By: The Energy Report and Mark Lackey
Source: Zig Lambo of The Energy Report
Oil prices are starting to creep back up while gas, coal and uranium are poised for moves this fall, according to Mark Lackey, long-time energy analyst now representing resource companies with the IR firm of CHF Investor Relations. In this exclusive interview with The Energy Report, Mark shares his current insights on energy markets.
The Energy Report: Since your last interview, you've made a jump from the research side of the business to the investor relations (IR) side. How has the view changed?
Mark Lackey: When I worked in the brokerage industry, I relied on IR people to bring me clients and stories, updates on companies I was following or promising companies of which I was never aware. There are over 3,000 companies listed on the TSX and TSX Venture exchanges and you can't know all the stories, so analysts often need introductions. Here at CHF, I'm involved in taking clients, largely in the resource sector, to meet with research and corporate finance people and brokers as well as retail and institutional investors. We also help with companies' press releases, presentations and even market-making.
But regardless of whether I'm doing research or IR, it's still a function of whether you believe in commodity cycles and how certain sectors, companies, locations and managements will benefit and profit.
TER: Talking to other brokerage firms and people in the investment business, what's the general mood at this point?
ML: In the small- and mid-cap market, the mood has been mixed. Some people are negative about the commodities sector in the short run, and some even think the whole commodity cycle is over. Others are more neutral. Then you have a smaller group of people who tend to support my view and are much more positive in the very short run.
TER: How does this affect your view of the oil and gas markets?
ML: I'm actually quite positive. After getting down below $80/barrel (bbl), West Texas Intermediate (WTI) is now back up over $96/bbl. The Brent price is at $115/bbl. Recent inventory numbers, particularly in the U.S., are down, so there's no overhang in the near term. Demand has hung in reasonably well, considering all the European problems, and there's still decent demand coming from the emerging markets. WTI will likely trade between $100/bbl and $105/bbl next year, with Brent between $115/bbl and $120/bbl.
Natural gas has been somewhat weaker, but it bounced off the $2/thousand cubic feet (Mcf) price a few months ago up to the $2.85–3/Mcf range in North America. With more industrial demand coming back, particularly in the auto sector, and stronger demand from electric utilities, gas should move back up closer to $3.25–3.30/Mcf in the next year. By way of comparison, prices in Europe can be anywhere from $4–8/Mcf, and in China they're as high as $15/Mcf.
TER: Let's talk about the uranium market. Prices have been fairly flat and they've shown a little weakness in the past month. What do you think is happening there?
ML: Uranium was $70/pound (lb) back in March 2011 and then drifted down after the Fukushima incident. Japan took steps to close all 56 of its reactors and the Germans have taken out about seven or eight. There are about 445 operating worldwide.
The price has been sitting around the $50–$51/lb range for a number of months and recently has gone down to $49/lb on the short-term market. The lower demand in the short run is the reason for the $20 hit. The Japanese have probably gone through three-quarters of their reactors, testing them to make sure they can withstand certain high-strength earthquakes. They are also putting up larger retaining walls and doing other things to prevent future problems from flooding. Our guess is that at least half of those reactors will be back in operation in the next six months and maybe as many as 75–80% of them within the next year, period. Nuclear power accounts for 15% of Japan's needs. Japan's economy really can't function without some nuclear power in order to meet demand; its manufacturing sector requires an ongoing, inexpensive, stable power supply.
There are 60 other reactors around the world under construction and about another 240 planned over the next 5–10 years. Another factor is that next year, the phaseout of the Russian exports to the U.S. of highly enriched uranium from its nuclear warheads will end. Thus, demand is coming back and some supply is constrained, which should cause prices to move up in the next couple of years.
TER: The other part of the energy market is thermal and metallurgical coal used in steel production. What have those two markets been doing?
ML: We tend to follow more of the met coal market. The weakness in the natural gas price, particularly in the U.S., has hurt thermal coal producers, especially in Appalachia, where there are somewhat higher costs. We think the thermal coal market will see some recovery over the next couple of years because it's not just the U.S. that uses thermal coal. Far more thermal coal is used in China than in the U.S.
The high-cost producers have been affected the most as thermal prices have been hit as much as 20–30% in the last three to four months. That's made a difference to the bottom lines and investment analysts' view of that sector.
The same thing has happened in the met coal market. Because Chinese steel prices, particularly in China, have gone down 20% in the last three months, iron ore has gone down 20%, putting downward pressure on the met coal price because the biggest steel market in the world is China.
On the Australian market, the price has gone from $225/ton (t) down to $175/t. We think that this is probably the bottom of the market for steel, iron ore and met coal because construction activity usually picks up dramatically in China in October, November and December. We expect that all three areas will see recovery moving into the fall and through next year.
Weakness in the met coal market has affected the prices of all the companies we're going to talk about. I'd rather be buying when the met coal price is $175/t than when it was $225/t three months ago or when it was $300/t at one point last year. Now you can buy these companies at much lower prices and probably get much better value for your money.
TER: To wrap things up, give us your general thoughts on where you think things are headed and how the average man on the street should be looking at these energy investments.
ML: If you believe we're in a long-term commodities cycle, as we do here at CHF, then this is probably one of the best points to enter these markets.
We think oil is going higher, while some of the natural gas prices in the world are already extremely high. Coal and uranium markets appear near the bottom and we expect to see higher prices over the next two to three years.
In short, we think this is actually one of the better buying opportunities we've seen in the last decade for small and mid-cap companies in these sectors, and select micro-caps with sound fundamentals.
TER: Thanks for talking with us today. There are certainly lots of good opportunities out there.
Mark Lackey, executive vice president of CHF Investor Relations (Cavalcanti Hume Funfer Inc.), has 30 years of experience in the energy, mining, banking and investment research sectors. At CHF, Lackey involves himself with business development, client positioning, staff team coaching and education, market analysis and special projects to benefit client companies. He has worked as chief investment strategist at Pope & Company Ltd. and at the Bank of Canada, where he was responsible for U.S. economic forecasting. He was a senior manager of commodities at the Bank of Montreal. He also spent 10 years in the oil industry with Gulf Canada, Chevron Canada and Petro Canada.
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-- Posted Thursday, August 30 2012 | Digg This Article |
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