Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Uranium ETFs roaring back after $1 billion influx on nuclear bet



The rally for two exchange-traded funds focused on uranium is surging back, delivering fresh gains to investors who’ve poured more than $1 billion into them this year in a bet on nuclear power’s resurgence.

The NorthShore Global Uranium Mining ETF (ticker URNM) and the Global X Uranium ETF (URA) jumped 13.52% and 11.65%, respectively, on Tuesday, and extended the gains after markets opened Wednesday.

The jumps end what had been a rocky start to October for both ETFs, which had pulled back from a steep rally in the face of rising fossil-fuel prices. Those gains tracked the price of Uranium higher as investors gave a fresh look to the radioactive metal as worsening power shortages increase the allure of nuclear power as an alternative. 

That view has been buttressed by some recent announcements. On Tuesday, the French government said it will help a state-controlled utility company develop so-called small modular nuclear reactors by 2030, a move President Emmanuel Macron signaled as key to reducing global carbon emissions. Japan’s new prime minister said that the nation should replace aging nuclear power plants with such module reactors. 

ETFs that track uranium are some of the best performers of the last two years, reversing a downturn that came when investors shunned the commodity in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster.

“There is a growing realization among people in the energy industry and those investing in it that the baseload (always available) feature of nuclear power — as well as the fact it delivers carbon free electricity — makes it an important component of the world’s carbon neutral goals,” said Michael Alkin, founder of Sachem Cove Special Opportunity Fund, which invests in uranium.

(By Emily Graffeo, with assistance from Eric Balchunas)

CHARTS: Chinese investment in overseas copper projects just beginning

CHARTS: Chinese investment in overseas copper projects just beginning


“Study the spirit of Daqing, persevere in the great principles of acting independently and with the initiative in one’s own hand and self-reliance.” Image courtesy of chineseposters.net

China consumes nearly 14 million tonnes of copper each year – more than the rest of the world combined. But domestic supply last year was only around 2m tonnes, including scrap, and mined output has been stagnant for years.

In a presentation at the Wood Mackenzie LME Forum, Nick Pickens, research director for copper markets, showed two graphs that put China’s significant copper supply challenges in perspective.

Imported concentrate, including from roughly 30 Chinese-owned mines in Africa and elsewhere, now supplies 40% of the country’s needs, a share that has more than doubled over the past decade as imports set fresh records every year.

Tanked up on Tenge

Over and above direct foreign investment in mining projects around the world China, has splashed more than $16 billion on buying overseas copper companies and assets since 2010.

Glencore’s disposal, under some duress, of Las Bambas in Peru to a Chinese consortium, China Moly’s 2016 acquisition of the Tenke Fungurume mine from Freeport for $2.65 billion and Zijin Mining’s joint venture with Ivanhoe Mines on the Kamoa-Kakula mine, both in the Congo, are three high-profile examples. 

Turning Japanese 

But if China is to follow the Japanese model of securing long term supply to feed its downstream industry — it has some work to do. 

Japan has managed, through well-known companies like Sumitomo, Marubeni and Mitsui acquiring minority interests and JVs in scores of projects, to own 70% of the copper in concentrate it imports.   

While larger in absolute terms at just shy of 1.2 million tonnes of metal in concentrate, Chinese-owned companies overseas supply only 20% of the country’s needs. Needs that have grown significantly in just the last few years on breakneck refinery buildouts.  

Scramble for Africa 

Asked which regions have the best investment potential Pickens said that it pretty much aligns with the current environment although investing in Chile and Peru has become a riskier proposition as political pressure increases in the two top producing nations. 

Vast reserves in the central Africa copper belt remains attractive, likewise North America, and further out Ecuador and Argentina could become the next copper frontiers, according to Pickens. 

China enjoyed a pretty much open field in Africa, its number one copper – and crucially, cobalt – destination by some stretch, but the Congo is now chafing under some of these investments.

China may in the future also have to compete with the likes of BHP, which recently said it could consider looking at erstwhile no-go areas like Zambia or Congo following its foray into Ecuador (rumours of a BHP tie-up with Ivanhoe in the DRC remain just that at the moment though).

Monday, October 18, 2021

Wild markets gatecrash London Metal Exchange Week party

 Wild markets gatecrash London Metal Exchange Week party

The LME Annual Dinner. (Image: LME)

(The opinions expressed here are those of the author, Andy Home, a columnist for Reuters.)

This year’s London Metal Exchange (LME) Week was a subdued affair by comparison with past excess.

Put on ice last year due to covid-19, the annual metals party returned in slimmed-down form with many opting for virtual over physical drinks.

Analysts were in equally sober mood.

Everyone’s still positive on the longer-term energy transition story but more immediately worried about China.

The debt problem faced by real estate developer China Evergrande Group is no Lehman Moment, to quote Bank of China’s head of commodity strategy Amelia Fu, speaking at the LME Seminar. But weakening Chinese property sales spell trouble for what is a big metallic demand driver.

