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Three weeks ago I posted the first part of a series of articles discussing the importance of making long term investment decisions based on the fact that we are living in a resource constrained world, due to rapid depletion of many non-renewable natural resources. If you look at the hot sectors in recent years, most of those that were "hot" are related to depleting natural resources one way or another. That includes oil, natural gas, coal, base metals, and precious metals. And of course, relating to the depletion of fossil fuels, the development of alternative energy is booming and the stocks are hot.

Palladium has been my most favorite metal. I have previously discussed the unusual characteristics of palladium. It is the only metal that defied the well established over-supply condition, with price rallied higher in the last 5 years, proving all metal analysts wrong in their bearish predictions. That surprising fact alone should catch people's attention, and encourage them to study what's unusual about this metal. I see booming demands of palladium from auto catalyst converters, jewelry, fuel cell, catalyst in biofuel synthesize and oil refinery, and misc. applications. Most astonishingly, palladium could be used in cold fusion and bring about a perfect solution to our current energy crisis. With even the authoritative American Physical Society [APS] now publicly endorsing cold fusion as a real science, by sponsoring cold fusion conferences, who is to say cold fusion is not proven? A Russian scientist already promised to demo a 100KW working device by August, 2008. We will soon see if he keeps his promise. If cold fusion becomes a commercial reality, I predict palladium price could reach 100 to 1000 times more expensive than gold.

There are two recent shocking developments in the PGM (platinum group metals) market. One is widely publicized, the other is hardly noticed by any one. Both are extremely bullish for platinum and palladium, and therefore bullish for the only two primary palladium producers in the whole world, PAL and SWC.

First, the little noticed event. In recent years, Russia has been selling off its strategic palladium metal stockpile, accumulated from nickel mining during the Soviet Era, at a pace of roughly 2 million ounces per year. They traditionally ship the annual palladium stockpile sale to Switzerland, in the month of December. Read John Reade's alchemnist paper. Many people speculate that as of now, the Russian palladium stockpile should be largely depleted. So it's not surprising to me at all that indeed in the month of December, 2007, shipment of Russian palladium stockpile failed to show up in Switzerland. Even UBS's John Reade himself noticed this fact and commented recently as he continued to watch if any shipment could show up in early 2008, or maybe that's the END of the Russian palladium stockpile sale.

The termination of Russian palladium stockpile sale is an earth shattering event! The 2 million ounces per year extra supply was the whole reason for the global palladium over-supply. With this extra supply now removed, there is actually a global shortage. See supply/demand data from Implats. Palladium rallied in the past 5 years under an over-supply condition. What happens now there is an industry shortage, with investment demand booming at the same time? Palladium price will have to go through the roof once people find out about the global shortage.

There has recently also been a tsunami type event in the global PGM market. South Africa's electricity power crisis caught the attention of the whole world. Recently, shortage of electricity forced ALL South African's precious metal mines to shut down production. That's quite a shocking global headline news. It had been no secret that throughout 2007, mine production in South Africa has been impacted by various problems, including strikes, safety problems, shortage of electricity. But it only captured the whole world's attention on Jan 25, 2008, when people realized it's not just a few individual mines with problems. The whole country's mining industry shut down! This is not a temporary problem. The whole country's electricity supply infrastructure simply was neglected for too long, now it is unable to meet the rapidly increasing demand. It's a strategic mistake 10 years in the making, and will take till 2013 before we see the problem fixed.

South Africa supplies over 80% of the world's platinum and over 35% of the palladium. With no easy fix of the ongoing electricity crisis in sight, it is expected that PGM metal supply from South African will be greatly impacted in the next few years, causing severe shortage. Quick thinking investors immediately jumped on the news. Prices of platinum and palladium skyrocketed in recent days. I believe several things contribute to the rally:

  • The industry shortage causes the price rally.
  • Investors attracted by the metal rally. Their hoarding worsens the shortage.
  • Industry users, fearing a disruption of supply, will panic hoard at all cost.

I urge people to seize the opportunity and jump on board to load up stocks of SWC and PAL. Especially PAL, it is an extremely valuable deal after the dramatic 14% drop on Feb 5th, 2008. It's a shame that evil forces are allowed to manipulate the market and distort stock prices absurdly away from their rightful values. PAL, a precious metal miner that supplies more than 5% of the world's need of palladium metal, is now hardly trading above its book value and hardly above the annual metal sales revenue.

How high should PAL and SWC share prices go? PAL, with 79M shares outstanding, produces 290K ounces of palladium and 25K ounces of platinum per year. That's 0.00367 oz Pd and 0.0003164 oz Pt per share. At a reasonable P/E ratio of 10, each $1 increase of Pd and Pt metal prices should translate to $0.0367 and $0.003164 gain of PAL share price. Since Jan. 23, 2008, platinum gained $288/oz ($1550/oz to $1838/oz); palladium gained $62/oz ($367/oz to $429/oz). Just based on this metal prices gain, PAL share price should have gained $2.28 from the palladium rally, and $0.91 from platinum, for a total of $3.19 per share gain. But PAL only increased from $3.59 to $4.73. PAL should already be at $6.78 today!

