Trouble Ahead for Junior Uranium?

The Daily Reckoning PRESENTS: Uranium’s spot price has risen from US$7.10 per pound (at its absolute bottom) to a current $40.25, and Doug Casey has some thoughts on investing in the metal. Follow along as he explores the prospects of junior uranium companies…

TROUBLE AHEAD FOR JUNIOR URANIUM?

As my readers know, I’ve been bullish on uranium for almost eight years now. And despite the fact that uranium has more than tripled, I continue to like it today almost as much as when I was a lone voice in the woods.

Although the uranium spot price has risen from US$7.10 per pound (at its absolute bottom) to a current $40.25 – a 467% gain – I believe it has much further to run. According to Cameco, the world’s largest uranium producer, global uranium demand is now 175 million pounds a year. Mine supply is only 110 million pounds yearly. This is a gaping shortfall, and insofar that it can take up to a decade for a discovery to turn into production and there are dozens of new nuclear power plants on the drawing boards all over the world, the shortfall will keep prices rising for years to come.

The prospects for the metal itself are outstanding, but the best way to play uranium is through the shares of junior exploration companies because they offer leverage and therefore prospects for greater gains. The good ones, anyway.

On that note, I have to say that – despite my bullishness – I’m concerned about the ever-growing number of junior uranium companies. Over the past two years, the number of companies looking for uranium has jumped over 700%. At last count, there are now about 145 such explorers. It’s hard to arrive at an exact number since many companies only have uranium in their names. And others are actively exploring while still remaining primarily in other areas.

This is a testament to how hot uranium is as a commodity. But it is also worrisome: with so many companies competing for the same number of investment dollars, can we as speculators still expect the same sort of gains that we’ve enjoyed over the past few years?

Although I usually pay little mind to the short-term fluctuations of the markets, it seems worth investigating whether the junior uranium sector is sagging under the weight of so many new players. To get an idea, our resident snap technical analyst Merv Burak put together an index of 51 junior companies…all those that have been around for a year or more and that are primarily focused on uranium.

The results are somewhat surprising. While the sector did cool somewhat during the last few months of 2005 – following a protracted run that began in July – the beginning of 2006 brought new life to the uraniums. Our index soared nearly 25% in the first two weeks of the year alone. That said, all resource markets were hot during that time. This in itself is not convincing evidence that the sector is still buoyant.

Will the sector as a whole enjoy another up-leg of the kind we saw in mid-2005? More important, what’s likely to happen over the next couple of years? While it’s axiomatic that the higher stocks go, the less upside and the more risk they have, I remain extremely bullish. I suspect uranium is headed to over $100 in the next few years and, even at that level, it will only equal – in constant dollars – its peak in 1980.

And the fundamentals now are much stronger than they were then. I’m concerned about the flood of new uranium companies out there, but we’re looking at something comparable to what happened during the Internet boom; when the public becomes involved, the top is going to blow off this market. But as yet, the public barely even knows how to spell uranium; and they don’t have a clue they can buy shares of companies that explore for it. My guess is that we’re not even midway through this bull market, and when we enter the final stage, the chart above will no longer just be a gradual upward curve but a hyperbolic curve. Someplace between now and then I’ll be a seller – but at the moment I remain a buyer.

The question is: Which stocks to buy? I’m looking to concentrate the junior uranium portfolio for our Casey Energy Speculator on a modest handful of quality companies, the kind that have a real chance of making a discovery and creating value and aren’t just relying on hype to move higher.

In order for a company to make that list, they’ll have to (a) have a management team with serious uranium experience; (b) own a serious property in just the right location; and (c) actually do some drilling to prove they have pounds in the ground (surprisingly, of the dozens of newly minted uranium companies now trading, less than 20 are actually undertaking any serious exploration work).

If you like uranium like I like uranium and are looking to leverage your returns through investments in a junior uranium play, do yourself a favor and start getting a lot more selective in what you own. If you fail to do so, not only do you risk missing the next big leg-up, you risk throwing your portfolio into reverse.

Regards,

Doug Casey
for The Daily Reckoning
March 29, 2006

P.S. You don’t have to go it on your own! I publish my favorite uranium and other junior energy stocks every month in the Casey Energy Speculator, a monthly newsletter helping subscribers looking to make 100%, 500%, even 1000% profits from early stage energy companies.

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Editor’s Note: Doug Casey and his subscribers have made millions investing in under valued natural resource stocks. Doug is the author of Crisis Investing, which was #1 on the New York Times Best-Seller list for 26 weeks. His company, Casey Research, publishes the International Speculator – now in it’s 26th year – one of the nation’s most established and highly respected publications on gold, silver and other natural resource investments and the Casey Energy Speculator a monthly newsletter dedicated to energy opportunities with the very real potential of at least 100% growth within a year.

Poor George Gilder. The man is hallucinating again.

You recall back in the late ’90s, Gilder was the “John the Baptist” of the Tech Bubble. One-third visionary; one-third lunatic; one-third incomprehensible. Gilder turned his face up to the stars of the Internet firmament and went a little mad. This brave new world of the Information Age was based on a new sphere of cornucopian radiance – reality un-massed and unmasked, leaving only the Promethean light, he wrote in his book, Telecosm. What that meant, we never knew. We still liked the man; he could say things like that with a straight face.

