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Measuring the Level of Competition for Valuable Minerals

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Resource Monopolies: Measuring the Level of Competition for Valuable Minerals

Measuring Competition for Valuable Minerals

The Chart of the Week is a weekly Visual Capitalist feature on Fridays.

Everybody loves a little competition.

It levels the playing field and ensures prices and products are kept affordable and available. But how do you measure and track the competitiveness of specific sectors?

The Herfindahl-Hirschman Index (HHI) is a commonly accepted measurement of market concentration, and in today’s case, we use it to show which mineral sectors have healthy competition between countries, as well as the sectors that are more monopolistic.

What is the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index?

The HHI is calculated by squaring the market share of each competitor and then summing up the resulting numbers. It can range from zero to 10,000.

The closer a market is to a monopoly, the higher the market’s concentration, and the lower its competition. If there were only one company in an industry, that company would have a 100% share of the market, and the HHI would equal 10,000, demonstrating a monopoly.

Conversely, if there were thousands of firms competing, the HHI would be near zero, indicating almost perfect competition.

  • HHI below 1,500: a competitive marketplace
  • HHI between 1,500 – 2,500: a moderately concentrated marketplace
  • HHI of 2,500 or greater: a highly concentrated marketplace

Interestingly, the same technique is also used by the U.S. Department of Justice to look at market competition and potential anti-trust violators, as well.

Global Metal Production

Today’s chart uses data from the World Mining Congress to look at the competition for global minerals between countries. The HHI scores show the minerals most and least exposed to competition, while uncovering opportunities for countries looking to bolster their own mineral production.

Here are 33 minerals ranked, going from highest score (most monopolistic) to lowest (least monopolistic):

RankMineralHHI ScoreType of Mineral
#1Niobium (Nb2O5)8,413Iron and Ferro-Alloy Metals
#2REE (Rare Earth Elements)7,219Non-Ferrous Metals
#3Oil Sands6,871Mineral Fuels
#4Tungsten (W)6,828Iron and Ferro-Alloy Metals
#5Platinum (Pt)5,383Precious Metals
#6Graphite4,990Industrial Minerals
#7Asbestos3,738Industrial Minerals
#8Vanadium (V)3,573Iron and Ferro-Alloy Metals
#9Coking Coal3,423Mineral Fuels
#10Cobalt (Co)3,184Iron and Ferro-Alloy Metals
#11Palladium (Pd)3,163Precious Metals
#12Aluminum (Al)3,078Non-Ferrous Metals
#13Chromium (Cr2O3)2,942Iron and Ferro-Alloy Metals
#14Molybdenum (Mo)2,812Iron and Ferro-Alloy Metals
#15Boron (B)2,749Industrial Minerals
#16Lithium (Li2O)2,749Non-Ferrous Metals
#17Steam Coal2,639Mineral Fuels
#18Lead (Pb)2,505Non-Ferrous Metals
#19Uranium (U308)2,233Mineral Fuels
#20Tin (Sn)2,036Non-Ferrous Metals
#21Iron (Fe)2,015Iron and Ferro-Alloy Metals
#22Diamond1,904Gemstones
#23Zinc (Zn)1,687Non-Ferrous Metals
#24Manganese (Mn)1,627Iron and Ferro-Alloy Metals
#25Potash1,565Industrial Minerals
#26Copper (Cu)1,136Non-Ferrous Metals
#27Titanium (TIO2)1,120Iron and Ferro-Alloy Metals
#28Silver (Ag)1,015Precious Metals
#29Salt (NaCl)982Industrial Minerals
#30Nickel (Ni)949Iron and Ferro-Alloy Metals
#31Natural Gas884Mineral Fuels
#32Petroleum686Mineral Fuels
#33Gold (Au)557Precious Metals

The data here makes it clear that mineral production is not uniformly distributed throughout the world, giving some countries huge advantages while revealing potential supply problems down the road.

Renewables in the Spotlight

While commodities like gold and oil have robust levels of competition around the world, the renewable energy industry relies on more obscure raw materials to make solar, wind, and EVs work.

Rare earth elements (REE) rank #2 on the list with a HHI score of 7,219, while battery minerals such as graphite (#6), vanadium (#8), cobalt (#10), and lithium (#16) also appear high on the list as well.

According to a recent study, the production of rare earth elements is an area of particular concern. Used in everything from electric motors to wind turbines, rare earth demand will need to increase by twelve times by 2050 to reach emissions targets set by the Paris Agreement.

The only problem is that China currently controls 84% of global production, which increases the odds of bottlenecks and scarcity as demand rises. This ultimately creates an interesting scenario, where a sustainable future will be at the mercy of a few a producing nations.

