[Uranium] Portfolio Update: The empire strikes back
My last uranium portfolio update was published on May 11th 2022, time for a new, extended update. The last couple of months have been a real roller coaster ride for any uranium investor and tested our patience. The equities have been in a downturn since November 2021, although the spot price stayed constant around $50 per lbs and the fundamentals kept improving further and further. Finally, on August 24th we saw the uranium stock prices shoot higher, some even by more than 20% in a single day.
In this blog post I will share my macro thoughts and give an update on my uranium portfolio. My current uranium portfolio includes the following stocks:
Aura Energy (ASX:AEE)
Bannerman Energy (ASX:BMN)
Deep Yellow (ASX:DYL)
Silex Systems (ASX:SLX)
CGN Mining (HKG:1164)
Baselode Energy (CVE:FIND)
92 Energy (ASX:92E)
Macro thoughts "the empire strikes back"
Macro thoughts "The empire strikes back"
Cameco's (NYSE:CCJ) Q2 earnings call on July 27th gave a lot of insights into the current state of affairs in the nuclear fuel industry and where utility buyers likely are in their buying process. CEO Tim Gitzel highlighted that him and his team are as busy as they have ever been. It is the strongest he has seen the uranium market in the 40 years, he has been in the industry. Long term contracting (most important for the uranium thesis) has picked up and they have a lot of new contracts in the pipeline.
Cameco also highlighted their continued focus on vertical integration. Their goal is to become a one stop shop for nuclear fuel buyers. This is an excellent strategy and will help in taking over the market share that would usually be owned by Rosatom, as they could offer buyers services across the whole fuel cycle from one source.
Source: Cameco Q2 earnings presentation
"As a commercial supplier, our decisions had uniquely positioned the company to capitalize on the increasingly undeniable conclusion, the Nuclear power must be an essential part of the clean energy transition and even more so in a world where origins matter. With demonstrated Tier 1 assets, strategic Tier 2 assets and a focus on vertical integration, we have taken a balanced and disciplined approach to our strategy of full cycle value capture." Tim Gitzel, Cameco CEO
During the Call Justin Huhn (founder & publisher of uraniuminsider.com) was dialed in to ask some very good questions. Fun fact: When he was announced as part of the Q&A session, the lady announced him being from the Uranium Empire. Which of course led to instant meme creation on Uranium Twitter 😃
Source: Twitter @MetalManU308
The call offered uranium investors a lot of insights to be bullish about. What happened next was even more bullish. We saw a constant flow of positive news worldwide, which I would have never imagined a couple of weeks before.
Being German and living in Germany, I had followed the public debate about keeping nuclear power plants running for many years. Even as recent as February 2022 the idea of politicians being open to that idea seemed far fetched to me. However, the war in Ukraine changed everything and due to the energy crisis in Europe, politicians started to have an open mind again and look at nuclear energy without prejudice & party ideology. Even though the greens kept pushing to shut down the last three remaining nuclear power plants, the majority of the citizens (even green voters) and politicians are now for keeping the plants running and even re-starting some of the ones that were shut down in December 2021. These developments were picked up in a story by Wall Street journal on August 16th, who confirmed that anonymous sources from the government told them the plan was to keep the nuclear power plants running. There has not been an official announcement made that confirms what was stated in the article, but my assumption is that this will follow in September/October.
Source: Wall Street Journal
Kazatomprom released an operational update on August 19th.
In contrast to what some uranium investors feared, Kazatomprom is staying course and showing production discipline. I doubt we will see them oversupplying the market any time soon.
“…we expect to increase potential production by ~3,500 tU in 2024 compared to our planned range for 2023, representing continued production discipline and a decrease of approximately 10% against our total Subsoil Use Contracts level in 2024.”
August 24th: "Japan is entering a new phase in its nuclear energy strategy, with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida set to order the development and construction of next-generation nuclear power plants at Wednesday's meeting of the GX (Green Transformation) Implementation Council at the Prime Minister's Office.
This marks a major shift from the country's current policy of backing away from the building of new nuclear power plants.
Kishida's administration aims to secure electric power in the medium to long term with a plan to restart up to 17 nuclear power plants beginning in the summer of 2023.
