#12 Parallels with Last Uranium Cycle Mean Consolidation – Brandon Munro (Transcript)

Bannerman Resources Ltd.
  • ASX: BMN
  • Shares Outstanding: 1.06B
  • Share price: A$0.04 (30.06.2020)
  • Market Cap: A$39M

A Conversation with Brandon Munro, CEO of Bannerman Resources (ASX: BMN).

We have interviewed Munro throughout this uranium bear cycle; his insights have been incredibly useful for investors.

Uranium Market Commentator & Bannerman Resources (ASX:BMN) CEO, Brandon Munro, calls in for our weekly catch up about the world of Uranium and Uranium investing. How do new investors in uranium play this cycle & which companies are set up to win?

We Discuss:

  1. New Entrants: Parallels With the Last Cycle
  2. Dangers of Believing in Promotional Material: How NOT to be Left Holding the Baby
  3. US Government Initiatives for SMR’s: Uniting Various Energy Sources
  4. Spot Price: Volatility Incoming?
  5. Kazakhstan and Significant News on COVID-19

CLICK HERE to watch the full interview.

Matthew Gordon: Brandon, how are you doing, Sir?

Brandon Munro: Yes, I’m really well thanks, Matt. What about you?

Matthew Gordon: It’s all good. I’m liking the backdrop. So, you’re obviously up at the cottage again?

Brandon Munro: Yes, yes. Getting a few more things done. So, we’ve got school holidays coming up in a couple of weeks and there aren’t a lot of options as to where you can go from Perth, so we’re just very lucky that we’ve got this one. But it comes at a price; my wife has said that the kitchen wasn’t quite up to scratch. So that’s what we’re doing at the moment here.

Matthew Gordon: Oh boy. Oh boy. We’ve all had that conversation, haven’t we? We have all been there. I see the river from there – that’s absolutely gorgeous. You’re a lucky, lucky, man. And I bet, can you smell the eucalyptus?

Brandon Munro: Yes. And some of the gums are in blossom at the moment so there’s almost like this gentle honey smell around. It’s been a beautiful day today. It is been embarrassing to call this winter to be quite frank. It is a nice sunny day and really lovely down here. So, you’re right – we are very, very privileged,

Matthew Gordon: Privileged indeed. Well, look, we’re here for our weekly catch up. It feels like it’s been a quiet week, but no doubt I think we’ll find one or two things to talk about. I was particularly interested in some of these new entrants coming into the marketplace. There have been a few fundraisings as well, little bits of money here and there. And some of these new entrants coming in and, you know, and I’m not going to name names here, but I am kind of interested in the parallels between the last cycle and this, where we saw lots of young, new excitable start-ups looking at the Uranium market and going, Oh, maybe there’s some money to be made here, and not necessarily focusing on the quality of the asset or the target. I think there are some mistakes that are going to be made. And I think, you know, what we’d like to do is maybe help investors recognise what good and bad looks like and not make the same mistakes as last time around.

So, I mean, are you seeing that? Is that your sort of sense of what’s happening in the marketplace? So, with these new entrants coming in, that there is some kind of ground swell, there is the ability to get financed. There is the ability for these companies, who perhaps don’t necessarily know what they’re doing, to kind of enter the market and position themselves as an option?

Brandon Munro Yes. I mean, that is clearly what is happening. Usually what happens in a cycle, of course, is the longer you run in the cycle, the poorer quality assets not only make it to market but succeed initially in market. So, we are at the beginning of that, and time will only tell how these assets are in terms of quality and longevity and whether they can make it. But it is the early part of that run. What is interesting is some of the names behind the company. So we’re seeing not only Uranium tragics bringing product to market, but we’re seeing some in ASX, we’re seeing some big names in terms of promoters, brokers who play right across the commodity spectrum, who have had big wins in a number of different commodities: precious metals, base metals, minor metals, even tech. And clearly, they think that now is the time for them to start positioning in Uranium, because they’re putting their energy behind these backdoor listings and start-ups. So, on the one hand, it says very good things about the market. And on the other hand, it is obviously getting Uranium out there, giving investors a lot of choice. And they’re going to need to find ways of exercising that choice wisely.

