Happy Days

fire in the middle of the city during night time

Our resolve can wear down a lot after a couple of months of being hammered in the market. Choppy action for months can be harder than a steady grind down. You get your hopes up that the sector is decoupling from the general market just to get the rug pulled out from under you. 

It is hard to see that equity prices go towards, or below, prices the equities were at a year ago. Getting closer, or below, your entry price is even worse. When you are up by a lot you are playing with the house money. It does not give that much consolation that commodity stocks are performing a lot better than the overvalued tech stocks or the other overvalued sectors. The only thing that matters is that we do not lose money. If you give it all back, you get angry at yourself that you did not take some of it off the table. 

Still, keeping things in perspective is very important. Yes, a recession, or a several year long depression is a possibility. In that case a lot of wealth will be wiped out in the world, but we will still need food and energy to survive. I do not believe that uranium and other essential commodities will fall as much as many of the speculative options out there. (We do however see the uranium sector has outsized beta to the up- and downside again and again). If they do, I believe they will bounce quicker. Why? Because they are essential for our way of living. Most of the speculative cryptocurrencies and tech companies (with unproven business models) can not proclaim the same place in the Maslow hierarchy. Well funded companies with great management in a sector essential for the world energy supply will survive. Compared to other investments many commodities have few to no substitutes, and many of them also have very inelastic price demand. Demand can go down a certain amount during a recession, but if the commodity already is in a major supply deficit, there is a bigger margin of safety  compared to other investments. You still have to pick the right companies. (Picking the wrong one, who has to do a capital raise at the worst possible time, can be the difference between bad and spectacular returns). 

With hindsight on the last couple of years, I would maybe have been a little less aggressive and been more patient with putting on my positions. Lobo Tiggre, the Independent Speculator, is someone I want to emulate more. The markets have time and again given us great buying opportunities. I am however not changing my overall strategy. As with diets or fitness programs, the best strategy is the one you are able to follow. What helps a lot for me is having a job with a cash flow coming in every month. I have diversified some of my new funds into the oil sector, but I am still buying uranium. If we continue lower, I will have some money ready to take advantage of it.

Getting on the offensive

MGM Studios, Inc.

One of my older posts “The Big Commodity Short” has been shared this week. I think that most of it is still on point. If I could have made one change for my own part, I might have invested more in the oil and gas sector that has been on a tear the last year. Still, I think that I also may have dodged a bullet. The cheapest and most undervalued oil and gas equities were in Russia. When I wrote this piece we knew that rising commodity prices would lead to higher prices on other products. That this again would put pressure on the central bank banks to curb runaway prices was a given.The question is still if the central banks will continue to increase rates and cause a major recession.

One should not be in the situation where you doubt the thesis every time the market is going down. The markets do not move up or down in a straight line. I see proof almost every week that the thesis is unfolding:

On Thursday June 16th Borja (@piterloskot82) reported that CGN (China General Nuclear) and CGNPC (China General Nuclear Power Corporation) have entered into a new sales framework agreement for three years between 2023 and 2025 for 3.12 million pounds per year. The interesting part was that 40% of the contract was fixed at $61.78/lb multiplied by an inflation multiplier, but the majority (60%) of the contract was linked to the spot price:

CGN

I have two takeaways from this contract: The first one is that the fixed part of the contract is way higher than the spot price at the moment ($61.78/lb versus $46.98/lb). The second part is that CGN has the majority of the contract linked to the spot price at the future delivery date. CGN would not have 60% linked to the spot price if they did not think it would be a lot higher than $61.78 during the contract period 2023-2025.

We also got the news that Global Atomic has received a Letter of Intent from a major North American utility to produce 2.1 million pounds of uranium from 2025 to 2030. Utilities are looking for pounds outside the major producers with developers to diversify supply. (Previously we have seen companies like Encore Energy contracting pounds for delivery in 2023). We did not see a lot of this before 2021. Focusing on just the general markets and the spot price of uranium going down (while SPUT is getting stink bids filled) becomes very myopic with this backdrop.

The challenge now is to get on the offensive. When looking back at the time we are now five years in the future, what do you think will be the best decision you can make today? Do you believe this is a buying opportunity or should we abandon ship and wait for better times? I am looking for more cash to deploy more steadily, but I will try to be a bit patient the next couple of months.

Silver: Do we want to have a free market or do we want shortages?

close up photo of gorilla

I am back with my tinfoil hat to write a bit more on the silver market. Doombergs recent article on the copper and oil markets have put things into a bigger perspective for me. In addition I have relied on the work of Nate Fisher and Ronan Manly on the silver market.

Oil

I will start with referencing Doombergs 25. October 2021 article “Doctor Copper Is Sick“ where they started with explaining what happened in April 2020 when the oil price traded negative $37.63 a barrel:

 «The front-month May 2020 West Texas Intermediate (WTI) for delivery in Cushing, Oklahoma is the contract that traded negative and – critically – the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) allowed it to happen.»  

