Disruptive Discoveries Journal

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The Key To The Way Forward In The Mining Sector

Chris Berry1 Comment

By Chris Berry (@cberry1)

 

For a PDF version of this note, please click here.  

 

·       The mining sector remains challenged by multiple headwinds including a lack of investment, currency headwinds, slower productivity, excess capacity, and deficient global demand.

·       Debt overhangs and slowing emerging markets – specifically China – appear to be the culprits behind slack demand. These forces must be reckoned with.

·       Longer-term, however, innovation, sustainability, and urbanization are legitimate drivers of growth and help promulgate “good” deflation which enhances productivity and can drive returns.

·       This note examines these phenomena and which sector(s) of the mining industry may benefit.

 

Groundhog Day

After three-plus years of a dismal mining investment environment and the potential for it to continue for some time, a number of questions arise from the soul searching many of us have done to try and make sense of this. According to Bloomberg, the value of the TSXV has fallen from its peak by almost 72%. This market environment necessitates a different method of thinking and evaluation about publicly traded mining companies. The good news is that it appears that many metals prices have bottomed, though this doesn’t mean that the cycle has definitively turned. The bad news is that the global economy still appears to be struggling with excess capacity AND muted demand. China, the seemingly endless engine of metals demand is unquestionably altering its paradigm for economic growth from one of infrastructure build out and exports to one more focused on internal consumption. With China’s debt to GDP ratio of 282% according to McKinsey, this move to a new growth model is absolutely necessary to maintain a sustainable growth rate, but there is no overnight fix to achieve this type of change. The success of this transition won’t be known for years, though the effects are already being felt.

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. 

Disruption Is On its Way To Solar Panel Manufacturing: A Case Study of Aurora Control Technologies (ACU:TSXV, AACTF:OTCBB)

Chris Berry

By Chris Berry

 

Introduction

After a recent slump, solar power has shown tremendous growth. Global photovoltaic (PV) capacity is 139 Gigawatts (GW) as of the end of 2013 and another 44.5 GW is forecast to be added in 2014. One GW is enough electricity to power between 750,000 and 1,000,000 US homes. The 44.5 GW mentioned above is almost a 21% increase y-o-y and equals the output of 10 nuclear reactors, according to Bloomberg. 

Overcapacity has resulted from government subsidies and has served to push panel prices down, helping to make solar more cost competitive with other fossil-fuel based sources of electricity. Dozens of panel makers still exist which implies further consolidation in the industry despite the projections mentioned above.

We are focused on finding value along supply chains across an entire industry and to that end the solar panel manufacturing business offers an interesting case study in finding value in a global “low growth” or “slow growth” environment. One of the key questions for market participants is “how will a panel manufacturer compete and thrive in a hyper competitive industry despite the rosy growth prospects?” Price declines and competition will hurt margins which in turn have the potential to impact investment returns.

The key is solar cell efficiency. 

Case Study of a Growth Driver - Silver Use in Solar

Chris Berry

By Chris Berry

 

Since the beginning of the commodity downturn in 2011-2012, I have been vocal on the need to analyze each metal or mineral individually as they aren’t all created equal. You run the risk of throwing out the “baby with the bath water” and missing investment opportunities.

The same argument holds true when you look at individual demand components for a given metal or mineral. With that in mind, recent research I’ve done on the solar photovoltaic (PV) manufacturing industry has shed light on some astounding growth rates for one metal in particular: silver.

Solar Backgrounder

I don’t intend to enter into the debate about the economics of renewable energy here, but do believe that solar power is going to continue to become more and more mainstream as costs along the entire value chain continue to plummet. A good primer on how PVs work can be found here