A lot of people come to the wrong conclusions about things, but Gilder does so admirably, almost heroically. While Thomas L. Friedman is dim, Gilder is bright. And, while Friedman is such a lightweight he practically evaporates from the page, Gilder is heavy, sinking into his own dizzy thoughts like a coin into a vat of corn syrup. Friedman fetches up his ideas by not really thinking about them; George Gilder thinks about them too much. When he focuses his intellectual energy on the subject of the imperial finances, for example, sparks fly. Soon, he is able to take what any sensible man can see is a disaster and weld it into a delightful new shape, a chimera, but pleasing to the eye. In his recent speech – we mentioned it here yesterday – Gilder makes two points about American finances:

1) The trade deficit is good, not bad
2) America’s debts are not so bad when you compare them to her assets.

On both points, Gilder is hallucinating.

As to the first, if we sell an apple overseas, he says, it is gone. But, if we borrow money from overseas or if a foreigner buys one of our companies, we still have the money. Hmmm. We don’t think we will bother arguing with that. Let it just stand there in the middle of the street, like a naked plumber claiming to be the king of Abyssinia.

The second point is absurd as well. Yes, our debt has gone up, says Gilder, but so has our amount of assets – much faster, in fact. Now, Americans own things worth $71 trillion, he points out. What’s a $500 billion federal deficit compared to that!

Imagine a man locked in a closet, dear reader. His guardians give him all he can eat, but his access to air is tightly controlled. Gradually, the air holes clog up. He gasps for breath, but the man is still in good spirits. Look how much fatter I am, he says to himself!

Now imagine a typical householder. We saw him just the other day, courtesy of a Fed study. He has a house, but he has almost no money. He has no pension, no stocks, no bonds, and no savings. Nada. Zilch. His real hourly earnings are either flat for the last several years, or actually going down, depending on whose numbers you believe. He can barely pay his mortgage. He cannot seem to pay off his credit cards. When the week’s bills are paid, he has less money left over to spend as he pleases – according to Elizabeth Warren’s calculations – than he did during the Carter administration.

Now imagine that his house suddenly doubles in value. Is he really better off? What can he do but borrow against the inflated value of the house. When he borrows, the air holes grow smaller. He’ll have an even harder time paying his bills. He can barely breathe as it is. Being a fatter cat makes him feel good about himself, but it doesn’t really help.

Meanwhile, a friend (we can’t remember which) sends this – another way of bringing Gilder back into orbit:

“America is living off its historic mojo and going deeper into debt to do it – a high flyer who refuses to pare back their lifestyle in line with their newly reduced income. The game goes on because our mercantilist credit suppliers have gone into the box canyon with us – they have no political will or short-term capability to cut off the taps without major dislocation in their own economies.

“And on top of that, as Caroline Baum has observed, large foreign purchases of U.S. treasuries are credit stimulative if not economically stimulative, with the perverse result that the more dollars we send that China and the Middle East can’t spend, the more they got recycled back into treasuries to push down long term rates. The credit line gets bigger the more we fall behind: A bizarro cycle that has only encouraged the housing bubble/shopping spree.

“As for America being the economic leader for whoever’s lifetime, methinks it requires a touch of hubris to say that about any country, given how fast the pace of change has accelerated and will continue to accelerate. We may indeed still cultivate the best, the brightest and the smartest, but they are only a modest chunk of the population. For America to wind up in a world of hurt, things don’t have to change radically. All we have to see is a proliferation of the trends in existence right now.

“If, say, 20% of the U.S. population is seeing its opportunities and income double or triple thanks to opportunities in this brave new world, their spending habits will put the further squeeze on the other 80%. Remember the Silicon Valley effect? Policemen and teachers living in trailers because San Jose was so damn expensive they couldn’t afford a place to live? We’re seeing that strata wash over the entire country in slow motion. It may be true that the nation’s piss-poor savings rates are due to a disproportionate amount of spending from the haves versus the have-nots. But if so, you still have the major issue of at least 50% of the population – if not a good chunk more – treading water in a rising-cost environment as the IP-enabled folks charge ahead.

“The West’s traditional societal models are going away, in large part because they were based on an anomaly in the first place. Now that the non-Western world is catching up and getting in the game, they are bidding up the cost of energy, bidding up the cost of materials, and bidding down the cost of manual labor and brain-power, which for a long time were artificially high. It’s a new equation, and one that we should welcome, if we are honest, because high-minded notions of America should not be sustained on the back of four-fifths of the world being poor.”

More news from Aussie Joel and The Rude Awakening…

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Chris Mayer reporting from New York City:

“One fine morning in Paris, Jim Rogers met a French business writer for breakfast at a local hotel. They talked about sugar…”

Learn more about the future of sugar in today’s issue of The Rude Awakening.

