The clean energy transition and worldwide energy security goals are fueling a global power shift. This shift has reignited interest in nuclear power, accelerated electric vehicle (EV) adoption and spurred renewable energy deployment. In this environment, uranium, lithium, copper and other high-demand, short-supply critical minerals are vitally crucial — and potentially attractive as investment opportunities.
Uranium and uranium mining stocks had a strong month in August. YTD as of 8/31/2023, spot uranium and uranium mining stocks have climbed 25.49% and 21.52%, respectively, outperforming the frothy S&P 500 TR Index's YTD return of 18.73%. We believe the uranium bull market is intact and favorable supply-demand dynamics will likely continue to provide support.
Uranium had a strong month in August, contrasting with the decline of most energy transition metals due to China's economic troubles and shadow banking woes. The investment capital spurred by the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is turning the U.S. into a cleantech powerhouse, reshaping global economics. The old China-led commodity supercycle is giving way to a new U.S.-based supercycle focusing on clean energy and innovation.
Electric vehicle (EV) adoption has surged in recent years, creating unprecedented demand for lithium, a critical component of EV batteries. With lithium demand expected to rise substantially in the years ahead, lithium miners are at the nexus of the global EV transformation.
John Ciampaglia, CEO of Sprott Asset Management discusses why a higher uranium price will help incentivize much needed production for the world's growing nuclear fleet. John also discusses his outlook on gold, silver, copper, lithium and more.
Uranium continued to outshine other commodities, with U3O8 surging 16.35% and uranium miner stocks climbing 9.11% YTD as of July 31, 2023. The growing embrace of nuclear energy is driving demand and sparking a resurgence in uranium mine operations. The U.S. opened its first new nuclear power facility in 30 years (Georgia Power's Plant Vogtle) and is actively legislating to reduce dependency on Russia's nuclear supply chain.
Given increased electricity demand and the risks posed by climate change, the U.S. power grid desperately needs modernization. There is an immediate need to expand the grid’s capacity, increase its resilience and support its most vulnerable components – the transmission and distribution lines. This is driving the development of energy storage systems and V2G (vehicle-to-grid) technology and is a major copper demand driver.
John Ciampaglia, CEO of Sprott Asset Management, sits down with James Connor of Bloor Street Capital to discuss the current state of the gold market, the resilience of uranium compared to other commodities, the growth of the battery metals sector and Sprott’s focus on providing investors with access to energy transition investments.
In the first half of 2023, the gold bullion price rose by 5.23% despite competition from a euphoric equity market. Even with contrasting approaches, central banks and investment funds became the main players shaping the gold market in the first half of the year. Central bank buying drove demand, and gold is reverting to its historical role as a significant reserve asset as central banks seek to diversify amid geopolitical uncertainties.
Uranium markets rallied in June with the U3O8 uranium spot price adding 2.61%. U3O8 has climbed a healthy 15.95% YTD, while most other commodities have lost ground. Greater focus on the uranium supply-demand gap helped boost uranium mining stocks in June, with junior miners up 18.88%. Positive momentum in reshoring supply chains continues, given looming sanctions on Russian uranium.
Gold mining stocks are inextricably connected to the price behavior of gold bullion. Yet their recent response to the gold bull market has been disappointing. If gold should rise above the psychological $2,000 threshold, this may provide a strong catalyst for gold mining stocks.
Energy transition metals miners posted strong results in June, with uranium mining equities leading the group. The U.S. is entering the early stages of a manufacturing supercycle driven by massive energy transition investment, which includes building a secure and resilient domestic EV battery supply chain. The U.S. and EU are likely to replace China as the primary drivers of future metals demand, as China's two-decades-long commodities dominance has likely crested.
The U3O8 uranium spot price gained 1.58% in May,* increasing from US$53.74 to $54.59 per pound as of May 31, 2023. Uranium has posted a healthy 12.99% year-to-date return as of May 31, and continued to show strength and diversification relative to other commodities, which declined 13.16% YTD (as measured by the BCOM Index).
Gold attempted to breakout above $2,050 in early May before drifting lower as the U.S. debt-ceiling drama deepened and the U.S. dollar strengthened. At the same time, global central banks have been accumulating gold at a record pace. This highlights gold's role as a neutral reserve asset that has the potential to mitigate increasing counterparty risks amid escalating geopolitical tensions.
Lithium and lithium miners staged a sharp rebound rally in May and were the positive exception among critical minerals. The sector was weighed down by China's faltering recovery, ongoing global growth concerns and the U.S. debt ceiling drama. China’s dominance in critical minerals poses risks to the West’s manufacturing base and national security, highlighting the need for onshoring and friend-shoring energy transition supply chains.
"In our opinion, the term showdown is an apt description of the current situation, in which economic, political and social developments are on the brink of a fundamental change of course. The current situation is also unique because we are not dealing with a singular showdown. Multiple escalations are occurring simultaneously and have the potential to further inflame each other."