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Energy

Mapped: The World’s Largest State-Owned Oil Companies

State-owned oil companies control roughly three-quarters of global oil supply. See how these companies compare in this infographic.

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Mapped: The World’s Largest State-Owned Oil Companies

View the high-resolution of the infographic by clicking here.

Oil is one of the world’s most important natural resources, playing a critical role in everything from transportation fuels to cosmetics.

For this reason, many governments choose to nationalize their supply of oil. This gives them a greater degree of control over their oil reserves as well as access to additional revenue streams. In practice, nationalization often involves the creation of a national oil company to oversee the country’s energy operations.

What are the world’s largest and most influential state-owned oil companies?

Editor’s Note: This post and infographic are intended to provide a broad summary of the state-owned oil industry. Due to variations in reporting and available information, the companies named do not represent a comprehensive index.

State-Owned Oil Companies by Revenue

National oil companies are a major force in the global energy sector, controlling approximately three-quarters of the Earth’s oil reserves.

As a result, many have found their place on the Fortune Global 500 list, a ranking of the world’s 500 largest companies by revenue.

CountryNameFortune Global 500 Rank2019 Revenues 
🇨🇳 ChinaSinopec Group2$443B
🇨🇳 ChinaChina National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) 4$379B
🇸🇦 Saudi ArabiaSaudi Aramco6$330B
🇷🇺 RussiaRosneft76$96B
🇧🇷 BrazilPetrobras120$77B
🇮🇳 IndiaIndian Oil Corporation (IOCL) 151$69B
🇲🇾 MalaysiaPetronas186$58B
🇮🇷 IranNational Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) Not listed$19B* 
🇻🇪 Venezuela Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA)Not listed$23B (2018)

*Value of Iranian petroleum exports in 2019. Source: Fortune, Statista, OPEC

China is home to the two largest companies from this list, Sinopec Group and China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC). Both are involved in upstream and downstream oil operations, where upstream refers to exploration and extraction, and downstream refers to refining and distribution.

It’s worth noting that many of these companies are listed on public stock markets—Sinopec, for example, trades on exchanges located in Shanghai, Hong Kong, New York, and London. Going public can be an effective strategy for these companies as it allows them to raise capital for new projects, while also ensuring their governments maintain control. In the case of Sinopec, 68% of shares are held by the Chinese government.

Saudi Aramco was the latest national oil company to follow this strategy, putting up 1.5% of its business in a 2019 initial public offering (IPO). At roughly $8.53 per share, Aramco’s IPO raised $25.6 billion, making it one of the world’s largest IPOs in history.

Geopolitical Tensions

Because state-owned oil companies are directly tied to their governments, they can sometimes get caught in the crosshairs of geopolitical conflicts.

The disputed presidency of Nicolás Maduro, for example, has resulted in the U.S. imposing sanctions against Venezuela’s government, central bank, and national oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA). The pressure of these sanctions is proving to be particularly damaging, with PDVSA’s daily production in decline since 2016.

State-Owned Oil Companies - Venezuela example

In a country for which oil comprises 95% of exports, Venezuela’s economic outlook is becoming increasingly dire. The final straw was drawn in August 2020 when the country’s last remaining oil rig suspended its operations.

Other national oil companies at the receiving end of American sanctions include Russia’s Rosneft and Iran’s National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC). Rosneft was sanctioned by the U.S. in 2020 for facilitating Venezuelan oil exports, while NIOC was targeted for providing financial support to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, an entity designated as a foreign terrorist organization.

Climate Pressures

Like the rest of the fossil fuel industry, state-owned oil companies are highly exposed to the effects of climate change. This suggests that as time passes, many governments will need to find a balance between economic growth and environmental protection.

Brazil has already found itself in this dilemma as the country’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, has drawn criticism for his dismissive stance on climate change. In June 2020, a group of European investment firms representing $2 trillion in assets threatened to divest from Brazil if it did not do more to protect the Amazon rainforest.

These types of ultimatums may be an effective solution for driving climate action forward. In December 2020, Brazil’s national oil company, Petrobras, pledged a 25% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030. When asked about commitments further into the future, however, the company’s CEO appeared to be less enthusiastic.

That’s like a fad, to make promises for 2050. It’s like a magical year. On this side of the Atlantic we have a different view of climate change.

— Roberto Castello Branco, CEO, Petrobras

With its 2030 pledge, Petrobras joins a growing collection of state-owned oil companies that have made public climate commitments. Another example is Malaysia’s Petronas, which in November 2020, announced its intention to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Petronas is wholly owned by the Malaysian government and is the country’s only entry on the Fortune Global 500.