Matthew Gordon: Yes, I think that’s right. I guess what I constantly try and make people aware of, or slightly rail against, is the promotional component to these stories. And that’s not to say some people can’t make some money through this, it’s just a pure promotion play, but unfortunately, it is usually the wrong people and someone at the end of it gets left holding the baby. You coined my phrase that I use regularly. And you know, it’s got to come back to fundamentals, surely? I am looking at some of the assets that people are purporting to be able to build a company around, they just don’t stack up. And not only that, but something which we got a lot of feedback from the conversation we had last week, which was the point that you made: that the skillsets necessary to run Uranium companies are in short supply. It’s not easy. It’s not mining. It’s ‘mining plus, plus, plus’, I think you once said to me, where you’ve got to know what you’re doing if you’re coming into this space. So, I think people suddenly realise the importance of what you said there. And I think again, unfortunately, I’m seeing a little bit of that over the past two to three weeks.

Brandon Munro Yes. There’s a lot in that. And I think we talked a lot about the special challenges and the complexities of Uranium last week. And for anyone who didn’t hear that, it’s really worth going over again. The promotional side is interesting as well: used incorrectly, or perhaps too aggressively, there’s something quite distasteful about over-promotion, but it does have its role as well. We’ve been in a bear market. Many Uranium companies are capital starved at the moment. There’s a lot of developments that aren’t going forward because the cost of capital is just way too high. And we’ve talked before about how fortunate Bannerman is and I am because all of that work was done during the last boom. So, all of those thousands of metres of drilling were funded at a much better cost of capital than what we could ever hope for right now.

So, good promoters and people who can really bring a lot of attention to a stock and good support behind a stock, they do have a role because they are going to enable projects to move forward a bit faster and at less cost to shareholders than if they’re sort of limping along and making the best of the current market conditions. So, you know, I’m slow to criticise good promoters. It is more about how they do it, how honest they are about it. And as you say, whether there is a real end game, or if it’s all just making sure you jump out of the train before it hits the cliff.

Matthew Gordon: Well, there’s the skill, right? There is the skill, if you want to play that game. I personally, you know, maybe it is a necessary evil, but it does leave a bad taste in the mouth. And, you know, I, again, a phrase that I’m going to repeat, because I know we’re going to be dealing with this soon, which is: getting the timing right is nigh on impossible. I’m not sure anyone has got that scale, whether they’re trying to find the bottom or the top, it’s hard to do. But at the end of this peak, which whatever that ends up looking like, someone is going to be left well out of pocket. You know, it’s usually the retail guys. That is my constant fear and battle and, you know, desire to educate. So, I think, you know, I agree – necessary evil. Some are better than others, but promotion is something you need to be careful of because it has pros and usually many, many cons to it, in my humble opinion.

But look, maybe we should stay away from that and talk about some of the more positive things that have happened recently. So, there’s yet again more US government initiatives. And by that, I mean dollars being lauded about on offer. What’s your take on that?

Brandon Munro: Oh, it’s all good news. It’s all grist for the mill. And we’re seeing more direct involvement from the Office of Nuclear Energy and also the Department of Energy themselves. There are some very good spokespeople for the industry within those offices, which I think is really positive. And they’ve got a fairly steady news-flow in terms of grants, forms of support, other government initiatives. What is interesting is that it’s all focused on the downstream. So, 90% of what we’re seeing is focused on SMRs, on competitiveness of conventional reactors of the nuclear supply chain as such. And so, it’ll be interesting to see what they’ve got backed up for Uranium miners. And if we start seeing more of the news flow and for the front-end fuel cycle.

Matthew Gordon: Yes, yes. I mean, obviously it’s just a drop in the ocean compared to what’s needed. I mean, you know, we talk obviously every week and we’ve spoken to a few other Uranium market commentators who don’t necessarily buy the SMR, the US SMR initiative in terms of its ability to meaningfully impact the economics of the US, based on international sales, which I thought was really interesting. In fact, I thought it was so interesting that after you, we are speaking to a guy called Ben Hurd. Who’s an eco-modernist. Okay. That’s a phrase I’ve never heard before. And basically, they’ve done various studies and reports, and it’s a quite interesting group actually, who are talking about can we actually ever achieve zero carbon energy, globally? And you know, there’s lots of people who advocate yes, and lots who say, no. Not ever will that happen. And they looked at and they studied, I think, over 34 different reports from various large groups, and made their own conclusions. But I’m going to find out about that. But one of the things that he talks about is SMRs. So, we’re going to maybe do a little deep dive there because he seems to know quite a lot about it. Maybe it is worth exploring where the US sits today and, you know, whether its hopes of regaining its seat at the table using SMRs is a likely possibility.

