The world is rapidly shifting to renewable energy technologies.
Battery minerals are set to become the new oil, with lithium-ion battery supply chains becoming the new pipelines.
China is currently leading this lithium-ion battery revolution—leaving the U.S. dependent on its economic rival. However, the harsh lessons of the 1970-80s oil crises have increased pressure on the U.S. to develop its own domestic energy supply chain and gain access to key battery metals.
Introducing the New Energy Era
Today’s infographic from Standard Lithium explores the current energy landscape and America’s position in the new energy era.
An Energy Dependence Problem
Energy dependence is the degree of a nation’s reliance on imported energy, resulting from an insufficient domestic supply. Oil crises in the 1970-80s revealed America’s reliance on foreign produced oil, especially from the Middle East.
The U.S. economy ground to a halt when gas prices soared during the 1973 oil crisis—altering consumer behavior and energy policy for generations. In the aftermath of the crisis, the government imposed national speed limits to conserve oil, and also demanded cheaper, smaller, and more fuel-efficient cars.
U.S. administrations set an objective to wean America off foreign oil through “energy independence”—the ability to meet the country’s fuel needs using domestic resources.
Spurred by technological breakthroughs such as hydraulic fracking, the U.S. now has the capacity to respond to high oil prices by ramping up domestic production.
By the end of 2019, total U.S. oil production could rise to 17.4 million barrels a day. At that level, American net imports of petroleum could fall in December 2019 to 320,000 barrels a day, the lowest since 1949.
In fact, the successful development of America’s shale fields is a key reason why the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) has lost the majority of its influence over the supply and price of oil.
A Renewable Future: Turning the Ship
The increasing scarcity of economic oil and gas fields, combined with the negative environmental impacts of oil and the declining costs of renewable power, are creating a new energy supply and demand dynamic.
Oil demand could drop by 16.5 million barrels per day. Oil producers could face significant losses, with $380 billion of above-ground investments becoming worthless if the oil industry and oil-rich nations are not prepared for a surge in green energy by 2030.
Energy companies are hedging their risk with increased investment in renewables. The world’s top 24 publicly-listed oil companies spent on average 1.3% of their total budgets on low carbon technology in 2018, amounting to $260 billion. That is double the 0.68% the same group had invested on average through the period of 2010 and 2017.
The New Geopolitics of Energy: Battery Minerals
Low carbon technologies for the new energy era are also creating a demand for specific materials and new supply chains that can procure them.
Renewable and low carbon technology will be mineral intensive, requiring many metals such as lithium, cobalt, graphite and nickel. These are key raw materials, and demand will only grow.
|Material||2018||2028||2018-2028 % Growth|
|Graphite anode in Batteries||170,000 tonnes||2.05M tonnes||1,106%|
|Lithium in batteries||150,000 tonnes||1.89M tonnes||1,160%|
|Nickel in batteries||82,000 tonnes||1.09M tonnes||1,229%|
|Cobalt in batteries||58,000 tonnes||320,000 tonnes||452%|
The cost of these materials is the largest factor in battery technology, and will determine whether battery supply chains succeed or fail.
China currently dominates the lithium-ion battery supply chain, and could continue to do so. This leaves the U.S. dependent on China as we venture into this new era.
Could history repeat itself?
The Battery Metals Race
There are five stages in a lithium-ion battery supply chain—and the U.S. holds a smaller percentage of the global supply chain than China at nearly every stage.
China’s dominance of the global battery supply chain creates a competitive advantage that the U.S. has no choice but to rely on.
However, this can still be prevented if the United States moves fast. From natural resources, human capital and the technology, the U.S. can build its own domestic supply.
Building the U.S. Battery Supply Chain
The U.S. relies heavily on imports of several keys materials necessary for a lithium-ion battery supply chain.
|U.S. Net Import Dependence|
But the U.S. is making strides to secure its place in the new energy era. The American Minerals Security Act seeks to identify the resources necessary to secure America’s mineral independence.
The government has also released a list of 35 minerals it deems critical to the national interest.
Declaring U.S. Battery Independence
A supply chain starts with raw materials, and the U.S. has the resources necessary to build its own battery supply chain. This would help the country avoid supply disruptions like those seen during the oil crises in the 1970s.
Battery metals are becoming the new oil and supply chains the new pipelines. It is still early in this new energy era, and the victors are yet to be determined in the battery arms race.
The Impact of COVID-19 Shutdowns on the Gold Supply Chain
Chains are only as strong as their weakest link. The COVID-19 shutdowns affected every link in the gold supply chain, from producers to end-users.
