If, like me, you are a budding investor, you likely spend hours each night scouring the internet for the latest and best opportunities to make money. From economic revolutions instigated by futuristic technology, to trade embargos plummeting the prices of certain commodities, the world of investment is a complex minefield, which incites fear and excitement in equal measure.
In recent days, a commodity that has captured my focus is uranium; certain American economic news regarding it has intrigued me, in addition to the international surge of attention towards climate change. Following national news coverage in the last few weeks, it has been impossible not to notice seething commuters warring with Extinction Rebellion protestors. What could possibly cause smartly dressed commuters to devolve into a primitive mob? The answer is the increasingly intense climate change debate.
This event was one of many occurring in England’s capital in recent months. Additionally, Greta Thunberg’s damning climate change speeches have navigated themselves into the centre of international discourse. An individual wouldn’t be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize unless their cause was especially relevant.
One of the key components of the raging debate is nuclear energy. Nuclear-based electricity production avoids carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. However, it has been suggested radioactive gas can cause health issues to workers and individuals from communities surrounding power plants. Furthermore, the disposal of nuclear waste is an even more controversial subject, and if one so much as utters the words ‘nuclear weapons’ they can expect a flurry of opinions to be launched at them more explosively than the warheads in question.
One of the primary materials involved in nuclear energy production and military use is uranium. In the wake of a tsunami striking a nuclear power station on the shores of Fukishima, Japan, the energy sector held a review on reactor designs and safety procedures. The resulting financial and psychological tidal wave had a detrimental effect on the industry, one which it is only slowly recovering from. As a consequence, despite offering vastly lower energy costs, uranium seems to have reached a political and environmental impasse and demand has plummeted. When combined with a lingering sense of distrust generated by incidents in Chernobyl, Ukraine (1986) and 3 Mile Island, U.S.A. (1979), and its association with nuclear proliferation throughout much of the 20th century, I was beginning to view uranium as a commodity too contentious to consider investing.
However, after conducting my own research, I have concluded it is an area that can bring big returns to patient investors. The macro story is positive and encouraging. There are billions of USD being spent building new reactors across the world. New technologies mean small, more mobile reactors are being commissioned by countries who previously would have found themselves priced out. High profile individuals are vocal in their support, from Bill Gates to Elon Musk, and the vast scientific community adds additional endorsement to nuclear power being critical to the energy solution. Our current energy sources are not sufficient to cope with a rapidly increasing population and I feel nuclear power can be a green, affordable solution.
…many of the world’s largest uranium mines are in care-and-maintenance mode.
The Uranium Cycle: I’ll be back.
Uranium is fundamental to the production of nuclear energy. However, current uranium spot prices remain far below what is economically viable to mine and produce ($23.90 as of 31/10/2019). Such market activity has depressed investment. Most of the (≈50) remaining uranium companies are struggling to stay afloat; many of the world’s largest uranium mines are in care-and-maintenance mode (1). These cold, hard facts lead prospective investors to one conclusion: why on earth would I want to invest in uranium? The answer remains the same as any other investment: it can make you money if you play your cards right.
I have studied numerous articles detailing different investment approaches to goods experiencing a low equity price. To me, the most attractive attitude towards uranium investment is the contrarian approach. After recognising where uranium is in its cycle, and the potential for an uptake in the future, this method seems prudent.
However, I can’t exactly go out and buy large quantities of uranium for myself; I wouldn’t want MI5 knocking on my door in the early hours of the morning. A wise investment will require choosing the right companies to invest in.
From an investor’s standpoint, there are 3 crucial elements a company requires to instil confidence in me, or any other investor. If any of these aspects are missing, I think the company is likely to falter and investment should be avoided.
Investing in uranium: the secret recipe
The three ingredients are as follows:
- An experienced management team who have a proven track record for every process: mining, refinement and sale.
- Sufficient liquid assets to enable the company to survive until prices take an upturn.
- A genuine asset(s), not something purported to be an asset (such as a licence) that in reality is more restrictive to a company than beneficial.
Energy Fuels, the leading U.S. producer of both uranium and vanadium, has all three, but, perhaps most interestingly of all, it has an ace up its sleeve that is likely to be a real game-changer.
An Experienced Management Team
Uranium is an incredibly complicated commodity to work with. From permits, licences, safety, legislation, regulation, transportation to refinement there are numerous difficulties, not to mention the difficulty of mining itself. The sale of uranium is also far from straightforward, because the buyers are utility companies with long buying cycles and complex purchase criteria. If a management team has not already been through this process from start to finish, they are learning on the job with my money.
