Profit from Green Shoots in Nuclear
12/24/2012 10:00 am EST
The Japanese China Syndrome was a matter of extremely bad luck and old nukes showing their age under extreme conditions. The new nuke age is upon us, and it's much safer and more reliable-and will continue to grow, writes Benjamin Shepherd of Global Investment Strategist.
For nearly two years, the nuclear industry has had a mushroom cloud hanging over its head. As Germany and a number of other European governments began discussions about abandoning nuclear power in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, investors have been leery of anything even remotely related to nuclear power.
A nuclear renaissance is unfolding in the emerging world as China, Russia, and other nations continue building reactors at a rapid clip, because of their low emissions and reliable, long-term operation. Uranium miners represent the purest exposure to this growing demand in nuclear energy.
Miners have been under severe pressure recently, as cheap natural gas in the US has made gas-fueled electricity generation more attractive. Global uranium demand also has dipped slightly due to the shutdown of eight German reactors. That's led several major research firms to downgrade uranium miners, including Cameco (CCJ). However, downgrades of Cameco are shortsighted.
Driving the negative sentiment are low uranium prices, which are off by more than 60% since their highs of four years ago. This weak price environment has pushed several smaller miners out of the market, because their production wasn't economical at current price levels.
Cameco is the largest and lowest-cost uranium producer in the world, on track to produce 36 million pounds by 2018. It will be helped towards that production goal when operations commence at its Cigar Lake joint venture in Saskatchewan, Canada, one of the richest sources of uranium in North America.
While Cameco has been shouldered with a low selling price for its ore over the past two years, it should see higher prices in the future, as long-term supply contracts expire and the company renegotiates them at more favorable terms.
I expect uranium prices to rise over the near term, because production is currently running at a 40 million pound deficit to demand. That deficit has been made up by dipping into existing stocks and using uranium from dismantled nuclear warheads. But uranium demand should begin taking off over the next two years as new reactors come online.
In particular, Cameco will benefit from surging Chinese demand for uranium. The company is the primary supplier of the country's ore, under a contract that runs through 2025.
Although uranium demand has been relatively weak over the past year, Cameco has managed to grow its revenue by nearly 12% while maintaining a net margin of 21%, thanks to its low-cost operations. The company also carries very little debt and has grown its dividend by more than 15% over the past five years.
Cameco's shares will likely remain volatile over the short term because of analyst pessimism, but it faces extremely attractive long-term prospects. Take advantage of the stock's current weakness and buy Cameco.