Panama: +507 294 1100
ANALYSIS – ProspectingJournal.com – It didn’t take long for the panic to set in, last year, when the Chinese government flexed its muscle by threatening the world’s Rare Earth Element (REE) supply. With 95% of REE supplies coming from China, that scare was indeed legitimate. But REEs aren’t the only elements with which China has the potential to choke off. On American Elements’ 2011 Top 5 US Endangered Elements List, three elements (tungsten, indium and neodymium) have over 50% of world supply coming from Chinese mines.
To refresh the memory of those who followed the rare earth surge from last year, and the subsequent piquing of interest in rare earth companies, it began with Japan. As the summer of 2010 was coming to a close, reports of an embargo of shipments to Japan for REEs raised concern for manufacturers who depend upon the elements for production primarily in the tech industry. Within a month, that embargo spread to North America and Europe, and concern over Chinese monopolization rose, along with REE prices, and those of the companies devoted to them.
When the embargo ended, relief came to the sector, while the pace of development outside of China received only a minor increase. The threat of supply shortages still lingers, especially with tungsten, indium and neodymium.
The example of tungsten is not to be ignored, as 85% of global production comes from China, which has already indicated it might end all exports altogether due to domestic demand increases.
With the highest melting point and greatest tensile strength of all elements, tungsten’s importance is unquestionable. Used in all situations that call for high temperature thresholds or hardness and strength, tungsten is imperative to many modern living standards that depend upon it. From a US perspective, the element’s use in the aerospace program, electronics and military (including in bullets and armor) is critical. To the mining industry as a whole, tungsten is a savior with many uses within the assembly of mining equipment itself, including drills in need of durability.
Strangely enough, the United States dismantled domestic production of tungsten ore in 1994 with the last tungsten mine, the Pine Creek Mine in Inoyo, California, going down as a historical footnote en route to Chinese dependence.
Today, tungsten production remains primarily within China, but awareness of a need to develop outside of the PRC is becoming clearer. Options in the western hemisphere are appearing, and may soon be getting the attention they need to aid this drive for domestic independence. Juniors such as North American Tungsten [NTC – TSX.V] and Playfair Mining [PLY – TSX.V] may provide answers that mitigate a possible future supply breakdown.
For North American Tungsten, the title of being the western world’s leader in tungsten production doesn’t come lightly. Through developing its Cantung Mine, it provides tungsten concentrate production within the borders of Canada’s Northwest Territories, which from an international standpoint is a much more secure mining investment environment to work within.
At a much earlier stage, Playfair Mining is not yet a producer, but is heavily leveraged to the price of tungsten, which today sits around $440/MTU (“metric tonne unit”) or over $20/lb. With a goal in mind to partner with an end user of tungsten metal in order to finance its Grey River deposit into production, Playfair is well aware of the potential impact a tungsten shortage would carry.
Due to its high level of use in the manufacturing sector, a significant number of Fortune 500 companies are dependant upon tungsten’s availability. General Electric and its Tungsten Products Division, along with others like Kennametal and ATI Firth Sterling are among those that would most likely benefit from securing a long term tungsten supply, and are among potential targets should Playfair seek a high-worth partner to put its nearest term tungsten property into production.
The company has 4 high-grade deposits with two located in the Yukon, one in the Northwest Territories and another on the southern coast of Newfoundland. Each of the properties was acquired strategically during a period of massively deflated tungsten prices, prior to this latest surge over the $440/MTU mark. This increase represents a 70% rise from the recent low prices that graced Playfair’s entry period. While the commodity’s price has risen, the company’s stock has yet to follow suit.
While the current price of the stock seems to have languished, the team is making strides to be better prepared for when the bigger end-users in need of tungsten come knocking. The board includes experienced individuals who have taken deals into production before, as well as Director James Robertson who took the last big tungsten company outside of China to successful acquisition.
In both combined 43-101 compliant and non-compliant resource categories, Playfair’s tungsten properties contain more than an estimated 5.5 million MTUs of WO3. It’s to be expected, though, that since Playfair is an exploration company, these resources have room for expansion.
As economic uncertainty lingers in all global markets, crucial and endangered elements such as REEs, tungsten, indium and neodymium will be within the watchful eye of western manufacturers in need of these ingredients for their operations. Whether another anticipated panic is inflicted by possible impending embargo actions by China doesn’t change the dependence we have on endangered elements. And like last year’s REE crisis, a price surge on those companies were set to move prior complications is entirely a likely scenario.