The prime minister believes the plan will address structural challenges facing Japan, such as electricity shortages and decarbonization delays, especially as it aims to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050."
On the same day news from India hit the airwaves:
"India’s largest power producer is looking to develop another massive nuclear project, a sign that Indian PM Narendra Modi’s expansion into atomic energy is gaining momentum. India sees nuclear as key to energy transition away from coal Modi is aiming to more than triple India’s nuclear fleet over the next decade to expand the share of electricity from cleaner sources, as the nation seeks to zero out carbon emissions by 2070"
The market finally rallied on these news. We had heard about Japan before but this firmly puts Japan back into the economies focusing on nuclear energy for their baselode power needs. This policy turn 11 years after the Fukushima nuclear accident from March 11, 2011 showed that the nuclear winter is finally over and countries worldwide come to the realization that nuclear is clean, safe energy that is needed to progress our civilization and fight climate change.
It is also the sign that, if the country that has experienced the only recent nuclear disaster is going full on into nuclear again, then no other country should use them as a reason not to use nuclear anymore. It will be harder and harder for German politicians to justify their decision to shut down the last operational NPP in Germany in an energy crisis; and even worse in a climate crisis that doesn't wait for the fairy dust dream of overcoming physics and building industry economy on solar and wind becoming reality.
You can define it how you want, but in my opinion, we are witnessing a global nuclear renaissance. The lost decade will be soon forgotten because of the rapid advancement of this great technology we are seeing worldwide.
Dated 8/30/22 after ASX close & before US market open
Uranium equities currently account for 32.7% of my overall equity portfolio. Centrus Energy was the first uranium stock (I don't hold that stock anymore) I bought in September 2020. The majority of my shares in the other titles were bought throughout 2021/2022, when I had cash or sold other stocks, to buy more uranium shares (that represented buying opportunities to me). The performance data thus is since inception and reflects averaging up and down into positions over time.
Compared to my last update, you will notice that the number of stocks in my uranium portfolio decreased to seven. As pointed out last time, I am in the phase of the cycle where I aggressively scale into the stocks I deem winners with extra cash or funds I got by selling the uranium stocks I don't have as high a conviction in. I want to be as concentrated as possible. Some deem this too risky, but after nearly 2 years in the sector, I know these companies quite well and can judge which ones should perform well over time. I don't plan on adding any new comers to my portfolio.
What I sold since my last update, including total return:
Thor Mining: -44 %
I sold Thor even though they are about to start their brownfield drilling program in the US. THR had been a very depressing stock the whole time I held it and its share price never left a certain trading range, irrespective of how bullish the news were they released. Even though their drilling campaign is brownfield exploration, it is never a given that they find attractive grades and even if, how the stock would react to it. Stocks never exits in a vacuum and it turned out, I saw the opportunity to add shares to one of my other positions at a very low price per share.
What I bought since my last update:
I used the money from the THR sale and the tax loss benefit to add to my 92 Energy position. It was trading at a ridiculously low relative valuation. The A$0.46 per share I paid is similar to the price per share it traded at in 2021 before all the discoveries and the massive improvement in the overall uranium market fundamentals. In addition, there was a private placement closed on June 14th where institutional investors paid A$0.78 per share.
Bought more FIND because of the great price (C$0.69) and new assay results.
Discussion of companies
Aura is developing the TIRIS uranium project in Mauritania. In addition, there are also vanadium resources at TIRIS, plus AEE also owns the 15.1 bn pounds HÄGGÅN vanadium project (including potash/SoP by product) in Sweden and a gold asset. The probability of Tiris going into production this cycle is very high and the spin out of the gold and vanadium assets offers additional value creation for shareholders.
Since my last update the resource upgrade drilling program at Tiris Uranium Project in Mauritania commenced and is proceeding on schedule, with targeted completion in Q4 2022.
On June 23rd Aura announced tests confirming average 550% upgrading of uranium with simple screening.
Many uranium investors underestimate Aura Energy and are not aware of how fast Aura plans to be in production. Aura’s flagship Tiris Uranium Project in Mauritania remains the focus of the Company’s development strategy, which is proposed to be developed in two stages.