Challenges Lie Ahead

Between geopolitical conflicts, environmental concerns, and price fluctuations, state-owned oil companies are likely to face a much tougher environment in the decades to come.

For Petronas, achieving its 2050 climate commitments will require significant investment in cleaner forms of energy. The company has been involved in numerous solar energy projects across Asia and has stated its interests in hydrogen fuels.

Elsewhere, China’s national oil companies are dealing with a more near-term threat. In compliance with an executive order issued by the Trump Administration in November 2020, the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) announced it would delist three of China’s state-run telecom companies. Analysts believe oil companies such as Sinopec could be delisted next, due to their ties with the Chinese military.

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Energy

The Periodic Table of Commodity Returns (2021 Edition)

Which commodity had the best returns in 2020? From gold to oil, we show how commodity price performance stacks up over the last decade.

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The Periodic Table of Commodity Returns (2011-2020)

Being a commodity investor can feel like riding a roller coaster.

Take silver. Typically known for sharp, idiosyncratic price movements, it faced double-digit declines in the first half of the decade, falling over 35% in just 2013 alone. By contrast, it jumped over 47% in 2020. Similarly, oil, corn, and others witnessed either steep declines or rapid gains.

The above graphic from U.S. Global Investors traces 10 years of commodity price performance, highlighting 14 different commodities and their annual ranking over the years.

Commodity Price Performance, From Best to Worst

Which commodities were the top performers in 2020?

The aforementioned silver tripled its returns year-over-year, climbing 47.9% in 2020. In July, the metal actually experienced its strongest month since 1979.

RankCommodity
Return (2020)
Return (2019)
Return (2018)
1Silver47.9%15.2%-8.5%
2Copper26.0%3.4%-17.5%
3Palladium25.9%54.2%18.6%
4Gold25.1%18.3%-1.6%
5Corn24.8%3.4%6.9%
6Zinc19.7%-9.5%-24.5%
7Nickel18.7%31.6%-16.5%
8Gas16.0%-25.5%-0.4%
9Wheat14.6%11.0%17.9%
10Platinum10.9%21.5%-14.5%
11Aluminum10.8%-4.4%-17.4%
12Lead3.3%-4.7%-19.2%
13Coal-1.3%-18.0%-22.2%
14Oil-20.5%34.5%-24.8%

Along with silver, at least seven other commodities had stronger returns than the S&P 500 in 2020, which closed off the year with 16.3% gains. This included copper (26.0%), palladium (25.9%), gold (25.1%) and corn (24.8%).

Interestingly, copper prices moved in an unconventional pattern compared to gold in 2020. Often, investors rush to gold in uncertain economic climates, while sectors such as construction and manufacturing—which both rely heavily on copper—tend to decline. Instead, both copper and gold saw their prices rise in conjunction.

Nowadays, copper is also a vital material in electric vehicles (EVs), with recent demand for EVs also influencing the price of copper.

Silver Linings

As investors flocked to safety, silver’s price reached heights not seen since 2010.

The massive scale of monetary and fiscal stimulus led to inflationary fears, also boosting the price of silver. How does this compare to its returns over the last decade?

silver returns 2011-2020

In 2013, silver crashed over 35% as confidence grew in global markets. By contrast, in 2016, the Brexit referendum stirred uncertainty in global markets. Investors allocated money in silver, and prices shifted upwards.

As Gold as the Hills

Like silver, market uncertainty has historically boosted the price of gold.

What else contributed to gold’s rise?

  • U.S. debt continues to climb, pushing down confidence in the U.S. dollar
  • A weaker U.S. dollar makes gold cheaper for other countries to buy
  • Low interest rates kept the returns of other safe haven assets low, making gold more attractive by comparison

Here’s how the price of gold has changed in recent years.

gold returns 2011-2020

Gold faced its steepest recent declines in 2013, when the Federal Reserve bank discussed tapering down its quantitative easing program in light of economic recovery.

Hitting the Brakes On Oil

Oil suffered the worst commodity price performance in 2020, with -20.5% returns.

For the first time in history, oil prices went negative as demand plummeted. To limit its oversupply, oil producers shrunk investment, closed wells, and turned off valves. Unfortunately, many companies still faced bankruptcies. By November, 45 oil producers had proceeded with bankruptcy filings year-to-date.

This stood in stark contrast to 2019, when prices soared 34.5%.

oil returns 2011-2020

As is custom for oil, prices see-sawed over the decade. In 2016 and 2019, it witnessed gains of over 30%. However, like 2020, in 2014 it saw huge losses due to an oversupply of global petroleum.

In 2020, total production cuts hit 7.2 million barrels a day in December, equal to 7% of global demand, in response to COVID-19.

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