By: G. Joel Chury
September 30, 2011 (Source: Market Oracle) — The prosperity of China’s “authoritarian capitalism” is increasingly rewriting the ground-rules worldwide on the capitalist principles that have dominated the West’s economy for nearly two centuries.
Nowhere is this shadow war more between the two systems more pronounced than in the global arena of production of rare earths elements (REEs), where China currently holds a de facto monopoly, raising concerns from Washington through London to Tokyo about what China might do with its hand across the throat of high-end western technology.
In the capitalist West, as so convincingly dissected by Karl Marx, such a commanding position is a supreme and unique opportunity to squeeze the markets to maximize profits.
Except China apparently has a different agenda, poking yet another hole in Marx’s ironclad dictums about capitalism and monopolies, further refined by Lenin’s screeds after his Bolsheviks inadvertently acceded to power in 1917 in the debacle of Russia’s disastrous involvement in World War One. Far from squeezing its degenerate capitalist customers for maximum profit (and it’s relevant here to call Lenin’s dictum that if you want to hang a capitalist, he’ll sell you the rope to do it), Beijing has apparently adopted a “soft landing” approach on rare earths production, gradually constricting supplies whilst inveigling Western (and particularly Japanese) high tech companies to relocate production lines to China to ensure continued access to the essential commodities.
REEs are found in everyday products, from laptops to iPods to flat screen televisions and hybrid cars, which use more than 20 pounds of REEs per car. Other RRE uses include phosphors in television displays, PDAs, lasers, green engine technology, fiber optics, magnets, catalytic converters, fluorescent lamps, rechargeable batteries, magnetic refrigeration, wind turbines, and, of most interest to the Pentagon, strategic military weaponry, including cruise missiles.
Technology transfer is the essential overlooked component in China’s economic rise, and Beijing played Western greed on the subject like a Stradivarius, promising future access to China’s massive market in return, an opium dream that rarely occurred for most companies. You want unimpeded access to Chinese RREs? Fine – relocate a portion on your production lines here, or…
Which brings us back to today’s topic.
Rare earths and investment – where to go?
China is riding a profitable wave, which depending on what figures you read, produces 95-97 percent of current global supply, and unprocessed raw earth earths ores are currently going for more than $100,000 a ton, or $50 a pound, which some of the exotica fetching far more (niobium prices has increase an astounding 1,000 percent over the last year). Rare earth elements like dysprosium, terbium and europium come mainly from southern China.
According to a United States Energy Department report, dysprosium, crucial for clean energy products rose to $132 a pound in 2010 from $6.50 a pound in 2003.
The soaring prices however have also invigorated many countries and producers to begin looking in their own back yards, for both new deposits and former mining sites that were shuttered when production cost made them uneconomic before prices went through the ceiling.
However, a number of unknown factors play into developing alternative sources to current Chinese RRE production. These include first prospecting possible sites, secondly, their purity and third, initial production costs, where modest Chinese labor costs are a clear factor.
The 17 RRE elements on the Periodic Table are actually not rare, with the two least abundant of the group 200 times more abundant than gold. They are, however, hard to find in large enough concentrations to support costs of extraction, and are frequently found in conjunction with radioactive thorium, leading to significant waste problems.
At hearings last week before U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, Molycorp, Inc. President and Chief Executive Officer Mark A. Smith stated that his company was positioned to fulfill American rare earth needs, currently estimated at 15,000-18,000 tons per year, by the end of 2012 if it can ramp up production at its Mountain Pass, California facility.
Which brings us back to foreign producers. A year ago Molycorp announced that it was reopening its former RRE mine in Mountain Pass, Calif., which years ago used to be the world’s main mine for rare earth elements, filing with the SEC for an initial public offering to help raise the nearly $500 million needed to reopen and expand the mine. Low prices caused by Chinese competition caused the Mountain Pass mine to be shuttered in 2002.
Mountain Pass was discovered in 1949 by uranium prospectors who noticed radioactivity and its output dominated rare earth element production through the 1980s; Mountain Pass Europium made the world’s first color televisions possible.
Molycorp plans to increase its capacity to mine and refine neodymium for rare earth magnets, which are extremely lightweight and are used in many high-tech applications and intends to resume production of lower-value rare earth elements like cerium, used in industrial processes like polishing glass and water filtration.
