Privately held commodities trader Glencore International plans to float part of its stock for up to $11 billion next month, making it one of the largest public share offerings in recent years.
Dubbed "the biggest company you've never heard of," Glencore sold a staggering $145 billion worth of raw material last year _ including staples such as coal, copper and corn _ netting it $3.8 billion in profits, a 41 percent increase on 2009.
With commodities considered a safe bet investment thanks to rising global demand, Glencore's stock is expected to be warmly received by the markets.
Its formal announcement Thursday follows years of speculation that the secretive commodities giant would seek to expand further by raising cash through an IPO.
The Baar, Switzerland-based company plans to publicly sell 15 to 20 percent of its stock on the London and Hong Kong exchanges. This would value Glencore at about $60 billion, catapulting it into the FTSE 100 on the first day of trading.
"Over many decades, we have developed Glencore into an unrivaled global integrated commodity producer and marketer, active in almost every bulk commodity market," chief executive Ivan Glasenberg said in the statement.
"An IPO is the next logical step in our development and strategy. It will provide us with the financial flexibility to capitalize upon long-term growth opportunities throughout our business and achieve further sustainable growth."
Earlier this week Glasenberg told the Financial Times that it would make sense to fully take over Anglo-Swiss mining company Xstrata PLC, in which Glencore already has a 34.5 percent stake. In its IPO announcement Thursday, Glencore also pledged to use some of the proceeds of the float to increase its stake in Kazakh zinc producer JSC Kazzinc to 93 percent for $3.2 billion in cash and shares.
Glencore already controls a large share of the global commodities business. Its 55,000 employees across 40 countries mine, farm, ship and trade essential raw materials needed to manufacture industrial goods from cars to consumer cereals.
The company's current owners, said to be some 500 senior employees, stand to earn millions from the float. The biggest shareholder is Glasenberg, who will remain as CEO.
Glencore was founded in 1974 by Marc Rich, the fugitive trader who was controversially pardoned in 2001 by then United States President Bill Clinton just hours before he left office. Rich sold the company to its employees in 1994, and the firm has been at pains to distance itself from its founder and any whiff of improper activity, though environmental groups have since targeted the company for its mining interests.
The environmental groups' stance is unlikely to change when it goes public, as Glencore has said it will propose Tony Hayward, BP's chief executive during the Gulf of Mexico oil rig disaster, as its senior independent director on its new board.
Simon Murray, former managing director of telecoms firm Hutchison Whampoa, was named non-executive chairman.
If it goes through, the IPO will be at least the third largest ever in Europe after Germany's Deutsche Telekom AG and Italian energy company Enel SpA. Analysts expect the float to result in a bonanza for financial advisers, who could net as much as $400 million in fees.