very different stocks could strike a neat balance inside your portfolio.

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Harvey Jones has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has no position in any of the shares mentioned. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.