«Whatever you might think about the CME’s decision, few doubt the sanctity of that market now. Participants understood the rules, the rules didn’t change, a clearing price was found, and life went on. Production of oil was curtailed, creative storage solutions were implemented, prices recovered, and excess inventory was worked off in an orderly fashion as the economy rebounded.»

Doomberg

In this case long traders were punished because they did not have a place to take delivery of the oil they had purchased. For anyone who believes in capitalism, this is how you do it. You do not interfere with the price or change the rules. Price is the market clearing mechanism. Everyone in the market knows the rules already, and you do not change them when some of the participants are in trouble. The market was allowed to find a market clearing price at negative $37.63 a barrel, and this was reached without outside interference. 

Copper

On the The London Metal Exchange (LME) however, the price was not allowed to find a clearing price in the copper market:

«somebody was caught naked short and could not make delivery. They collected money from another trader at some point in the past on the promise that they would have copper to give them, but when the time came, they couldn’t make good on their contractual obligations.»

Doomberg

Market participants have to know the rules in the market they operate in. If a naked short sees the price of copper goes up, they have to run around to sellers of physical copper to buy from them. If they can’t find anyone to sell them copper, they can’t deliver on their obligations. (To use GameStop as an example: the short sellers were forced to buy back the shares they were short at prices way above what they had already sold). Those are the rules, and they have not changed. This led the copper price at the short end of the curve to go vertical.

LME interfered and allowed participants with short positions to avoid delivery. The rules were changed. People who have followed the commodities markets have expected copper going up with increased demand, and have taken long positions in anticipation of this. (As we saw in the oil market, being long is not without its risks). Interference to protect short sellers does damage to the market. Inventories of copper were low because supply could not keep up with demand. Increased demand for a product is not manipulation.

«the LME damaged its credibility in the marketplace. It either facilitates price discovery and thereby serves a useful purpose, or it doesn’t. Apparently, it doesn’t.»

Doomberg

The positive take away from the oil and copper market is at least that it is communicated to the market. Many find it is a lot worse in the silver market.

Silver

Moving on to silver I will follow the example of Nate Fisher and make the disclaimer that everything I write about the silver market are allegations only. 

I am using the articles “The Great Silver Conspiracy – should we have hit $50 silver in February? Yup.” by Nate Fisher and “LBMA misleads Silver Market with False Claims about Record Silver Stocks” by Ronan Manly as my reference.

They are very thorough articles so I hope you will read them for reference. I am doing the cliff notes version here:

Starting at $24.85 on 28. January, the price of silver spiked up. Silver was going into the weekend 30. and 31. January at about $27.00. Over the weekend there were massive retail raids of physical silver all over the world, and several sellers sold out their inventory. This had the effect that retail sellers would have to source new inventory. Into Monday 1. February the price of silver went up even more, and hit $30 before ending the day at about $29. A massive move in a short amount of time. The next day on 2. February the paper price on silver was smashed down over $3.50. – This was at a time where there was massive physical interest with retail silver selling out, and money was pouring into vehicles like the SLV and PSLV.

The reason for people buying SLV and PSLV was simple: 

(this) “led many of us to buy SLV or SLV call options expecting the float in the LBMA warehouses to be exhausted and force SLV to go to the open spot market to buy silver at increasing prices. Potentially hundreds of millions of ounces would need to be sourced, and it led investors to believe that the price of SLV would thus go sky high.“

“Now, with SLV, investors at the time were led to believe that if they bought shares in SLV, that SLV would then add the appropriate ounces to the trust.“

Nate Fisher

Over a three trading days period between 29. February and 3. February SLV claimed to have sourced a massive 118 Moz, and barely moved the paper prize of silver in the process. (With a yearly consumption of 1,000 Moz, a three day shock of more than 10% of this is huge). People who did not believe this were asked to take off our tinfoil hats.

Silver investors

“However, it appears that somewhere around February 1st, SLV changed their prospectus to suggest that “not all of the silver is there.”

Nate Fisher

What a coincidence. A fund that at one time had in their prospectus that they had fully allocated to silver, suddenly changed to say it might not be all there.

Later, in April when they closed the books for March, someone found a 110 Moz accounting error in “one of the LBMA vaults”. (Tinfoil hat back on).

«In short, instead of silver holdings in LBMA vaults having risen by 3,863 tonnes (or 11%) in March, the new LBMA claim is that the silver inventories rose by 561 tonnes (or 1.6%). Which is 6.88 times less.

Instead of a 124.2 million oz increase, the increase was 18 million, a difference of a massive 106.1 million ozs. Instead of record silver holdings in London, there was no record. Therefore, the folks at the Guinness Book of Records are not needed. The record still belongs to March 2020, when 1.175 million ozs of silver was claimed by the LBMA to be stored in London.»

Ronan Manly

There are a lot more factors in play here, but I suggest you read the two articles I have linked on the subject. In short what happened was the following:

SLV misled investors to think they had added 118 Moz of silver, and they did not. (If they had gone out into the spot market to buy these 118 Moz, the silver price would have moved significantly, and sharply higher. In turn, this much higher price would have attracted even more buyers and speculators – driving the price even higher. Silver and many commodities act like a Giffen good: A good that people consume more of as the price rises). Furthermore, SLV changed their prospectus during this time, before they months later discovered the accounting error.

