The stubborn spot price of uranium has frustrated market watchers for the past year. But that's not the whole story. As most long-term contracts have been made at higher prices, astute investors have been slowly moving into the stocks of uranium producers and explorers in anticipation of the delayed commodity price move expected in 2014. In this interview with The Energy Report, Cantor Fitzgerald Canada Metals and Mining Analyst Rob Chang explains what lies ahead and how the turnaround in the uranium market will benefit the companies he thinks investors should focus on for maximum profits.
The Energy Report: During your last interview in January, you, along with many analysts, were expecting that 2013 was going to be the turnaround year for the uranium market. With the current price hovering around $35 per pound ($35/lb), what's it going to take to get this market moving?
Rob Chang: The uranium spot price has not moved as quickly as we were forecasting. However, uranium equities have shown some strength over the past year or so, as investors started buying ahead of the uranium spot price moving. Spot prices depend more on utilities and their short-term requirements, which translates into their activity in the spot market. However the spot market accounts for a small portion of the total market. Most transactions occur in the long-term prices, and the long-term contract price is at a healthier level in the $50/lb range. We believe the uranium spot price is currently below the marginal cost of production and therefore unsustainable, as half the producers around the world are losing money.
What's really going to drive the price higher is utility demand. Most utilities will go back into the market at some point to buy more material. We expect that will happen later this year or early next year. For this year, we're forecasting roughly flat to slightly higher prices if buying activity does heat up, and a much higher price next year, starting in Q1/14 or Q2/14, depending on how quickly utilities move. We are very bullish and forecasting an average 2014 uranium spot price of $49.50/lb. Investors primarily focus on spot prices, but they really should be looking at the long-term price instead.
TER: On August 21, the Russians made their final shipment of LEU (low enriched uranium) under the Megatons to Megawatts HEU Agreement. This was one of the milestones many were looking for as a positive market catalyst. Is this going to help the market?
RC: This eventuality has been baked in for four or five years now, but the generalist investors who don't focus on resources may see this as an important milestone and start looking at uranium.
TER: What other market developments have you seen since we last spoke that give you hope for salvaging 2013 as a turnaround year for uranium? Or are we now looking forward to 2014?
RC: 2014 is really when we'll start seeing some meaningful developments that would move the market, barring an earlier-than-expected announcement from the Japanese government. Since we last chatted, the Japanese government's Nuclear Regulatory Agency (NRA) has been established and is evaluating applications for 10–12 reactors to be turned on, or at least being approved by this year. We would be surprised to see any this year and at most we think up to three might be turned on this year. We think the majority of the restarts are really going to happen next year. Our forecast is that of the 50 reactors in Japan, about two thirds, will be turned back on at some point over the next two or three years. That's certainly going to be a positive catalyst.
I don't see any other major catalysts on the horizon between now and then. The equity markets generally lead the fundamental supply and demand numbers, and we've seen some opportunistic investors start to pick away and show some interest in the space. So in the last few months of this year, we do expect the equities to start leading the way prior to the uranium spot price actually moving.
TER: How about the situation in China?
RC: China has the largest nuclear buildup program in progress right now. Russia also has very extensive plans to build more reactors. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has plans for building nuclear reactors, which sends an important signal to the market. As one of the most oil-rich countries in the world, it could probably power itself with oil, yet is looking to diversify into nuclear. I think that's a fantastic sign. So we certainly are looking forward to seeing developments.