Average copper, nickel and zinc prices will decline next year as slowing demand growth coincides with increased supply, according to research house CRU, summing up the broad consensus among analysts last week.

Unfortunately, no one told the markets, which rudely gate-crashed last week’s proceedings.

By Friday’s close zinc had shot up to a 14-year high of $3,944 per tonne and copper was in the grip of the most ferocious squeeze seen in the London market since 1990.

Power woes galvanise zinc

Jonathan Leng, principle zinc analyst at WoodMackenzie, had the unenviable task of explaining why the research house is expecting prices to weaken to $2,900 per tonne next year just as Nyrstar announced Wednesday it was cutting output by up to 50% at its three European smelters due to the soaring price of electricity.

The zinc market was caught equally off-guard by the potential metal loss at what amounts to 700,000 tonnes per year of collective annual capacity.

China’s power woes were in the price. Europe’s weren’t and the sense of panic was reinforced when Glencore said it too “is monitoring the situation across its European zinc smelters and adjusting production to reduce exposure to peak price periods during the day.”

LME three-month zinc opened last week at $3,160 and closed it out at $3,795 after visiting that 14-year high on Friday. Time-spreads were similarly rocked, the cash-to-three-month period flipping from small contango to a backwardation of $52 per tonne at the Friday close.

Copper carnage

That level of tightness, however, pales into insignificance next to the London copper market.

The LME copper cash-to-threes period exploded to a $350-per tonne backwardation on Friday with the cash premium rising further to $380 on Monday morning. That’s the widest spread since 1990, when the cash premium reached $483.

The cost of rolling a position overnight reached $175 per tonne at one stage on Friday and was still painfully high at up to $100 on Monday morning.

This squeeze came with advanced warning in the form of the daily 10,000-tonne cancellations of LME stock that have been running since the start of the month.

The pace was upped in the Friday LME stocks report, which showed another 33,000 tonnes had been moved into the physical departure lounge. That left just 14,150 tonnes of available copper in the LME’s warehouse system, the lowest level since March 1974 and enough metal to cover global consumption for just five hours.

Is all this cancelled copper going to China, where stocks are also low? Or is it part of a premeditated attack on unwary bears?

The truth is it doesn’t matter much for anyone still short of cash-date copper or the cluster of call options sitting above $3,000 per tonne, which were all brought into play on last week’s price action.

“Copper remains a physical good, whose futures price is ultimately tied to the ability to deliver physical units into the exchange,” according to Goldman Sachs, which highlighted the depletion of LME stocks in its counter-consensus bullish call for the copper price to hit $10,500 by year end.

LME three-month metal has almost got there with a Monday high of $10,452.50. Cash metal has already punched higher.

Monday’s LME stocks report showed 5,150 tonnes of arrivals and short-position holders can only hope more is on the way. A lot more.

Structural shifts in aluminum and nickel

Aluminum was the analysts’ bull pick last week and the LME three-month price has duly obliged by racing up to a 13-year high of $3,229 per tonne on Monday.

Here too, though, events are unfolding faster than the consensus as China’s power crisis spreads to Europe with several regional smelters thought to be lowering production in the face of spiralling spot power costs.

A new concern is a growing shortage of both silicon and magnesium due to supply-chain disruption. The two metals are widely used across a spectrum of aluminum products, suggesting a downstream hit may shortly be following the upstream smelter hit.

The underlying narrative, however, remains one of a structural shift in the aluminum market as China tries to pivot away from coal in its power mix, leaving a big question mark hanging over its coal-hungry aluminum smelting sector.

Nickel is also facing a “structural uplift in pricing” thanks to rising usage in electric vehicle batteries, according to Jessica Fung, head strategist at Pala Investments.

One-third of nickel will be used as an energy source by 2030, creating an entirely new market and price driver for the metal, Fung told the LME Seminar.

Whether there will be too little or too much supply by that stage remains a hot topic among analysts and in a week of broken records, LME nickel didn’t do much at all.

Tin the wild child

There is no doubt that tin remains in short supply.

Few bank analysts even cover the tiny tin market but it has been the wildest of all this year and remains so, LME three-month metal extending its bull charge to another all-time high of $38,249 per tonne on Monday.

The cash-to-three-month tin spread closed on Friday at a $1,250 per tonne backwardation, which would have been extraordinary in any year but this after it hit $6,500 in February.

Tin is trading at scarcity levels and is likely to continue to do so for another three to six months, according to Tom Mulqueen, head of research at LME broker AMT.

Super low inventory – LME warranted stocks are just 255 tonnes – has limited the market’s ability to absorb supply shocks, Mulqueen told the LME Seminar.

This is a problem when there are so many potential supply shocks, ranging from renewed outbreaks of the coronavirus to power shortages in both China and Europe and a dysfunctional global shipping sector.

LME Week can often be a wild occasion for the great and the good of global metals trading. This year it was the markets that turned wild. And as tin has shown, they can remain wild for a long time before any sort of normality returns.

(Editing by Susan Fenton)