How COVID-19 Shutdowns Impact the Gold Supply Chain
Chains are only as strong as their weakest link—and recent COVID-19 shutdowns have affected every link in the gold supply chain, from producers to end-users.
Increased investor demand for gold coupled with a constrained supply has led to high prices and a bullish market, which has been operating despite these pressures on the supply chain.
Today’s infographic comes to us from Sprott Physical Bullion Trust and it outlines the gold supply chain and the impacts COVID shutdowns have had on the gold market.
The Ripple Effect: Stalling a Supply Chain
Disruptions to the gold supply chain have rippled all the way from the mine to the investor:
Some gold mines halted production due to the high-risk to COVID-19 exposure, reducing the supply of gold. In many nations, operations had to shut down as a result of COVID-19 based legal restrictions.
Strict travel regulations restricted the shipment of gold and increased the costs of delivery as less air routes were available and medical supplies were prioritized.
Refineries depend on gold production for input. A reduction in incoming gold and the suspension of labor work shortened the supply of refined gold.
- Metal Traders
Towards the other end of the gold supply chain, traders have faced both constrained supply and increased cost of delivery. These increased costs have translated over to end-users.
- The End Users
Higher demand, lower supply, and increased costs have resulted in higher prices for buyers of gold.
Gold: A Safe Haven for Investors
As the virus spread around the world threatening populations and economies, investors turned to safe-haven investments such as gold to hedge against an economic lockdown.
This increase in investor demand affected the four primary financial markets for gold:
- Futures Contracts:
A futures contract is an agreement for the delivery of gold at a fixed price in the future. These contracts are standardized by futures exchanges such as COMEX. During the initial periods of the pandemic, the price of gold futures spiked to reach a high of US$70 above the spot price.
- Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs):
An ETF is an investment fund traded on stock exchanges. ETFs hold assets such as stocks, bonds, and commodities such as gold. From the beginning of 2020 to June, the amount of gold held by ETFs massively increased, from 83 million oz to 103 million oz. The SPDR Gold Trust is a great example of how the surge in ETF demand for gold has played out—the organization was forced to lease gold from the Bank of England when it couldn’t buy enough from suppliers.
- Physical Gold for Commerce and Finance:
The London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) is a market where gold is physically traded over-the-counter. The LBMA recorded 6,573 transfers of gold amounting to 29.2 million oz ($46.4 billion)—all in March 2020. This was the largest amount of monthly transfers since 1996.
- Coins and Small Bars:
One ounce American Gold Eagle coins serve as a good proxy for the demand for physical gold from retail investors. The COINGEAG Index, which tracks the premium price of 1 oz. Gold Eagles, spiked during the early stages of the lockdown.
Each one of these markets requires access to physical gold. COVID-19 restrictions have disrupted shipping and delivery options, making it harder to access gold. The market for gold has been functioning nonetheless.
So how does gold get to customers during a time of crisis?
Gold’s Journey: From the Ground to the Vault
Gold ore goes through several stages before being ready for the market.
Gold must be released from other minerals to produce a doré bar—a semi-pure alloy of gold that needs further purification to meet investment standards. Doré bars are typically produced at mine sites and transported to refiners.
Refineries are responsible for turning semi-pure gold alloys into refined, pure, gold. In addition to reprocessing doré bars from mines, refiners also recycle gold from scrap materials. Although gold mining is geographically diverse and occurs in all continents except Antarctica, there are only a handful of gold refineries around the world.
Once it’s refined, gold is transported to financial hubs around the world. There are three main ways gold travels the world, each with their own costs and benefits:
- Commercial Flights:
Cheapest of the three options, commercial flights are useful in transporting gold over established passenger routes. However, the volume of gold carried by a commercial flight is typically small and subject to spacing priorities.
- Cargo Planes:
At a relatively moderate cost, cargo planes carry medium to large amounts of gold along established trade routes. The space dedicated to cargo determines the cost, with higher volumes leading to higher shipping prices.
- Chartered Airlines:
Chartered airlines offer a wider range of travel routes with dedicated shipping space and services tailored to customer demand. However, they charge a high price for these conveniences.
- Commercial Flights:
After reaching its destination via air, armored trucks with security personnel move the gold to vaults and customers in financial hubs around the world.
The World’s Biggest Gold Hubs
The U.K.’s bullion banks hold the world’s biggest commercial stockpiles of gold, equal to 10 months of global gold mine output. London is the largest gold hub, with numerous vaults dedicated to gold and other precious metals.
Four of the largest gold refineries in the world are located in Switzerland, making it an important part of the gold supply chain. Hong Kong, Singapore, and Dubai are surprising additions and remain significant traders of gold despite having no mines within their borders.