I can attest to, as a person who works in accounting, and has reporting every month, that in even smaller companies you will have some quality control over what you report. If there is a big change month over month in a reported number, it will always be investigated, verified and commented on. «I see we have a 10% increase in inventory this month. What is the reason for this?» Is something that will be asked in situations like this. Especially if holding bullion is your main business. The responsible for purchasing and logistics then have to confirm it. People make the entries, and we always have to double check for human error.

The only thing I am unsure of in this case is what price we could have seen in February. Could it have hit $50? One can never know how things would have played out without interference. I am sure that when price was not allowed to spike up, and find willing sellers, we have just kicked the can down the road. The market has not been given price signals to increase production, and companies like First Majestic are holding back part of their production. People around the world are seeing rising prices. Those who have read up on history are buying real assets, cryptocurrencies, commodities and precious metals. I am sure we will see situations later where we will have a similar run on silver, and there will not be enough to go around. The playing card with “accounting error” will not be possible to use again. Silver investors have also learned not to use vehicles like SLV, and will only buy physical or use PSLV that actually stack silver for their customers.

The Big Commodity Short

large bison

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. 

Backdrop

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. For incentivising new supply the price of uranium has to go up. If not quoting Rick Rule: the lights go out. 

We have the same scenario with battery metals like lithium nickel 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.

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 like a ton of bricks. This will 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.

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.

Second-order thinking

rocket launch liftoff long exposure

Today I will have a very short post about second-order thinking. A term made famous by Howard Marks from Oaktree Capital. I have applied some of his principles to my investment philosophy.

To explain second-order thinking, it is always good to use an example: Imagine that you have a company that is doing well in terms of profitability and the share price returns. One who uses first-order thinking reasons that this is positive and wants to buy shares in the company. Second-order thinking, on the other hand, can come to a different conclusion. The company is competently run and does well, but all investors already think so. The company might be overvalued and the stock overpriced. The second order conclusion may therefore be that it is best to sell.

When I started investing in stocks, it was mostly first-order thinking. I never thought I would buy shares in industries where most producers were losing money. First-order thinking says a company that is losing money will probably give a negative return, and maybe risk bankruptcy. This is quite simple and straightforward. If a company spends more money on producing something than they get paid, they lose money.

For investing in most industries, this is a good practice. I used this first-order thinking in 2011 and 2012 for my investments in banks. Banks were demanded to build a capital buffer to improve their solvency to be better prepared for a downturn in the future. The newspapers were at the time saying that the banks’ interest margins were unreasonably high, and the banks took too much from customers. I thought that instead of fighting against the banks, it would be easier to become a part-owner of them. I started buying shares in the banks that had better than normal profitability. The next few years this was a great investment. Several banks saw returns of over 100%. I would consider this first-order thinking, but no one said it has to be unprofitable to do the obvious.

Second order thinking

What I try to do more of today is second-order thinking. The person most responsible for this is Rick Rule, legendary investor and CEO of Sprott U.S. Holdings. (Now retired, I am looking forward to him saying what he really thinks about companies. He has said he can talk more freely about them in retirement). He has an expression that says: “The cure for high prices is high prices”, and “the cure for low prices is low prices”. This term applies especially to the commodities sector.

If we are in an industry that experiences high prices, it will attract more players. Think of the shale oil industry in the United States when oil prices were above $100 a barrel. With several offering the same product, the supply eventually became so high that there was a surplus of the product. This in turn led to falling prices. See below for the number of operating rigs in the USA and correspondingly for the fuel oil price:

Number of operating rigs in the US Baker Hughes

In 2014 oil production became so high, together with expectations of rising production, that the oil price dropped 50 %. It did not bottom out before the fall 2016. Leading to a long bear market in the oil market.

Brent Crude Oil Prices Makrotrends

Similarly with low prices for a product, you will eventually lose so much supply from the market that the price of the product has to increase to attract production. If not, no one will produce the product again. There are several industries that are completely dependent on raw materials to be able to produce their end products. Electricity, cars, or pharmaceuticals, all of them are dependent on commodities.

“The cure for low prices is truly low prices.” Prices can however stay low for several years. Excess supply has to be worked off. In addition, in most cases there needs to be a triggering factor that causes prices to start moving upwards. Often there is a perceived, abrupt shortage of the product. For example, suppliers may have production stoppages due to natural disasters, wars or a pandemic. If the buyers expect that they still can get the item product, they will not bid up the price. What makes raw materials special is that when the price goes up, the demand often goes up as well. This is contrary to what economists think is rational for market participants. The damage of running out of critical raw materials in production is far higher than paying higher prices for them. (Very often the price of the raw material is immaterial for the end product. Silver is in a lot of products. Very often it is in quantities that amount to a couple of dollars. If the price goes from $25 to $50 it does not affect the end product that much). 

In 2020 we had a great example of fear of running out of a product. You want to find similar opportunities in the commodity market.