• Stage 1 - is slated to be a fast-tracked project producing 800,000 lbs U3O8 per annum
with production commencing in 2024 and with low capital costs.
• Stage 2 - is forecast to be an expansion of the project within 2-3 years of Stage 1
commissioning, to produce 2-4 million lbs U3O8 per annum within 5 years, providing
better utilisation of the Tiris Uranium Resources.
Source: Aura Energy
This could be the reason for smart money increasingly positioning in this stock, as shown by the change in substantial holding announcements. From May to end of August institutional investors like Lind Global Macro, MM Asset management or Macquarie Group ltd opened positions in AEE or increased their positions.
BMN is one of my high conviction names and is developing the Etango Uranium Project in Namibia. It possesses a World class uranium mineral resource endowment of 207 Mlbs of contained U3O8. Recently I published an article about BMN, covering their Namibia critical minerals acquisition and why that could potentially lead to a bidding war for BMN.
The reverse stock split allowing easier access for North American institutional investors, who have rules around not buying stocks that trade below $1.00, was finalized on July 27th.
On August 4th BMN submitted their mining licence application for Etango-8 and announced that the DFS is on schedule to be completed in Q4 this calendar year.
A well respected CEO in the uranium sector is John Borshoff, who had a lot of success with Paladin Energy in the last uranium bullrun from 04-07. Paladin was the only company that went from explorer to producer during that time. They listed at a market cap of roughly 2M AUD and 0.10 AUD price per share and evolved into a multi billion market cap company with a share price of ~ 10.00 AUD at the peak.
The Deep Yellow and Vimy merger was finally completed on Aug 5th. During the last couple of months the stock price of DYL had been held back by the merger not being completed. It seems like it is not held back anymore, being among the relative best performers of my uranium stocks every day since 8/5.
Silex Systems is operating a JV with Cameco called "Global laser Enrichment" (GLE). Part of my thesis for Silex is their new process for uranium enrichment (separating the isotopes with lasers) and the other part of their business which is a picks and shovels play on quantum computing. My investment thesis for Silex can be found here.
GLE made great progress since my last update. They entered into US Nuclear utility collaborations by signing two non-binding Letters of Intent (LOI) with US utilities Constellation Energy Generation and Duke Energy in June. The LOIs include measures to support GLE’s deployment of SILEX uranium enrichment technology in the US and help address emerging demands across the nuclear fuel supply chain.
In February, GLE submitted a response to the DOE regarding its Request for Information (RFI) for the proposed HALEU Availability Program. This program seeks to address the establishment of US domestic HALEU production capability as soon as possible. The next step will be the issuance of a Request for Proposals (RFP) by the DOE. GLE plans to respond to the RFP and explore opportunities to be a potential participant in the HALEU Availability Program.
A common remark made by people that have not researched Silex well is that the laser enrichment technology is too early stage. Cameco's Senior Vice-President, Chief Legal Officer and Corporate Secretary Sean Quinn addressed this misconception very clearly in Cameco's Q2 2022 earnings call. As the 49% joint venture partner of Silex Systems in GLE and with massive skin in the game, Cameco likely has the most in depth insight into the current status of Silex' technology outside of the Silex team itself.
"We are well past the experimental stage with the technology. Technology scale up and development continues. Split between the Silex site and Lucas site Australia that are just outside Sydney, where they are continuing to refine the laser side of the technology.
And the other end of the process separator systems which are being further developed in Wilmington, we will be looking at bringing all that back together over the course of the next number of months. So on the technology front, we continue to develop it.
And on the commercial side, we are anxious to see what comes out of the numerous U.S. government initiatives to look at dealing with the bifurcation of the market and the current reliance on you Russian enrichment and conversion services, and the need to develop a supply of value to support the advanced SMR industry as a whole. There are, as I mentioned, a number of legislative initiatives being considered that would provide financial support, so we are pursuing those. So it is really then back to the procurement demand that we are waiting to see develop, coupled with that U.S. government support that will determine the pace of commercialization."
Three additional breadcrumbs found in Silex Systems annual report 2022.
