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Saturday, February 22, 2014
Supply and demand key to base metals success: Adam Low
Adam Low of Raymond James believes that the outlook is excellent for zinc, good for copper and neutral for iron ore. In this interview with The Gold Report, he argues that it comes down to supply and demand. Copper supply may soon lag demand, and zinc demand, which is increasing steadily, will soon face a 10% decline in supply.
The Gold Report: Your 2014 prognosis for industrial metals is largely positive, correct?
Adam Low: Yes, although our view is not universal. We are most positive on copper and zinc, somewhat less enthusiastic about nickel.We're fairly neutral on iron ore, although we do expect a bit of softening in iron ore prices.
TGR: Why do you like zinc?
AL: We are starting to see fundamental changes occurring in the market. This is a supply story. Zinc has been an unloved metal for decades. As a result, there has been very little investment, which means that six major mines in operation for decades have or will soon end production.
The first two, in Canada, closed in 2013. The next major shut down, scheduled for mid-2015, is MMG Inc.'s (1208:HK) Century mine in Australia, the world's second-largest zinc mine.
TGR: How much global supply will be lost as a result?
AL: About 10%.
TGR: So prices will rise?
AL: Yes. Visible inventories on the London Metals Exchange, as well as on the Shanghai Futures Exchange, are down about 30% over the last year. And zinc demand is increasing steadily. There are some suggestions that we have a small zinc deficit already.
TGR: What are the supply and demand fundamentals in copper?
AL: I'd characterize the copper market as being infected with "short-termism." Mine supply grew quite spectacularly in 2013: between 6% and 7%. How sustainable is that growth? In a couple of years, we could easily have the same problem we had a decade ago, when mine supply lagged behind demand.
TGR: Why would this happen?
AL: One-third of global copper supply comes from Chile. This country is increasingly constrained by power and water supplies; labor rates are rising as well. Chile's state-owned copper enterprise, the Corporación Nacional del Cobre de Chile (CODELCO), produces about one-tenth of global copper, and it requires something on the order of $20–27 billion ($20–27B) in reinvestment over the next five or six years in order to maintain both current production and grow its production base. That will be quite difficult.
TGR: Why are you less enthusiastic about nickel?
AL: In the long term, we remain skeptical about that market. Indonesia, one of the world's largest nickel miners, has implemented a ban on exports of raw ore, which curtailed a major source of global supply. Nevertheless, nickel has abundant visible inventories. It also has growing supply from long-beleaguered laterite projects now finally coming to fruition: Ambatovy, Koniambo and Onça Puma.
TGR: Why are iron ore prices softening?
AL: We expect supply growth from mines to outweigh demand growth, particularly as major mines start up in Australia and Brazil. At current prices, the industry is making phenomenal margins, more than 100%. At lower prices, companies at the high end of the cost curve will struggle, but the others should continue to do very well.
TGR: To what extent are higher base metal prices dependent on positive global economic news?
AL: Growth is a key factor. The U.S. economy appears to have improved, although I'm a little bit skeptical about just how robust or sustainable this growth is, especially now that the Federal Reserve has decided to reduce its bond buying.
TGR: How do you view the short-term economic prospects of China and Europe?
AL: In Europe, the latest purchasing manufacturers' index is at its best since 2011. We are beginning to see some resurgence from some of the weakest economies, such as Greece. And Germany still looks good. Even so, I don't think we can count on Europe being the key driver for world economic growth quite yet.
TGR: And China?
AL: China is still growing and from a larger base. So while its relative growth may be less impressive than it was, its absolute growth is still quite extraordinary. Any industrialized Western nation would be incredibly envious of "only" 6–7% GDP growth per year.
TGR: There is a growing concern that the equities markets are overheated, particularly with the Fed tapering quantitative easing. If there is a significant correction, will base metals equities follow suit, or could we see instead a flight to safety in metals?
AL: If there is a significant correction, we could see base metals equities follow suit, even though they didn't enjoy the upside the rest of the market did. In the longer term, the widening gap between the growing demand and the dwindling supply of many base metals should spark a resurgence of investor interest in this sector.
TGR: Will base metals equities continue to lag prices in 2014?
AL: This trend should begin to correct. Base metals prices have been quite steady over the last year despite headlines that have generated fear and volatility. This steady price environment should provide investors with greater comfort about metals prices, which should, in turn, lead to greater confidence in investing in the equities.