By: The Energy Report and Jeb Handwerger
Source: JT Long of The Energy Report
Are you brave enough to buy straw hats in winter? From uranium to oil services to lithium, savvy investors can find innovative ways to make money based on fundamental supply and demand rather than emotion and fashion. In this interview with The Energy Report, Gold Stock Trades editor Jeb Handwerger outlines the trends that will shape the future of energy commodity investing.
The Energy Report: Jeb, in past interviews you have talked about the boost that the end of the Russian nuclear material purchase agreement would have on uranium prices. But lately, the price has dropped. What is causing the most recent decline?
Jeb Handwerger: The end of the Russian highly-enriched uranium (HEU) agreement did, indeed, kick off a strong Q1/14 for uranium prices. Many juniors had phenomenal returns. Some doubled, some tripled during those months. But since March, we've hit new lows in the uranium price, and many of the gains made in the Q1/14 rally have been given back. Some prices have even hit below the 2013 lows.
The uranium spot price has been in a seven-year downtrend. When you get to a bottom, you sometimes have false starts, and you bounce along. That's exactly what we're dealing with in 2014. Market sentiment is still extremely negative, but the smart, long-term investors who look at the supply/demand fundamentals over a three- to seven-year horizon have a different perspective than short-term traders looking for a quick turnaround profit. We think this is an excellent time for fundamental investors to get into the space. The longer the base, the more time investors have to acquire positions in the high-quality junior uranium miners that are literally trading for pennies.
The real concern is Japan. Many expected Japan to restart nuclear reactors faster than it has. Even though Japan has released an energy plan with nuclear as a major cornerstone, it takes time for nuclear reactors to restart. That leaves Japan, its businesses and its citizens paying ridiculously high electricity costs for imported natural gas.
TER: Have you seen any signs that Germany might restart production?
JH: The key is the battle of wills going on in Eastern Europe right now. When German Chancellor Angela Merkel had a knee-jerk reaction after the Fukushima reactor disaster, deciding to rely on renewables rather than nuclear energy, what she really did was make the large German economy dependent on nuclear power from France and natural gas from Russia, through Ukraine. The result is skyrocketing electricity costs and increased political risk.
Now we have had the wake-up call I have been warning about from Russia. President Vladimir Putin has Western Europe in a very vulnerable situation if he decides to turn off the taps. This may force a change in sentiment in Germany, which may want to rethink nuclear. It's becoming a real energy security crisis there.
TER: In a past interview with The Mining Report, you said that China is on a commodity buying spree. Can China's nuclear construction pull the uranium sector up without Japan and Germany?
JH: Over the long term, yes. Currently, China uses only a fraction of what the developed countries in Europe and the U.S. use. That's going to change over the next generation. The Chinese can no longer rely on dirty coal. Coal has created environmental havoc in major cities, where it is becoming difficult to breathe.
Nuclear is going to be extremely important for the Chinese over the next generation. That is where the major growth is going to be. China National Nuclear Power Co. recently announced plans to raise up to 16.25 billion yuan ($2.6 billion) in an initial public offering to fund nuclear-power projects. That's significant news. It tells me the Chinese are willing to invest because they realize the critical nature of clean energy, of being able to provide enough energy without compromising air quality. Long-term contrarian uranium investors still see nuclear as the key clean baseload power source because renewables are not able to make that gap.
A recent documentary called "Pandora's Promise" showed former anti-nuclear environmentalists speaking out for atomic energy because they have realized it is the only practical way to reduce fossil fuel consumption and, thus, carbon emissions. Remember, nuclear reactors today do not use the same technology as 20, 30 or 40 years ago. New nuclear will utilize small, modular reactors that are safer, more efficient and more adaptable than massive, expensive, meganuclear plants.
TER: Is the U.S. getting serious about the need for domestic sources for the uranium to feed these modular reactors?
JH: Yes. The U.S. is the largest consumer of nuclear power. It uses about 55 million pounds (55 Mlb) of uranium per year, but only about 4 Mlb are produced domestically. That has to change. It will change over the next generation, because we can't rely on the cheap, secondary supplies that Russia gave us for close to 20 years.
Now that that cheap resource is not available, the U.S. will have to turn to domestic uranium producers. For the first time in over 30 years, new nuclear reactors are being built in the U.S. Many of the older reactors will have to be replaced with newer reactors. There is going to be a need for new domestic uranium producers that can produce at a low cost.
