Uranium market soars from Chinese demand

CHINA - The uranium market is crackling again, set afire by China’s quest to secure nuclear fuel. And after watching the price of the radioactive metal crater for much of the past three years, investors are once again optimistic.

“Uranium is in a new bull market,” says Rob Lauzon, a portfolio manager who oversees energy investments at Middlefield Capital Corp.

“We have seen the spot price move from $40 US a pound [last March] to over $62… I think in the next two years, it will settle in that $70 to $75 range. If we look out five years from now, we can probably see $80- to $100-a-pound uranium.”

The spot price, which is determined by private contracts, hit bubble territory when it peaked at $136 a pound in June, 2007, as hedge funds put money on the metal’s future. But the price plunged during the global credit crisis and remained depressed amid a flood of fresh supply from Kazakhstan in 2009.

Market watchers see higher uranium prices ahead because of tightening supply and rising demand, particularly from China and other emerging markets. Barring a major nuclear accident, demand is expected to remain buoyant as developed countries embrace nuclear power as a clean fuel.

Spot prices jumped in November after China signed three long-term contracts to buy a total of 140 million pounds of uranium from Cameco Corp., French nuclear giant Areva Group and Kazakhstan’s state-owned miner.

“It’s really the size of these individual deals that caught the market’s eye,” said Patricia Mohr, a commodities specialist at Bank of Nova Scotia. “China was tying up a large chunk of world supply between now and 2020. What will happen is that utilities in other countries are going to be keen to tie up new supply as well.”

As much as 80 per cent of current world uranium production has already been sold to utilities under long-term contracts, she said. Meanwhile, demand is expanding.

China is expected to double the number of its nuclear reactors to about 80 over the next few years, Ms. Mohr said. “We have been waiting for some time now for new emerging Asian countries to really hugely expand their nuclear power, and it appears that it is now taking place.”

She forecasts an average spot price for uranium of $70 a pound in 2012 as production from Kazakhstan slows that year and in 2013.

Salman Partners metals analyst Raymond Goldie is even more bullish on uranium. “The world’s supply of uranium is about 140 million pounds and demand is about 180 million pounds a year,” he said. “So there is a shortfall of about 40 million pounds.

“It looks we could face a shortage of uranium within a year and a half, if current stockpiles are something below 50 million pounds. On that basis, we could easily see the price of uranium double within a year or two.”



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