Historically, a significant proportion of Rössing Uranium’s production is marketed through long-term contracts with a diverse selection of customers worldwide.
At the end of 2018, uranium prices stood at US$28.82 per pound, up 21 per cent from the end of 2017. The long-term indicator price rose to US$32 per pound, an increase of 3 per cent. Uranium prices witnessed the best performance among commodities last year, driven by a downward shift in expected supply growth in the medium term and a renewal of investor interest in the market.
The price rise last year was underpinned by a decision of Cameco – one of the world's largest publicly traded uranium companies based in Canada – to suspend production at its McArthur River mine for an indeterminate period of time. This mine accounted for 10 per cent of global supply in 2017. Additionally, the world’s largest uranium producer, Kazatomprom, announced further reductions to its production growth plans. These two actions sparked renewed investor interest in uranium for its long-term fundamentals.
Operator Immanuel Witbooi, checking a drum filled with uranium oxide at the new automated drumming facility at the mine’s Final Product Recovery operation.
Spot trading spiked to an annual record high of 88 million pounds and a new physically-backed uranium fund called Yellow Cake was launched. The investors in this fund purchased about 8 million pounds of U3O8 last year. Hedge funds, meanwhile, increased efforts to identify attractive long-term exposure to the market.
On the back of uranium’s price recovery and a more favourable investment environment relative to the previous year, Kazatomprom listed 15 per cent of its company on the London and Astana stock exchanges.
Total global supply reductions in 2018 amounted to 16.5 million pounds and represented a 10 per cent decline from 2017. Meanwhile, demand is estimated to have increased by 1 per cent. While demand is expected to grow in the long term, the rate of growth remains uncertain due to its significant reliance on China’s nuclear build plans. No new nuclear reactor units have been ordered in the last two years, although the startup of the Sanmen AP-1000 power station in September 2018 was viewed by many in the industry as a positive development.
In February 2019, China’s government gave preliminary approval for the construction of four new domestically designed reactors, ending a two-year long hiatus from approvals of new reactors. However, China currently has excess electricity generation capacity in certain coastal regions, which may ultimately contribute to a slower pace of nuclear development than previously expected.
A reversal in sentiment among countries toward their domestic nuclear businesses occurred last year as well, further adding to positive sentiments towards uranium demand growth in the future. In Korea, growing resistance to the idea of reducing nuclear energy’s share of generation electricity has been building. Japan re-started four units in 2018, bringing its total operating reactors to nine. A referendum vote in November 2018 overturned the current Taiwanese government’s plan to phase out all nuclear power by 2025. In France, President Emmanuel Macron scaled back rhetoric on his initial pledge to reduce France’s nuclear capacity from 75 per cent to 50 per cent of total generation by 2025. Instead, he proposed closing down 14 reactors by 2035, a decade after his predecessor’s initial target.
Shortly after the Trump administration in the United States of America announced import tariffs on aluminium and steel, two US uranium mining companies petitioned for a section 232 investigation on uranium imports. The petition included a proposal that US utilities be required to purchase 25 per cent of their uranium needs (approximately 12 million pounds per year) from domestic miners. The Department of Commerce, responsible for section 232 investigations, agreed to launch an investigation. A report with recommendations is expected by March or April of 2019. If a quota is applied to US utilities as proposed or tariffs are put in place, US-delivered prices are expected to increase. Since the launch of the investigation in 2018, contracting activity has slowed among US utilities, who have taken a ‘wait and see’ position in the market.
Global inventories remain at record high levels, around 950 million pounds or approximately five years of forward utility requirements. Around half of global inventories are in excess of preferred levels. Excess inventories are not expected to be drawn down over the next five years, which is expected to curb price increases.
A long-term price recovery is expected, but may take another five years. Most price forecasts continue to project a modest increase in price over the next three years from around $28 to $29 per pound, up to around $32 per pound in 2021. Moderate demand growth and subdued supply will drive this gradual price appreciation. Inventories are not expected to decline, but they are not expected to increase as strongly as over the past decade.
The Final Product Recovery section at Rössing Uranium is responsible for the extraction of uranium from ore mined and processed through a number of stages to produce uranium oxide (U3O8). Securely drummed and packed, the uranium is shipped to our customers for further conversion. We produced 2,479 tonnes of uranium oxide in 2018.