Critical minerals are essential for the global energy transition as we gradually phase out CO2-intensive energy sources with cleaner sources, including nuclear, solar, wind, hydro and geothermal energy and greater use of electric vehicles (EVs). We believe the unique supply and demand dynamics for critical minerals will underpin potential investment opportunities in the years ahead.
Replay our webcast featuring John Hathaway and Doug Groh, discussing the current outlook for gold and gold mining equities. Gold has proven to be an effective safe haven asset during this challenging period, which began with the early 2022 Russia-Ukraine invasion and was followed by rising interest rates, stubborn inflation and the 2023 banking crisis. We believe near-term support for gold will remain at ~$2,000 and that markets are likely to test new highs.
Sprott CEO Whitney George discusses the global energy transition and the growing interest in critical minerals investing with Asset TV's Jonathan Forsgren. George explains how Sprott expanded beyond "all things gold" to offer physical uranium, as it forged a path to becoming a recognized asset manager in the energy transition space.
The gold market continues to be bullish as the probability of a recession rises, regional banking stress resurfaces and the Fed seems determined "get inflation down to 2%, over time". Globally, we are entering a more challenging period featuring subpar economic growth, increasing risks to systematic financial stability, stubbornly high inflation and rising geopolitical risks. Against this backdrop, we believe gold should perform well, even if the U.S. debt ceiling disaster is averted.
Sprott Asset Management’s Shree Kargutkar, CFA, speaks with Bloor Street Capital’s Jimmy Connor at the May 11 Virtual Copper Conference. Shree discussed the supply/demand scenario for the metal and how it may change with the growth of electric vehicles, geopolitical factors impacting global copper mining and recent M&A activity in the sector. He and outlined the potential investment opportunity copper and its miners provide.
The long-term secular growth outlook for energy transition materials got several boosts in April, despite tepid performance for the month. Chile's decision to nationalize its lithium reserves reinforces the metal's role as a global strategic economic asset. M&A activity has heated up in the copper mining sector with lofty bids, including Glencore's $23 billion rejected offer for Teck Resources at a 20% premium.
The U3O8 uranium spot price climbed 6.01% in April, closing the month at $53.74. The U3O8 price reacted positively to China's bullish comments about its ambitious plans to expand its nuclear energy capacity to supply 18% of its electricity needs by 2060, up from 5% today. YTD, the uranium spot price has gained 11.24% as global acceptance of nuclear energy increases and positive momentum builds within the uranium industry.
Commodity prices weakened in March in reaction to financial system stress and recession fears. As deglobalization accelerates, unfettered access to critical minerals is not likely to last. The old system of free and fair access to commodities, including critical minerals, is moving toward one marked by interregional competition, and unstable availability and pricing. China has moved aggressively to acquire critical minerals in the past 20, but we believe the West has near-unmatched capabilities and is a formidable competitor.
In Q1 2023, precious metals bullion and equities showed strong YTD momentum, with gold closing above the psychologically important $2,000 per ounce mark and silver reaching $25. Gold/silver mining equities also posted notable gains. We believe that investments in precious metals bullion, especially, have the potential to provide a safe haven "moat" to investment portfolios.
The U3O8 uranium spot price fell slightly in March, from $50.85 to $50.70. YTD through 3/31/2023, uranium has gained 4.93%, demonstrating resilience relative to other commodities (down 6.47% as measured by the BCOM Index). Along with other equities, uranium mining stocks fell in March, victims of the selloff following the U.S.'s biggest banking crisis since 2008. Positive headlines on nuclear power restarts continued in March.
In March, gold posted its highest monthly close since July 2020 and rounded out a solid Q1 2023 gain of 7.96%. Gold is now up 21.38% from last autumn's low (9/26/22) following the most aggressive central bank purchases in decades and gold investment flows catalyzed by the U.S. banking crisis. We are very optimistic given that many significant long-term bullish macro factors for gold have become stronger, while some shorter-term cyclical gold bearish factors have faded.
Let it be said here that the financial media at best pays only lip service to the thought: there is likely no safer asset than physical gold. The yellow metal has no counterparty risk (unlike all other financial instruments including bank deposits and government bonds), is highly liquid and has an unbroken record of retaining value in absolute terms and relative to financial assets.
February saw energy transition materials/critical minerals markets correct, but the secular story remains strong. As the global energy transition "arms race" heats up, the drive to secure supply is fast becoming more important than price. All signs indicate the 40-year bond bull market has likely ended and the next great secular bull market in commodities has begun.
Edward C. Coyne, Senior Managing Partner, Global Sales, joins Asset TV and a panel of experts to discuss the constantly evolving discourse surrounding ESG, challenges faced in standardizing ESG ratings and ESG-based investing. The panel digs into how ESG can be integrated into investments and what the “energy transition” means in terms of commodity demand.
