House Mountain Partners

china

Macro Strategy Note: The Case For Energy Metals (Revisited)

Chris Berry2 Comments

By Chris Berry (@cberry1)

For a PDF copy of this note, please click here

 

In reading the Berkshire Hathaway annual letter this weekend, I was reminded of a response Charlie Munger gave to an investor on how he tests the validity of his investment thesis. Munger’s response was, “Invert. Always invert.” The meaning here is to consciously take the other side of your thesis and try and disprove your beliefs/biases.

I’ve spent the past month or so on the road at conferences and meeting with investors to take a temperature check and “invert” our investment philosophy. We’ve also witnessed a huge increase in our subscriber base in recent weeks and so an outline of our view of the world and how we’re positioning is in order and likely overdue.

While the content here may be repetitive for long-time readers, I welcome any (constructive) comments as they can only help refine and strengthen our outlook.

Despite the overwhelming complexity of the global economy, we see a huge struggle against two headwinds. Though we’ve been involved in commodity investment for over a decade, we view the commodity super cycle (2001 – 2011) as definitively over. The end of the super cycle has left the economy with additional supply of commodities now coming on stream just as demand continues to soften.

A Closer Look at Nickel: An Unsustainable Current Reality?

Chris BerryComment

By Chris Berry (@cberry1)

 

 

As contrarian opportunities go, nickel offers an interesting case study. Throughout much of 2014, nickel market participants were almost universally bullish based on the Indonesian government’s plan to ban exports of nickel-bearing laterite ore. Nickel ore exports from Indonesia account for approximately 15% of global supply, so any curtailment in exports would have a material effect on pricing. It was also believed that other metals including tin would follow suit.

As China, the main destination for global nickel supply, had no real options to satisfy its insatiable demand (the Philippines is an exporter but on a smaller scale), the belief was that upward price pressure on nickel would ensue. While there was a rally after the ban went into effect, it was not sustained.

The Difference Between The Signal and The Noise in Commodities

Chris Berry1 Comment

By Chris Berry (@cberry1)

 

For a PDF of this note, please click here.

 

In 2012, Nate Silver, a well known statistician and writer, penned the book “The Signal and The Noise” which discusses using statistics and probabilities to determine real-world outcomes. With volatility in the financial markets on the rise led by a collapsing oil price and plunging emerging market currencies, determining and differentiating the signals from the noise has profound implications for navigating the metals and mining markets as we forge ahead into 2015.

With the price of a barrel of oil (WTI) currently at US $56.05 and widely believed to be headed lower and other commodities including iron ore, silver, copper, and corn under similar relentless pressure, these trends are clear signals and the “noise” they generate is the damage done to investor portfolios. 

Enough To Go Around? Raw Materials and Limits To Growth in Solar

Chris BerryComment

 

By Chris Berry (@cberry1)

For a PDF version of this note, click here.

The growth in the adoption and deployment of solar power since silicon solar cells were first discovered by Bell Labs in 1954 has been nothing short of staggering. The globally installed PV market stands at 140GW and added over 38GW in 2013 alone. In the United States in the first half of 2014, 53% of all new electric capacity came from solar, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. While still small relative to the overall global energy mix, the rate of solar growth is what to focus on and it is indeed taking off.

 

As to the question of whether that growth can be sustained, the politically sensitive issue of subsidies seems to get all of the press. To me, there are other, larger, and perhaps more immediate issues regarding PV growth.

 

One concerns reliable access to the raw materials necessary to build and supply global PV supply chains. Specifically, I’m referring to the copper, silver, silicon, indium, etc. vital to produce existing and future solar technologies. How much do you as an investor, industry watcher, or company representative really know about the origins and supply reliability of the metals and minerals used in PV manufacture? Another issue to be watched is the changes in PV technologies and also the rate at which the technology is adopted. This also has implications for global supply chains. 

Consolidation Amongst Miners Picks Up As Growth Slows

Chris BerryComment

By Chris Berry

 

 

It’s interesting to note that on the same day the International Monetary Fund released their annual World Economic Outlook which lowered expectations for global growth (yet again), that several potentially large mining deals were either launched or mooted.

While the talk of the potential deal for a merger between Glencore (GLEN:LN) and Rio Tinto (RIO:LN, RIO:NYSE) dominated the headlines, two (relatively) smaller deals were also announced recently.

Anglo American (AAL:LN) will reportedly commence with a sale of up to $1 billion worth of copper assets in Chile including the Mantos Blancos and Mantoverde mines, along with AAL’s 50.1 percent stakes in the El Soldado mine and Chagres smelter according to Bloomberg. These assets are small relative to others in AAL’s portfolio, but a willingness to part with them says a great deal about the company’s thoughts on the need to generate returns in the current macroeconomic environment.

Q3 2014 Energy Metals and Economic Review

Chris BerryComment

By Chris Berry

 

For a PDF version of this note, click here.

 

  • To call Q3 “challenging” is an understatement. Growth momentum is increasingly absent.
  • Most metals were relentlessly forced downwards in Q3.  Gold declined .13% (almost wiping out its gains YTD), silver fell .11% (down 13% YTD), and copper swooned 4.96% (down 9.42%YTD).
  • Rather than pinpoint an “elephant in the room”, there are multiple negative catalysts including slower growth in China, a relentlessly stronger US Dollar, and excess commodity supply.
  • Geopolitical events including the downing of Malaysian airline’s MH17, the potential spread of the Ebola epidemic, and the “rise” of ISIS have not had a significant effect on metals prices. The “metals” disconnect has many analysts, myself included, puzzled.
  • It raises the question of whether or not the current downturn is structural rather than a “normal” cyclical downturn from which we always expect to recover.
  • Q4 themes and catalysts may include a stimulus package in China aimed at boosting consumption, continued US Dollar strength (negative for gold and a deflationary precursor) , an announcement of QE in the Euro Zone, and the end of QE in the US.

 

In Deflation’s Grasp?

We have discussed the inflation/deflation debate many times in the past. It now seems clear that deflationary forces are predominant. Falling commodity prices, sparked by excess global supply and muted demand, aging societies, a stagnant velocity of money, and the ubiquity of technology continue to conspire to suppress and overwhelm the Federal Reserve’s attempts to stoke inflation.