Many of the uranium producers selling into the spot price will be under price pressure. However, new producers with attractive long-term agreements have time. The short term looks ugly, but the long term looks exceptionally exciting. This appears to be the time for contrarian value investors to continue to accumulate.
TER: Rick Rule has called uranium the most hated commodity, and one of the best buying opportunities. What do you tell people who are looking for the courage to be contrarian when everyone else is running the other way?
JH: Right now, being a uranium investor is extremely difficult. The spot price continues to hit lows. No one wants to touch it. There's an old saying that to be rich in the market you have to buy straw hats in the winter and winter coats in the summer. There's no doubt about it, the spot price has taken a nasty tumble. But this may be the shakeout that allows long-term value investors to accumulate uranium miners at exceptionally low prices. There is major capital on the sidelines. There is going to be a supply shortfall, and the uranium price is going to rally. But it takes patience and courage to look at a sector when no one else is willing to pay attention to it.
What we saw earlier this year, when some uranium miners doubled and tripled, is just the beginning. There are going to be false starts as we come off the bottom and bounce along. This is where the timid give up. Every time the price bounces and drops back, investors lose hope and get discouraged. The real winners in this game are the investors who are able to withstand the volatility.
We're just beginning to see base metals and commodities turning the corner from the financial crisis of 2008. The overall economy is just beginning to show signs of improvement. That's going to be good for energy and commodities. Sometimes, you have to look for the commodities that have been beaten down and are trading at decade lows, but are growing increasingly in demand. There is no doubt that uranium fits that bill.
TER: One thing people do seem to be excited about is oil and gas, particularly fracking. We recently ran an interview with T. Boone Pickens where he talked about leveraging the oil and gas renaissance for profit and national security. What is your favorite way to get exposure to the shale plays?
JH: Oil is beginning to break out. We saw it break out higher, above $105/ barrel ($105/bbl). It may eventually make a major breakout past $110/bbl. Geopolitical tensions in Iraq could send oil prices skyrocketing. That's why we've seen this huge boom in shale in North America, including, most recently, in western Canada, where numerous liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects and pipelines are being planned.
Big money is coming into the energy space, because these pipelines and terminals will be able to supply Asia with cheaper oil and gas. Asian countries currently pay quadruple what North Americans pay. These infrastructure projects, such as pipelines and LNG terminals, are just beginning to be built, and western Canada could be a key area of great growth.
TER: Are oil services a less risky way to invest in the sector?
JH: Yes, because these companies have contracts with some of the largest companies with long-term exploration plans. The opportunity really is in the infrastructure. One of the least risky ways to make money is providing the services to the explorers and the producers. That's what Enterprise is doing.
TER: The other thing that investors seem to be excited about is the prospect of a gigafactory for battery development. What is the best way to get exposure to the battery market? Graphite? Lithium?
JH: I have long been excited about the potential growth in the battery market for electric vehicles, grid storage and mobile electronics. Mobile phones, smartphones and laptop computers are a part of everyday life. The same is true with electric vehicles.
Demand in the Li-ion battery market is set to grow rapidly over the next seven years. This could be a game-changer for some North American lithium and graphite miners. Battery manufacturing could be a major area of economic growth for the U.S., especially the southwestern U.S., over the coming decades. This could have the same impact as the internal combustion engine, revolutionizing transportation. President Barack Obama is pushing to reduce carbon emissions. Tesla may be in the market for lithium and graphite deposits in North America that could supply its manufacturing plants. Most of current lithium supply either comes from Chile, Argentina or Australia. A North American lithium asset could be very profitable.
TER: It looks like the market has recognized that. The stock price had a nice little spike earlier this year.
JH: I think it's just the beginning.
TER: Any final words of wisdom for our readers?
JH: There are still opportunities in the energy market. It's important to focus on the market cycles, and not follow what everyone else does. People think markets go up forever, but bear markets occur and, overnight, can wipe out investment gains that took months or even years to build. In the same way, bear markets can go down for a while but, all of a sudden, things could change. It is important to understand the cyclical nature of the commodity markets, and to be able to accumulate when no one else is buying and sell when people are willing to buy at ridiculous valuations. This is part of mastering your emotions. You have to continue looking at companies with strong fundamentals.
Jeb Handwerger is an author, speaker and founder of Gold Stock Trades. He studied engineering and mathematics at University of Buffalo and earned a master's degree at Nova Southeastern University. After teaching technical analysis to professionals in South Florida for over seven years, Handwerger began a daily newsletter, which grew to include thousands of readers from over 40 nations.
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