COVID-19: The Perfect Storm for Gold?
As countries took stringent safety measures such as travel restrictions and border closures, the number of commercial flights dropped exponentially across the world. For the few commercial airlines that still operated, gold was a low-priority cargo as space was dedicated to medical supplies.
This impeded the flow of gold through the supply chain, increasing the cost of delivery and the price of gold. However, thanks to the diverse geography of gold mining, some countries did not halt production—this helped avoid a complete stall in the supply of gold.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created the perfect storm for gold by disrupting the global supply chain while investor demand for gold exploded. Despite heightened delivery risks and disruptions, the gold market has managed to continue operating thus far.
How to Avoid Common Mistakes With Mining Stocks (Part 2: Business Plan)
Investing in mining stocks may seem like luck of the draw, but the sector can be de-risked by asking the right questions. Here we look at the business plan.
Everyone loves to talk about creating the next great mining business, but are they willing to put that talk into action?
There is real money and real management behind every company—but surprisingly, not every company has a concrete strategy to build a business and create value for shareholders.
Business Plan, or Lack Thereof?
Today’s infographic comes to us from Eclipse Gold Mining and it shows you how to avoid common mistakes when evaluating and investing in mining exploration stocks.
Specifically, we look at five ways that potential investors can detect the presence and viability of a mining company’s business plan.
Visit Part 1 of “Common Mistakes With Mining Stocks” on Team by clicking here
So, what should investors be looking for, when it comes to examining the business plan of a mining exploration company?
#1: Clear Vision vs. All Hope & Dreams
A company should articulate a clear vision rather just simply following the trends and hoping for the best. A long term vision for a business plan is critical as it will be guiding and reminding stakeholders of the company’s purpose through the thick and thin.
Signs of a Clear Vision:
- The company is actively reaching out to investors
- Projects can be profitable at today’s commodity prices
- Provide detailed timelines of work
- Funds committed to work
A clear vision in business will give the company a direction to aim for, allowing everyone to work quickly towards objectives.
#2: Sense of Urgency vs. Wait & See
Time is money, especially in mining. Companies need to build value fast to finance at higher share prices so that early shareholders do not get diluted. A company needs to make concrete decisions that drive towards value creation.
Signs of a Sense of Urgency:
- “Time is now” mentality
- Decisive actions
- Sense of purpose
- Solution-oriented thinking
It is expensive to maintain a company, especially one that does not yet produce income. Expenses add up quickly and that is why management needs to make sure they focus their efforts and money on activities that generate value for shareholders.
#3: Laser Focus vs. Spray & Pray
The mineral exploration business is tough and each project requires the undivided attention of managers. Smart companies maintain incredible focus to de-risk their projects while others spread themselves thin with multiple projects.
- Properties with a focused vision towards production
- Specialized management experience aligned with the project
- Aligning management skill sets with each phase of a project
Signs of a Laser Focus:
In order to assess whether a company has the right focus you have to see whether the company is aligning its human assets with its physical assets and a goal in mind.
This focus will help to clarify the story for investors.
#4: Tell the Story vs. Hiding Behind the Science
Communication and business acumen are the key to take a project to market. Mining requires massive amounts of geological knowledge, but that is not the investor’s job to handle. They do not want to want to know the subtleties of geochemistry—they just want to know whether they can make money from those rocks.
Companies that hide behind a wall of geological slides may not have not a real story to tell, and they may be pulling investors into funding their own science projects. At the same time, investors need to make sure that the data being presented matches the story being told.
Signs of Telling the Story:
- Aware of risks, and communicating those risks
- Clear understanding of local geology
- Data from drill results back up the story
- Consistent message
If a company cannot communicate effectively, how are they going to deal with other, more complicated aspects of a mining business plan?
#5: Endgame in Mind vs. Kicking the Can Down the Road
A journey begins with a single step, but without a business plan and commitment, there will never be an end in sight. Quality companies foresee how their project will come together to generate both liquidity and an exit plan for shareholders. There are several clues investors can use to tell if a company is moving towards its goals.
Signs of the Endgame in Mind:
- List of accomplished goals
- Clear vision of future goals and exit strategy
- Plan for liquidity events for shareholder
The goal in investing is to make money. If shareholders are not making money, what is the point? If a company has no plan, it has no hope.
Making the Right Decisions
Understanding the characters that create value for mining companies is the first step, and the second step is assessing whether there is a viable business plan at hand.
While the risks are high, an effective plan is the first step towards reducing risks and providing shareholders with value.
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