While gold has been struggling of late, the other yellow metal, uranium, continues to glow. Spot prices have risen eightfold over the past few years to more than $60 a pound. The latest uptick, a 7% jump from last week's level, was spurred by the news that Cameco, the world's biggest uranium producer, had suffered a flood at its Cigar Lake mine and that it may now never produce.
According to one analyst, the flood is the equivalent of the oil market losing Saudi Arabia; the 18 million pounds it was supposed to produce from 2008 amount to more than 10% of last year's global demand. A tight market is tightening further: demand was already set to exceed supply by 25 million pounds in 2008, notes Sean Brodrick on TheStreet.com. Now the gap will be 32 million pounds.
Uranium: supply and demand
At present, production from mines meets just 62% of demand and, given that it can take years to bring uranium mines onstream, a significant production boost is unlikely any time soon. Stockpiles and uranium from decommissioned Russian nuclear weapons have been meeting some of the demand, but these supplies are dwindling. Merrill Lynch is forecasting supply deficits out to 2015. On the demand side, the key factor is a revival of the nuclear industry as a clean source of fuel; worldwide, 200 new reactors have been proposed or planned, says Wirtschaftswoche. China alone will be adding two plants a year until 2020. In short, even before the Cigar Lake fiasco, uranium's long-term appeal was clear. Kevin Bambrough of Sprott Asset Management sees the metal eventually hitting $110-$120.
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Top plays on uranium shortages
One way to play the story is through Uranium Participation Corp (TSX:U, CAD12), a Toronto-listed fund that buys physical uranium in order to profit from price increases; it is similar to an exchange traded fund. On the stock front, MoneyWeek recently highlighted Energy Resources of Australia (AX: ERA, AUD16), whose shares look set to "go much higher", says Brodrick. Wirtschaftswoche points to Denison Mines (TSX: DEN, CAD22), a debt-free Canadian miner that has just taken over a US producer and is involved in promising exploration in Canada.
Andrew is the editor of MoneyWeek magazine. He grew up in Vienna and studied at the University of St Andrews, where he gained a first-class MA in geography & international relations.
After graduating he began to contribute to the foreign page of The Week and soon afterwards joined MoneyWeek at its inception in October 2000. He helped Merryn Somerset Webb establish it as Britain’s best-selling financial magazine, contributing to every section of the publication and specialising in macroeconomics and stockmarkets, before going part-time.
His freelance projects have included a 2009 relaunch of The Pharma Letter, where he covered corporate news and political developments in the German pharmaceuticals market for two years, and a multiyear stint as deputy editor of the Barclays account at Redwood, a marketing agency.
Andrew has been editing MoneyWeek since 2018, and continues to specialise in investment and news in German-speaking countries owing to his fluent command of the language.
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