entering a multi-year bull run. Last year, China moved copper costs by building up stockpiles when prices were low. Today, it’s doing something similar with the uranium market. With prices grounded, the Chinese government is planning ahead for the rapid expansion of its nuclear industry. The deputy director-general of the Energy Research Institute of the National Development and Reform Commission, Li Junfeng, knows how important those efforts are. In China’s push for clean energy, nuclear, he says, comes first…
China’s Nuclear Capacity
So far, China has eleven operational nuclear power reactors with a total capacity of around 9,100 megawatts.
That only makes up about 1% of the country’s total energy capacity. But China expects its nuclear power capacity to touch 70,000-$80,000 megawatts by 2020…
That would account for about 5% of China’s total installed power capacity.
Consultancy firm UxC says that would quadruple its annual uranium consumption to 50-60 million pounds. Meanwhile, the world goes through a mere 190 million pounds a year.
China currently has a mere annual uranium domestic capacity of around 2 million pounds. So it’s moving aggressively to secure uranium supplies around the world.
State-owned China National Nuclear Corporation and China Guandong Nuclear Power Corporation have already signed long-term supply agreements with outside miners such as Cameco (NYSE: CCJ). And they’re strongly pursuing joint ventures too.
China needs it too, considering that it imported 20-25% of global uranium usage this year.
Future Uranium Prices
Of course, all of those purchases have sent spot uranium prices skyward. So have production shortfalls, which have forced some mining companies to buy uranium on the sport market to meet their long-term contract commitments.
Those factors will likely push up uranium prices further on long-term supply contracts. That matters a lot, since such contracts account for the large majority of uranium trade.
Uranium miner Paladin Energy (PINK: PALAF) recently noted that “initial base prices” for new, long-term contracts has “risen markedly” to “at or above $80 per pound.”
With all that said, inventories of uranium still remain plentiful. And Kazakhstan has more than doubled its output since 2008 to become the world’s largest producer.
Yet even so, Russia’s probably won’t sell highly enriched uranium from its nuclear warheads past 2013. This has been an important source of uranium supply for many years.
Once those are used up, mine supply will likely fall short of demand. And new ones could take up 10-15 years to develop.
The Outlook for Uranium Investments
Barring a large nuclear accident, uranium’s outlook looks very good. So do the portfolios of anybody who knows how to play it…
The aforementioned Cameco and Paladin Energy both make good investments. But for really broad exposure to the commodity, ETFs usually work best.
In this case, the purest ETF play would be Global X Uranium (NYSE:URA). It holds 23 different uranium companies, with its largest position being in Cameco.
Or for slightly less exposure in still-solid ETFs, there’s
- Market Vectors Nuclear Energy (NYSE:NLR), which has 38% in uranium miners, 24% in nuclear generation and 17% in infrastructure
- Powershares Global Nuclear Energy Portfolio (NYSE:PKN), which has 45% in industrials, 21% in nuclear generation and 17% in uranium miners
- iShares S&P Global Nuclear Energy Index Fund (Nasdaq:NUCL), the weakest choice, has a full 44% in power generation companies
One way or the other though, investing in uranium has the power to light up portfolios. And light them up for a long time too.