I say, when you see such a dirt cheap deal, jump in to load as much as possible. Sadly most people would rather chase the high fliers with ridiculously high valuation ratio, than do their due diligence study and pick up gems that no one wants. That's why the world has millions of fools but only a handful successful investors like Warren Buffet.

One of such high fliers is the solar stock, First Solar, FSLR, which I talked about in several previous Seeking Alpha articles. I pointed out that due to extremely limited global tellurium supply and booming demand from new applications, FSLR, which is exclusively based on cadmium telluride, has no growth potential. Not only it has no growth potential, I see that it shut business down in the matter of about two years. I also see an incredible opportunity in investing in physical tellurium metal, and have purchased a small stockpile as the result of my study. At the time of writing those tellurium articles I had a short position in FSLR. As of now, I have already closed my FSLR short position so as to concentrate my investment resources in response to recent extremely bullish development of the fundamentals of PAL and SWC.

I stand by all my previous view points and I want to continue to discuss FSLR's tellurium problem, even though I no longer have a vested interest in the stock at this time. I feel I have an obligation to continue the discussion and warn people, especially as I made a shocking discovery recently from 5N Plus's recent quarterly release. The transcript of VNP's conference call provides more information and confirms my suspicion. That is, FSLR is probably getting only about half of the CdTe raw material it needs, from its dominant supplier 5N Plus Inc.. I do not know how it is going to continue its round the clock 24/7 production. More over, FSLR repeatedly assured investors that it has made proper arrangement to ensure raw material supply once the new Malaysia factories start up. But from 5N Plus, looks like FSLR hasn't yet talked with 5N Plus regarding the raw material supply of the Malaysia factory. If they haven't consulted with their most important supplier, how can they be so sure their supply chain will be in proper order to support the new factories? I plan to short FSLR again right before the Q4/07 earnings report.

I used to be a gold and silver fan, and have studied a number of silver mining stocks. My favorites are PAAS, CDE and SLW. I actually owned SLW for some time in 2006. It was claimed to be the purest silver player. A bit too pure. SLW does not own any mine itself. If you are a resource investor, why do you invest in something that does not actually own the resources? SLW is essentially a holding company, with its value derived from a few silver purchase contracts. I am just not sure whether you want to bet $3B worth of investments on nothing but a few contracts. Too much risk if those contracts are in jeopardy. I also looked at PAAS and believe it is probably one of the best silver mining companies. But ultimately I decided that I would rather own silver rounds from PAAS, than its stocks.

In my last article I talked about IPSU, a sugar player, and JRCC, a coal player. I determined that IPSU may not be the best stock to leverage the sugar bull. IPSU does not produce sugar feedstock itself, so it's not clear how it can benefit from raising sugar price. As for JRCC, it rallied too fast for me to catch lately, due to the rally in coal prices. The strong coal rally in recent months took me by surprise. I do not see how the supply/demand equation of coal has changed. Coal is still abundant in the United States. I do not see a dramatic increase of coal consumption in electricity generation. The rally of coal is probably speculation driven, motivated by recent strong demand on the international coal market. I am not sure how long the coal rally will continue, or whether it could turn south suddenly. Investing in JRCC is thus a bit risky at this price level. I would watch the coal movement a little bit to see if it lasts, and wait for JRCC share price to drop a bit before jumping on board.

Agriculture is hot! The fertilizer sector seems to be pretty hot in recent months. That prompted me to pay attention to stocks like POT, MOS, CF, AGU, TNH, SEED, OTC:FEED, COIN. People know that Jim Rogers is favorable in agriculture. The few stocks I cited here are mostly fertilizer producers, with stellar stock performance in the past 12 months, thanks to rapidly raising fertilizer prices. These fertilizer stocks have seen some setbacks recently. Should we buy here?

But after some study, I am skeptical about how much higher these fertilizer stocks can go. Fertilizers have only one usage: fertilizing agriculture and landscaping plantations. The surface area of the earth is not growing any bigger. Arable lands are actually shrinking. World food production has been flat , with little growth potential. I do not see a big growth potential on the demand side of fertilizer. On the supply side, there is no limitation of the raw material feedstock of the fertilizer industry. Nitrogen is 80% of the earth's atmosphere. Potassium is one of the most abundant elements on earth. As for phosphorite, it is less abundant but the known reserve is still estimated at a few hundred years. So fertilizers are not constrained by natural resources. The recent price boom of fertilizers is probably more due to rapidly rising energy costs, like natural gas, and less due to increased demand. I don't think fertilizer makers are the best place to bet your resource-oriented investments. However, maybe stocking up some physical fertilizers in your backyard could be a good idea.

Palladium, platinum, and tellurium are still my most favorite elements. I will talk about uranium and other metals in my next article.

Disclosure: At the time of writing, the author is heavily invested in SWC and PAL and plans to add more position as fund becomes available. The author does not currently have a position in FSLR but intends to short it soon.

Source: Investing in a Resource-Constrained World (Part II)