This Sunday I will give my thoughts about the coming supercycle in commodities and why I am bullish on almost all of them going forward.
Most people are aware that I am a Uranium Bug and that I have a good allocation to precious metals. I have also just recently made my first allocation to the oil business, but I have to admit that I am optimistic about the whole commodity sector. I have tried to give an explanation for this enthusiasm in the following paragraphs.
Commodities are currently 50% cheaper than their lowest point the last 50 years if you compare them to the S&P 500. There are several reasons for this. The cyclical nature of commodities is that we go through boom and bust cycles. We have seen many of these over the decades. Still, the latest downturn has been exaggerated by a number of contributing factors:
A big factor is there is so much passive money waiting to chase the next big thing. We are looking back at 10 years where everyone has been piling into tech companies, weed and cryptocurrencies. Some people are maybe a bit agitated that these sectors have taken away money from commodities, but there is also a silver lining. Instead of having a better funded market, that might be in a supply and demand equilibrium, we are seeing great potential for outside returns on our investments.
I listened to a great interview with Mark Thompson on the podcast “Mining Stock Daily” in their “Tin Special”. He put into words what has been in the back of my mind about the commodities sector for a long time:
The median fund in the world’s allocation to commodities is zero, and most funds do not touch it. In the 80s and 90s, the risky part of people’s portfolios were either allocated to biotech or to commodities exploration. That part is now consumed by tech companies or bitcoin (and other cryptocurrencies) instead. We therefore have not had the needed allocation to commodities that you need to find new deposits. This has in turn affected the supply side. This underinvestment makes commodities very attractive after 10 years of underinvestment.
In the meantime commodities, which are essential for maintaining our living standards, have underperformed. The cost of producing the commodities is in many cases higher than what the companies make selling them. This has led to production cuts and supply being removed from the market. Prices have to increase a lot to incentivize production. However, this supply can’t be turned back on with a flip of a switch. Ramping up production takes time. The companies have to hire and train workers, permits have to be granted and CAPEX investments have to be made.
The easiest example I can choose from here is uranium. The world is totally dependent on uranium for the 10% of energy production coming from nuclear power. If we want a snowball’s chance in hell of making the climate goals, we can not depend on windmills and solar panels alone. At today’s prices the cost of producing uranium is higher than what they get paid by utilities. To incentivise new supply the price of uranium has to go up.
We have the same scenario with battery metals like lithium, nickel, tin and copper needed for electrification of the world. There are many other commodities that I have not mentioned, but safe to say I am bullish on most of them.
Passive funds influence on the markets
In the coming commodity super cycle we will see massive amounts of passive funds crowding into the different commodity sectors. Passive investing has increased by a lot the last 10 years, and this will hit the very small markets hard. This can have a bigger impact than most people can imagine. When 50% of the market is passive, it will be very different from the bull run in the early 2000s. Passive flows say: let’s buy what is going up no matter the price. Because of this you get big moves. I believe we will see new all time highs in most of the commodity sectors. Many of the sectors today are trading for a total value under the value of companies like Apple or Amazon. When passive funds see the outperformance of the different commodity sectors sustained over time, we will see a rotation away from growth/tech stocks. It is just a question of time.
We are seeing some evidence for this already. (Again, I will give some examples from the uranium sector, because it is the one I am following the closest). In Australia Paladin will be included on ASX 200 and 300 later this year. This means that there will be passive flows coming into the company and give the valuation of the company a tailwind. In Canada we have the same situation with Nexgen and Denison Mines will be added to the S&P/TSX Composite Index.
*Edit Jan 2023: I have added updated returns of URNM & QQQ Dec 2019 – Jan 2023 after the original post in March 2021.
The picture above is a comparison between QQQ (an ETF that includes 100 of the largest companies listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange) and URNM (the North Shore Global Uranium Mining ETF). The last year URNM has a return of 222% compared to 63% for the QQQ.
I expect this to be a trend we will see continue over the next 5 years. After overperformance the funds will rotate out of their old favorite sectors and enter the commodities sector. A couple more quarters of outperformance and we should witness the metaphor about forcing the contents of Hoover Dam through a straw coming to fruition.