In one of those historic economic ironies, China was able to increase its RRE production in the 1980s by initially hiring American advisers who formerly worked at Mountain Pass.
The record-high REE prices are also underwriting exploration activities worldwide by more than six dozen other companies in the United States, Canada, South Africa, Malaysia and Central Asia to open new RRE mines, but with each start-up typically raising $10 million to $30 million, not all will succeed. That said, the future is bright, as almost two-thirds of the world’s supply of REEs exists outside of China and accordingly, China’s current monopoly of REE production will not last.
So where do investors look to cash in on the RRE boom?
First, do your homework.
Exhibit A is Moylcorp, which would seem to be in unassailable position as regards U.S. production, but which nevertheless on 20 September after JPMorgan Chase & Co. lowered its rating of the company, citing declines in rare-earth prices, causing its stock to plummet 22 percent in New York Stock Exchange composite trading, despite being the best-performing U.S. IPO in 2010 after beginning trading in July, more than tripling after rare-earth prices soared as China cut export quotas.
Is there money to be made in RREs?
Undoubtedly – but the homework for the canny investor needs to extend beyond spreadsheets to geopolitics, mining lore, chemistry and Wall Street puffery. That said, it seems likely that whatever U.S.-based company can cover the Pentagon’s RRE requirements is likely to see more than a minor boost in its bottom line.
Gentlemen, place your bets – but do your homework first.
It’s a familiar story for rare earth market watchers, sky-high prices and tight supply outside of China.
But until significant production outside of China is established, analysts foresee few changes to this trend, barring end users shutting up shop to cut demand.
2011 has thus far seen prices for most rare earth elements take off in the wake of tight control from over production and export quotas. Total production in China for 2011 has been capped at 93,800 tonnes , an increase of 5 percent from 2010, while exports have been restricted to 30,184 tonnes,slightly less than the 30,258 tonnes permitted last year.
Although Lynas Corporation Ltd . (ASX:LYC ) officially opened their Mount Weld mine in Western Australia on August 4th , production from this facility, which will initially be 11,000 tonnes per year, is not likely to make an impact on the REE market until 2012, as the first feed of rare earths concentrate into the yet-to-be-fully-licensed Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) in Malaysia is scheduled for Q4 .
In the meantime, Molycorp Inc . (NYSE:MCP) remain the only major producer filling the gap outside of China, and the Colorado-based company has profited nicely from the comparatively modest amount of supply it has been able to pump into REE markets so far this year.
Last month Molycorp’s reported production results of 815 metric tonnes of rare earth oxides for Q2, and also announced that they expected output of 977-1,321 metric tonnes during Q3, and 1,017-1,377 metric tonnes for Q4.
Coupled with the sky-high prices most REE are currently fetching, the anticipated increase in output from Molycorp has left some analysts quite bullish on the company’s performance outlook for the remainder of the year.
Prices may climb further still as China halts production at 3 mines
One twist that may still play a major role in REE markets before the year is out is the halt in production announced by the Chinese government on Monday .
State media reported that production has been ordered suspended by year’s end at 3 out of 8 mines in Ganzhou, Jiangxi Province. The Ganzhou region produces nearly 40 percent of China’s rare earths.
Li Guoqing , Director of the Ganzhou City Mining Management Bureau, commented on Monday that it was unknown when production at the 3 mines would resume, and that an eventual resumption of operations would be based on directives from the provincial government.
Although the shutdown is mostly a consequence of China hitting its annual production quota too early and the government clamping down on illegal mining and exports, it is unlikely to have an impact on the 15,000 tonnes of rare earths slated to be exported from China over the last half of the year. The prospect of a prolonged shutdown in one of China’s key mining regions may well begin to ripple through REE markets during Q4.
EU reveals it is stockpiling rare earths to reduce dependence on China
Another development that could play out on REE markets over Q4 was the disclosure by the European Union (EU) on Tuesday that they are stockpiling rare earths to reduce their dependence on China.
Speaking to Reuters , Andrea Maresi, press officer for EU industry minister Antonio Tajani confirmed that they were “working to secure supplies of these minerals from outside of the EU, such as from Latin America, or from Africa or other countries like Russia.”
“We are trying to improve our sourcing and reduce our dependence on China”, he added.