Brandon Munro: Yes. And look, I’m delighted that you’re talking to Ben. He is an incredibly intelligent individual. He has done a huge amount of work across the entire energy sector. He is an environmentalist at heart. A very good advocate for SMRs in the Australian context. And anyone listening should follow him on Twitter – he talks across the spectrum of environmental social issues, which obviously is extremely important for our industry, that we have strong credible pedigreed environmentalists who see the virtues and the value of nuclear energy. And given that he’s operating within the Australian context where conventional reactors have effectively been ruled out, it’s wonderful to have his focus on SMRs. So, well done on reaching out to him, and I really look forward to seeing what he’s got to say.

Matthew Gordon: I’m fascinated. I mean, we read a couple of the reports that they produced. I mean really, really interesting. I mean, just unconventional thinking, and pulling people up as well, you know, because everyone talks their playbook, right? So, different groups create different reports, but it talks to their own playbook rather than genuinely in an unbiased way. And he’s looking at how do we deliver a smart energy nexus? I just thought that’s a kind of interesting way of looking at it. You know, because if I look at…I won’t name it, but a report, which I read where it talks about nuclear competing against other energy sources, and I was like, well, it’s not necessarily competition. I think there is maybe room for all of the above if you look at the energy forecast requirements coming down the line that I’ve seen. So, how do they work smartly together? Because I guess different geographies will have different abilities, you know? If you are living in Australia or Spain, maybe solar makes a lot of sense. If you are off the coast of Scotland, wind makes a lot of sense. And clearly nuclear plays a big part of this or should play a very big part of this going forward as well. So yes, it should be an interesting conversation. You obviously know Ben well, and yes, anyone listening to this should listen to that.

Let’s sort of talk about one other thing: with regards to the spot price. I mean, again, we said last week that it’s kind of in the doldrums, but do you see any kind of volatility in the price coming up?

Brandon Munro Yes, I think we will see more volatility. It’s very flat at the moment and there isn’t much volume going through at all. There hasn’t been a lot of momentum coming from utility buyers, but we are getting to the end of a quarter, we’re getting to the end of the month. And what we have seen in the past is the capacity for it to be volatile. Single market players, or a couple of market players acting with a sense of singular motive, can affect the spot price when there isn’t a lot of volume, and there isn’t a lot of buying on the other side. So, I’m watching for that, probably expecting that. And let’s just see how it goes.

Matthew Gordon: Yes, well yes, let’s all see how it goes. Okay, the last thing I want to talk to you about before we move over to the Crux Club members, is Kazakhstan. Two of the senior members of government have contracted the coronavirus, and two people who are quite relevant to the production of Uranium. So, what do you know?

Brandon Munro: Yes, look, this is really the most important thing to watch in the Uranium sector at the moment. And people who follow us each week will know that we’ve dedicated time to this topic every single week; following what’s happening in Kazakhstan with COVID. What is the likelihood of the Kazakh production disruption ceasing early? Ceasing on time, or being extended? And for the first time, I think we’ve got a fairly clear indication that the chance of an extension is significant. So, you’re right; there’s been two high profile members of the current and former Kazakh government who have tested positive. First of all, Nursultan Nazarbaev who was the founding president of Kazakhstan, former PM, he’s reported as now having COVID-19, or Corona virus.  He is well into his seventies, he might be 79 now, so the country will be very concerned about that. He’s still obviously revered in Kazakhstan. He only recently handed over power, probably less than a year ago. And so, there’s not only a heightened awareness factor in Kazakhstan at the moment, but there’s also a respect factor that will be playing a big role. You wouldn’t want to be the company announcing your return to full business if something unfortunate was to happen to the founding leader of the new nation. And now the other one is the country’s health minister, also is reported to have had COVID-19. And so, these 2 things, plus what seems to be a bit of a second wave really in Kazakhstan has led to numerous shutdowns and new measures. And it seems to be that they want to really curtail all forms of activity this weekend, and that has the potential to carry on.

So, we are only a couple of weeks away from the end of the three months that was initially prescribed as being the anticipated, or estimated period of production disruption, where wellhead development and so on, wouldn’t carry on. I would call it quite likely that we’ll see that extended or if it does stop, it’ll probably stop in a fairly gentle way.

Matthew Gordon: Yes, I think the Uranium bulls we’re quite excited by that news because it’s everything that they’d hoped. Because if the supply side of things carries on as it has been for another quarter, or another period of time, they’re counting the pounds which are missing from the market. They are counting on Cameco and others actually signalling their intent. And for utility buyers, we don’t know what they think. We don’t know what they think. Because I still hark back to the US utility numbers, which came out a couple of weeks ago, which kind of caught everyone on the hop. And I guess that they’re the most important ones, but I think generally for Uranium bulls, they’ll see this as a signal to be piling in. And I think that seems to be the noise that we’re hearing. It’s like, obviously we talked about earlier: new entrants coming in, the ability to get bits of financing away. There’s a lot more commentary in mainstream press. We’re seeing reports on TV. So, I think that the ground swell is there, it’s just still that lack of clarity on how, and when we start to see movement on spot price again, and what that does for equities?