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Back for more views from Bill Bonner…

*** Today’s paper brings new tales of folly. “Demonstrations choke French cities,” says the Paris-based International Herald Tribune. What to make of it? Elizabeth has been following the story:

“It’s a fascinating story,” she begins. “But it’s hard to see anything good coming of it. France has very high unemployment among young people – about 20%. For the people in the suburbs – you know, the immigrants from North Africa – the unemployment rate is 40%. So, the government decided to do something to make it easier for employers to hire these people. Rather than have them for life, the way you have to with regular employees in France, you would be able to fire them any time in the first two years…without paying a big penalty.

“But the students and the labor unions see the move as the tip of an iceberg. They have it pretty well. They don’t have to work very hard – remember the workweek is only 35 hours and they have about six weeks of paid vacation. It’s unbelievable; they must know they are getting more than they deserve and that it comes at the expense of a lot of other people who don’t get jobs at all. So, they’re determined to flex their muscles and stop anything that might lead to a general reform of the labor market.

“But there’s something else going on. The suburban riffraff – les casseurs – are taking advantage of the situation. These are the same people who were setting fire to cars in the autumn. They are mostly hoodlums, but they come into the city and get in with the protesters and the next thing you know, there is violence. This is despite the fact that they are the very people the reforms were designed to help.

“It would be nice if the government could stand firm – like Ronald Reagan against the air traffic controllers, or Maggie Thatcher against the coal miners, but the French have different ideas. They treasure “solidarity” with the workers. Most likely…the government will cave in completely. In fact, I think it already has.”

*** Also on the front page of the IHT is news that “Bush ‘doesn’t accept’ Jaafari.” For those not following the news, Jaafari is the fruit of America’s fatuous effort to bring democracy to Mesopotamia. You remember, dear reader, in the absence of weapons of mass destruction or any other plausible reason for going to war in Iraq, the world improvers in Washington declared it part of a campaign to “build” a republic, based on the American model, on the banks of the Tigris.

Well, the Iraqis dutifully went through the motions of imitating their conquerors; they fell in line to pick elected leaders. Now, their imperial master tells them that it doesn’t like the leaders they’ve come up with.

Some commentators will shout “hypocrisy!” But…so what? What is the point of being an empire, if you can’t boss your vassal states around, and yank the strings on a puppet government from time to time – just to let them know who’s boss?

*** From Addison:

“We can’t predict the exact outcome for America’s currency or economy, but a recent article from Alan Caruba suggests that the United States is at crossroads, with regard to financial and energy policy, and that the choices made so far suggest we are on a dark path. We tend to agree…after all, Caruba does quote Empire of Debt as a source for his piece.

*** We didn’t finish telling you about our trip to Florence, did we?

Well, first, we have a recommendation. If you go to Florence, go as far out of season as possible, otherwise you will be swamped by waves of tour groups and find yourself waiting to get into museums and galleries. Even in March, it is hard to walk across the Ponte Vecchio without being jostled by groups of Japanese tourists following an umbrella, or a jean-clad student group from Indiana, which is in town “like looking at old, like, art!” Be sure to buy your tickets to the Uffizi, for example, before you leave home.

The airport in Florence is closed, so we flew to Pisa, spent the night and toured the city in the morning. We got on a train about noon for the one-hour trip to Florence.

Have you ever heard of the Stendhal Syndrome, dear reader? Marie-Henri Beyle, the French author known as Stendhal, visited Florence in 1817. In his book, Naples and Florence: A Journey from Milan to Reggio, he described how he was overcome – actually made dizzy and confused – by the majestic beauty of Florentine art. According to an Italian psychiatrist, it happens all the time. Sensitive tourists enter the Uffizi, stand in front of a painting by Brunelleschi or Botticelli, and keel over.

We did not keel over, partly because we never got into the Uffizi, and partly because our feet hurt. We walked all over the city…gawking…gazing…studying. We were bumping into people, and following the Blue Guide to restaurants and tourist attractions. We saw no one faint, but we did see art that took our breath away. It is amazing what artists can do when they are really concerned with painting or sculpting, rather than making a splash with some preposterous gimmick. We wonder how many people have fainted in front of an Andy Warhol opus? How many tourists have collapsed in the MOMA?

Part of the great attraction of Rome, Venice, or Florence is also the pleasure of just being there, having a room with a view overlooking the Duomo, the Grand Canal or the Forum – staring out at the red roofs or watching the sunrise over the Tiber. You feel a little grander about yourself, for you are heir to the Doges and the Grand Masters. And why not? We’ll say you’re heir to Augustus and Nero, too. Our room in Florence was advertised as having a view of the Duomo, which it did, but you had to stand on the bed to see it. Still, it was worth standing up; you don’t get to see the Duomo every day.

The only disappointment we suffered on our quick visit was at the Boboli Gardens.Constructed 400 years ago by one of the richest and most powerful families in the city, the gardens look like they could use some gardening. They were gloomy, cheerless, and often unkempt. Even gardening aficionados such as Elizabeth drew little inspiration from the long alleys of dark green hedges, or the worn-out parterres. There was not a flowering plant in sight, though it is early spring – even the stone statues seemed to weep.

Still, we left Italy with fond feelings for the place and resolved to come back when we had more time.