Although markets in February saw a reversal of January's positive performance, spot uranium posted a slight gain of 0.20%, outperforming many other asset classes. Uranium miners made headlines with significantly-sized uranium contracts that reflect higher demand for long-term supply commitments. Uranium market fundamentals are the most positive in over a decade and are likely to continue to be the primary performance driver.
Whitney George, Sprott CEO: "In addition to our traditional precious metals focus, we have entered the energy transition materials space, which began with the creation of Sprott Physical Uranium Trust.... I believe Sprott is well equipped to offer energy transition investments, which will be a very important theme in the next 10 years."
Gold fell in February, closing the month at $1,827 in a correction characterized by a stall in buying, but not selling. Since gold's autumn 2022 low of $1,622, global central banks have been buying gold at record rates; more than three times their long-term averages. The current scale of central bank buying is massive — an annualized rate of 1,724 tonnes vs. an average of 512 tonnes over the past decade. Central bank gold purchases as a percentage of global gold demand have also tripled to 34% from their average of 11% over the past several years.
John Ciampaglia: “I think it's an interesting time to be investing in uranium — from a fundamental perspective, from an energy policy perspective, from a geopolitical risk perspective….we've experienced a sea change in the level of interest related to uranium, energy transition materials and mining investments.” Bloor Street Capital's Nuclear and Uranium Virtual Conference featured John Ciampaglia, CEO of Sprott Asset Management, and Per Jander, WMC Energy, Director, Nuclear & Renewables.
As the world sets aggressive goals to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and move to cleaner energy sources, critical minerals will be essential. Due to years of underinvestment, we believe demand is likely to outstrip supply for many energy transition materials, including uranium, lithium, copper, nickel and others. The investment opportunities may be powerful.
We believe we are in the early stages of an energy transition materials secular bull market and favorable supply-demand dynamics are likely going forward. The upward revision in global growth, the timing effect of the China credit impulse and the surprise ending of China's zero-COVID policy have provided a tailwind for the metals market. For energy transition metals, we see this as a cyclical boost on top of the robust secular demand that is in play.
Value Investor Insight interviewed Whitney George, John Ciampaglia, John Hathaway, Matthew Haynes and Per Jander on the key global macroeconomic shifts that have prompted Sprott to broaden and deepen its focus on real assets and energy transition investing. CEO Whitney George: "For the global energy transition, decarbonization initiatives will require an enormous amount of mined material. Chronic underinvestment in supply capacity and the difficulty in bringing mines to production indicate that supply is not likely to keep up with demand, putting upward pressure on prices for many energy transition materials."
January was a strong month for uranium markets, with U3O8 uranium spot price posting a 5.05% increase and uranium mining equities gaining 14.65%. Looking ahead, we believe the uranium bull market still has a long way to run. Over the long term, increased demand in the face of an uncertain uranium supply is likely to support a sustained bull market.
January was another positive month for gold bullion. We saw strong gold buying from China, with estimated tonnes purchased at the highest level since 2017. Price action and trading desk anecdotes indicate significant buying from China's "official sector", including the People’s Bank of China. This was in stark contrast to China's accelerated selling of U.S. Treasuries.
A global clean energy transition is underway. Significant investment in energy infrastructure will be required over the coming decades as we evolve how we generate, transmit and store energy. Critical minerals will be essential. We believe investing in the mining companies that produce critical minerals may offer attractive investment opportunities, as discussed in this video with Ed Coyne, Senior Managing Director at Sprott, and Steven Schoffstall, Director ETF Product Management.
Three key themes for uranium markets in 2023: 1) increased emphasis on energy security worldwide; 2) higher conversion/enrichment prices may boost spot uranium prices; and 3) the global energy transition supports the case for nuclear power. Uranium's performance was notably strong in 2022, despite the overall bear market. Although uranium mining equities fared less well, we believe that the positive fundamentals for uranium and nuclear energy are likely to provide support in 2023.
This year’s top 10 list offers Sprott’s thoughts on what will likely drive markets in the coming year and decade, from a macro perspective and the vantage of our asset classes: Precious Metals and Energy Transition Materials. We believe the global clean energy transition will grow more urgent as energy markets continue re-ordering and energy security becomes synonymous with national security. The signposts point to a commodity-intensive, inflationary and capital-intensive decade where energy transition materials and precious metals will become far more valued than in the prior market regime.
Gold was an effective hedge in 2022, returning -0.28% for the bear market year. The yellow metal outperformed the S&P 500 Index, which declined 18.11%. Gold mining equities also outpaced the S&P 500. Looking ahead, we believe investors willing to seize the opportunity presented by inexpensive, unloved gold mining equities, will have the potential to reap substantial benefits from breaking the ranks of groupthink.
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