Brandon Munro Well, that’s right. As I say, I can see things being fairly flat for the rest of this month There is no a particular timeframe in which I’d expect an announcement from KazAtomProm over this. So, there’s every chance that they’ll bide their time until next month when there’s even further clarity and they know exactly what’s going on. I know they have announced that they’ve returned to wellhead development, or announced that they haven’t, in which case the market will expect some level of guidance over how long they expect the extension to carry on for. And that’ll be the trigger that I think bulls will be looking for.

We have talked before about the compounding nature of any extension of the Kazakh production cuts, and I think that is really important for people. So, for anyone who’s tuning into our show for the first time, this is the important thing to understand: first of all, it’s been 3-months at the end of this month that production disruption has affected all of Kazak production, including their joint ventures. And what that means is that they haven’t been able to do wellhead development. In other words, the already acidified horizons that were developed 3 or 4 or 5 or 6-months ago, they’ve carried on with production. The pumps have continued running. They have still operated their recovery facilities. So, it was the work that was done between three and 6-months ago that’s been yielding the Uranium that’s continued to be produced and sold. And also, KazAtomProm – the main player in all of this who is the majority owner of these assets, they flagged that they could still comfortably ride through about three months of disruption whilst tapping into their inventories that they maintain as a producer. And that would have put them into a slightly more comfortable position by being able to work down their inventories to more manageable levels.

The moment we go over those 3-months, if that is in fact what happens, not only do these assets start reaching the tail of their productivity; in other words, the work that was done a few months ago, except for the very best of those assets, the recoveries will be starting to taper. They’ll be getting right down. So, the amount of Uranium hitting the recovery plant and then being able to hit the barrel will be tapering quite significantly at this point. Also, the amount of Uranium that’s capable of being delivered, not only by KazAtomProm, but by its partners will be tapering as well. So, we’ve said before that for the first few months, the market hasn’t really felt this production disruption, and it’s now that they will feel the first 3-months of production disruption and also any extensions which will compound on that.

The other thing to bear in mind is just the effect that it could have on the utilities, traders and other market players’ sentiment. They could look at 3-months and they could see that as perhaps absorbing some of the excess inventory that existed, producer inventory, absorbing a little bit of utility inventory that they could rely on to see them through. If we do see an extension, particularly if there isn’t very clear guidance as to how long that extension is going to last for, now there aren’t available producer inventories that can simply fund these disrupted pounds. It’s going to need to come from somewhere. And back to your question about spot price: well, in terms of Cameco, they will need to come from the spot market in terms of KazAtomProm, they’ve told us in public forums in interviews that in fact, if it goes much longer than 3-months, they’ll also need to consider coming to the spot market to buy the pounds that they can deliver into their contracts. And that’s not to mention the other joint venture parties who whilst some of them won’t need to buy in the spot market in order to deliver into long-term contracts, there will be a similar effect because they won’t have the pounds available that they can deliver into the spot market.

So, it’s a very significant time. It’s a very significant time to be monitoring what’s going on. And yes, I agree with you – the Uranium bulls are looking to start placing their bets right now at a time when we’re going to see probably another couple of weeks of equities under pressure for those investors who are investing purely on what the spot price is doing at this point. So, it’s a great time. It’s a great time to be watching. And for those investors, it’s a great opportunity, I think.

Matthew Gordon: I think it is a great opportunity. I think it’s great opportunity if you pick the right company and know what you’re doing, and don’t bet on this, you know, bother to maybe go through some of the transcripts of our conversations, that would make a lot of sense. Understand what you’re playing with before you put your money down. So, but yes, it’s definitely opportune times for sure. And to that point, I think, just for the viewers, we’ve managed to nail a date down to actually speak with KazAtomProm. That was something that’s been a long-time baking, but we finally managed to do it. So, we’re speaking to them in a couple of weeks and we’ll be able to talk to them about their strategy and what they think of the market currently. So quite excited about that one.

I think it’s time to move over to the Crux Club. We’ve got 2 quite exciting topics to talk about in there, actually. Two quite big things. So, we can say goodbye to our crux-investor.com regular subscribers, and move over there.

Brandon Munro: Great. Thanks, Matt.

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