Energy Fuels has a management team with an impressive résumé. Their CEO/President Mark Chalmers has been involved in the uranium industry since 1976. His vast experience would impart confidence to most investors. As a company, Energy Fuels has been operating since the 70s, and has nearly 40 years of experience mining and refining uranium. I find Energy Fuel’s established industry-related relationships and experience with uranium production/sales impressive.
The brutal nature of the current market has created a tough environment for uranium companies. Murmurs from funds surround the need for price discovery: the spot price for uranium will need to start increasing before they will invest meaningful cash into companies again. It seems clear to me that utility companies have complete control of the timescale of any potential uranium price uptake. In the meantime, if a company lacks the cash to maintain their facilities, they will not be able to survive.
Handily, Energy Fuels has $40-45 million to see them through until uranium prices rise. In a recent interview with Crux investor (https://youtu.be/0JVBOwaWfSA), Chalmers expressed a reason for investors to be hopeful of a price increase in the near future. Energy Fuels and Ur-Energy are hopeful their petition to the United States Government under section 232 and the subsequent announcement of a 90-day Working Group may bear fruit.
If the group’s report is favourable to the nuclear industry, it is possible President Trump could subsidise U.S. uranium companies via tax breaks and other federal financial boosts, thus allowing prices to rise and profit to be made for investors who climb aboard while prices are still low. However, despite Chalmers stating he would be “shocked” if the government doesn’t rule favourably towards the uranium sector, the judgement currently resides in a realm of definitive uncertainty; the group’s report may not be completed this year as other events take centre stage on the U.S. political platform.
A company’s assets are an excellent indicator of if my hard-earned cash will be worthily invested. Energy Fuels have a portfolio they regard as ‘truly unique.’ (2). They have ‘more production capacity, licensed mines and processing facilities, and in-ground uranium resources than any other U.S. producer.’ Energy Fuel’s 100% ownership of numerous promising mines across Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming gives them an excellent list of valuable assets.
Furthermore, in an interview with Crux Investor at the WNA, Chalmers explained the versatility of Energy Fuels. The company tries to ‘diversify,’ to ‘keep a strong balance sheet’ and ‘protect shareholders.’(3) The quantity of projects being undertaken by Energy Fuels helps reduce the risk of investment, as if one goes horribly wrong, there are plenty of alternative options to steady the ship.
The diversity of Energy Fuels is further exemplified by their status as the largest U.S vanadium producer. Vanadium has a variety of uses in engineering and redox flow batteries to name but a few. They also provide ‘low-cost environmental cleanup and uranium recycling services, including potential involvement in the EPA clean-up of Cold-War-era uranium mines.’ Investors can find their risk reduced because the company is clearly not a one-trick pony. Energy Fuels is not completely reliant on uranium.
When first mined, Uranium isn’t functional for nuclear energy or military use; it needs to be enriched to ≈20% for power and ≈85% for military use. The enrichment process requires the mined uranium ore to be processed in a mill. Energy Fuels own the only ‘fully-licensed and operating conventional uranium mill in the United States.’ (4). This means in the event of a uranium price increase they are the only company ready to go into production immediately. It also means that any competitor will be restricted at their leisure; companies will have to pay Energy Fuels for use of their mill, or face expensive shipping expenses to mills in foreign countries. Energy Fuels will also have control of the timescale of other companies’ uranium production. Chalmers has positioned the company strongly with an undeniable leg-up on the competition.
An Option I Could Seriously Consider
Upon conclusion of my research into the world of uranium companies, I have reached the conclusion Energy Fuels would be a potentially sensible investment. I don’t think any other American uranium producer comes close when the management team, business model, cash and bonus mill of Energy Fuels places them in such a commanding position. In the near future, I am likely to invest. I feel my money would be much better served waiting to grow with the sleeping giant of uranium than comatose in a bank account with less interest generated than a taxidermist’s dating profile.
If you see something in this article that you agree with, or even disagree with, please let us know in the comments below.
Any advice contained in this website is general advice only and has been prepared without considering your objectives, financial situations or needs. You should not rely on any advice and / or information contained in this website or via any digital Crux Investor communications. We provide paid for consultancy services for Energy Fuels. Before making any investment decision we recommend that you consider whether it is appropriate for your situation and seek appropriate financial, taxation and legal advice.