David O’Brock , CEO of Molycorp’s majority owned Molycorp Silmet AS in Estonia, revealed to Reuters in a recent interview that he had been approached by the EU about stockpiling, and had advocated stockpiling at least 3,000 tonnes of rare earth carbonate.
In spite of his conviction that the EU should be stockpiling to offset export restrictions from China, however, O’Brock believes REE prices will level-out in Q4.
“I think that prices have already started to stabilize. And consumers have found their upper boundaries that they can pass on to their customers, unless the Chinese suddenly open the flood gates, I don’t see prices dropping and I don’t see a continued climb in the prices,” he said.
By Robert Sullivan
Rare Earth Investing News
Jim Sims, from Molycorp, says China is starting to export fewer rare earth elements than previously
Wars have been fought over oil and water. But are the future global tensions going to be over access to Scandium, Neodymium or Dysprosium?
Or could conflicts be fought over any other of the 17 rare earth elements, which, week by week, are becoming more and more important in developing the latest high-tech products?
Tucked onto the periodic table of the elements, in a little section once ignored by chemistry teachers, rare earths are now everywhere.
They are in your iPod or tablet computer, are vital for the red colour in your TV screen whatever make you have and allow your headphones to be small enough to fit into your ears.
As China’s exports are being restricted, we are looking at outright shortages of rare earths, probably this year and next.
Jim Sims Molycorp representative
They are in hybrid cars – both in the batteries and the fuel – and in new generation wind turbines, missile defence systems, solar panels and even F-16 fighter jets.
At the moment China provides 97% of the world’s rare earth elements, which is making America nervous from both an economic and a security perspective.
Their price has gone up 1000% in just a year, which is making mining them in the US worthwhile once again.
‘Rare earth shortages’
A deep hole in the ground high up in the Mojave Desert is America’s only rare earths mine, and the race is on to dig out the supply to match the demand as only a few places in the world have enough reserves to make mining them practical.
“The world – America, Britain, everyone – relies on what China exports to meet their needs,” says Jim Sims from Molycorp, the company running California’s Mountain Pass mine.
“As China’s exports are being restricted, we are looking at outright shortages of rare earths, probably this year and next,” he adds.
America’s only rare earths mine is located in the Mojave Desert in the US south-west
So the huge diggers and trucks moving vast volumes of rocks around, the daily explosive charges blasting the mountainside apart, are harvesting one of the world’s biggest deposits.
The mine closed down 10 years ago when a flood of cheap Chinese rare earth elements made profits hard to maintain.
Until just a few weeks ago, Molycorp was asking for the US government’s help to cover costs of digging these elements out, separating them off and moulding them into metal alloys.
But the price has gone up so rapidly, rare earths is suddenly looking like a good business.
Last year China’s exports of rare earth elements to Japan were interrupted during a political row over territorial waters, which sent shudders around the world.
“We should be worried when any country completely dominates any raw material supplies,” says Christine Parthemore, from the Center for New American Security in Washington DC.
“I don’t think China is uniquely at fault in this situation, but they are using the political leverage that’s derived from cornering the market they have as any country would.
“I’m sure America would do the same,” he adds.
The creation of permanent magnets, a key component in so many green technologies, is one of the key uses of rare earths.
They make the new generation of wind turbines more efficient and reliable. But there are such an increasing variety of uses for these elements, down to glass polishing, that there aren’t enough of the raw materials to go around.
The speed of China’s growth means the country is consuming more of its own rare earths, which has led to a drop in the amount available for export.
“It is a security issue strictly in the sense that these minerals are used in critical military components for their properties, which we don’t currently have substitutes for,” says Christine Parthemore.
“If the prices go way up or there are actual supply shortages, it can drive prices up over the long term on military procurement – or it can mean there are parts that we can’t manufacture here in the United States anymore.”
It increases the need for an industry to extract the ore and process the materials.
“The elements are all mixed together in the ore we mine,” Jim Sims says.
“We turn them into a liquid, and let these elements settle out into oxides which are like powders,” he adds.
Inside a warehouse at the mine are dozens of huge white sacks, each weighing a metric tonne and each worth $200,000 (£125,700).
“Those powders then get turned into metals as magnets or used in their oxide forms for a variety of uses in a variety of different substances,” Mr Sims says.
As new uses are found for materials like rare earth elements, there will be more competition, and access to them may change the shape of global politics.
By Alastair Leithead BBC News, Mojave Desert, US July 12, 2011