Thursday, October 18, 2012

Uranium Bulls May Have to Wait a Few Years

One industry which has certainly seen better days is the uranium mining industry. Not long ago – 2007 to be exact – the price of uranium soared to a record high at $136 a pound. Sky-high oil prices had many in the market convinced at the time that oil-generated power would likely be replaced by nuclear power globally.

But just several years later, uranium today is trading at a 2-year low of $45.75 a pound. Sentiment continues to be extremely negative toward uranium and nuclear power in general following the Fukushima disaster in Japan in 2011.

Fukushima has been a disaster for shareholders in both individual uranium stocks and ETFs focused on uranium mining companies too. One hard hit uranium firm is the world's largest producer of uranium, Canada's Cameco Corporation (NYSE: CCJ). The company accounts for 16 percent of the world's uranium production and is backed by about 435 million pounds of proven and probable uranium reserves. Its stock is down to less than a third of its value at the peak in 2007.

One ETF affected by uranium's woes is the Global X Uranium ETF (NYSEMKT: URA). Its portfolio is devoted entirely to uranium mining stocks. Its price is down about two-thirds from early 2011 levels. A second ETF greatly affected by the decline in uranium prices is the Market Vectors Uranium + Nuclear Energy ETF (NYSEMKT: NLR). Its portfolio has about 30% invested into uranium miners with another roughly 42% invested into industrial firms involved in the nuclear industry. Its price is also down by about two-thirds, over the past five years.

Is there any hope for the uranium industry? Industry executives do believe that several years down the road will be a better time for the companies involved in uranium mining as supplies are squeezed while demand picks up.

One hoped for source of demand is not surprising at all – China. The country is expected to announce an end to its 1-year moratorium on new reactor approvals. But it remains to be seen whether China, with its new leadership team coming in, will want to make such a decision so soon. The Chinese government has stated previously that it wants to boost its share of nuclear power generation from the present 2% to 5% by 2020.

Other emerging countries including South Korea, Russia and India will also have new nuclear reactors come online by 2020. Overall, the industry expects 95 net new nuclear reactors to be operational by 2021, with 60 of these currently bring constructed.

The most interesting aspect of the years ahead for the uranium industry, however, comes from the supply side. There are a number of factors which may serve to support prices in the long run. One such factor is the expiration of long-term contracts in 2016-17. These agreements account for the majority of sales agreements between the uranium miners and utility companies.

A very big factor will be the expiration in 2013 of a treaty between Russia and the U.S. that supplies uranium from decommissioned nuclear weapons. This uranium from Russia currently accounts for approximately 16% of total demand and supplies half of utilities' needs for uranium in the U.S.

Another big factor in the coming years will be diminished supplies due to cutbacks in mining activities. The cutbacks are thanks to current low prices for uranium. Cameco, for example, noted recently it needed a uranium price of $62 a pound in order to proceed with development of one of its new uranium assets. BHP Billiton Limited ADR (NYSE: BHP) said in August that it would halt its $20 billion Olympic Dam copper-uranium project in South Australia. The company also recently sold another of its uranium mines, Yeelirrie, in western Australia.

All of these factors on the supply demand do point to perhaps a brighter future in the years ahead for the uranium industry. It may not be time yet to turn out the lights on the uranium miners as a long-term investment.

This article originally appeared on the Motley Fool Blog Network. Please be sure to read all my articles for the Motley Fool at


  1. Uranium mining stocks might be a wise place to put some money.

  2. Investing in Uranium stocks is best done by buying an exchange traded fund that specializes in such stocks. Spread your risk out among a wide aray of stocks.

    1. I disagree that you should use an exchange traded fund - the one I use seems to underperform the sum of its components and, why pay the manager's fees? It would be better to invest on your own and I suggest CCJ (you will get to keep your dividend too) ERA and PDN.

  3. Uranium is set to pop again soon, but it is not due to Western consumption, but markets in the East.