First, I found out that Sachem Cove Special Opportunities Fund LP (Mike Alkin) holds 1.52% of Silex shares. Mike Alkin is the originator of the uranium thesis, so I was surprised that I didn't notice him holding SLX before.
Source: Silex annual report 2022
His fund wasn't on the SLX register on 8/2020 or 8/2021. However, I remembered a private placement from Sept 2021. Likely Sachem Cove were one of the institutions participating in the Sept 2021 private placement. For me that speaks volumes. Their investment in SLX was intentional and based on current developments at that time, not a position they opened years ago in 2016/2017.
Second, SLX/GLE repeatedly highlighted the acceleration of their commercialization timeline during the last couple of months.
Source: Silex Systems annual report 2022
The project is advancing rapidly and CEO remuneration is incentivizing him to fast track the Silex uranium enrichment technology before the end of 2025.
Source: Silex annual report 2022
Third, something I had seen as optionality in my initial article is actually a quite big opportunity and has the potential to de-risk Silex Systems as early as calendar year 2023 -> The Silicon Enrichment Project.
Update from the 2022 annual report:
"ZS-Si is a unique form of isotopically enriched silicon which is a key enabling material for the fabrication of next-generation processor chips which will power silicon-based quantum computers. Until recently, most of the world’s supply of enriched silicon came
from Russia, produced with conventional centrifuge technology. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has placed this supply under threat of disruption, which has given rise to some urgency in establishing alternative supply. Silex anticipates that, with a successful conclusion to the ZS-Si project, it can provide a secure and resilient alternative source of enriched silicon to users around the world.
Silex made excellent progress in the Zero-Spin Silicon (ZS-Si) project during the year. This project aims to demonstrate the commercial potential of our unique SILEX laser enrichment technology to produce highly enriched silicon – a key enabling material for silicon based quantum computing. This project has also dramatically increased in strategic importance over the year, as the majority of the world’s current supply of enriched silicon is sourced from Russia. Impending trade sanctions have translated into increased interest in our project and a greater urgency to commercialise this important technology.
At the time of writing, the Pilot Demonstration Facility which was constructed within the year in review, was being commissioned in preparation for the commencement of enrichment testing. Testing will continue to the end of CY2022, at which time it is anticipated that the demonstration will have verified the capability of the SILEX technology to costeffectively produce high purity ZS-Si at commercial scale. The initial commercial quantities may potentially be produced in CY2023 and sold to project partner, Silicon Quantum Computing Pty Ltd under an offtake agreement signed in 2019. This could mark the beginning of a new and growing revenue stream and position Silex as a reliable global supplier of this key strategic material."
In my article about CGN mining from May 2021 I deep dive into the company and also explain my point of view on the uranium investments thesis at the beginning of the article.
CGN Mining is the only listed pure uranium company globally which is backed by a nuclear power group. They have their own trading house and are the sole listed pure uranium company in East Asia. It is great to see the thesis I laid out in May last year to slowly come to fruition.
On June 16th CGN Mining announced new delivery pricing with CGN Group.
Source: CGN Mining June newsletter
Current uranium delivery price with CGN Group: Arithmetic average of LP published by Tradetech & UxC in 2nd month prior to delivery month.
The new delivery price effective 2023 points to them agreeing that the long term price will be much higher than the current $47.75.
Excellent H1 2022 results released on Aug 25th. Highlights include
Earnings per share +860%
HK$1.27bn cash on hand
They also hinted at further acquisitions, as they raised HK$776M in H1/22 and also stated
"while exploring cost-competitive uranium projects around the world to further enhance its competitiveness and reward shareholders with excellent results.”
This is in line with my recent article about Bannerman Energy and how I think that a bidding war for this Namibian project will likely start soon.
Baselode Energy & 92 Energy
FIND and 92E are the only greenfield uranium explorers I hold in the portfolio. Explorers usually offer no compelling risk/reward, as it is uncertain if and when they make a discovery. In the case of FIND and 92E this is not the case, as they both have already made a discovery in the legendary Athabasca Basin in Canada. Based on the initial drill holes this seems to be a monster deposit. Both companies own land that is right next to each other and it seems the deposit is so big that they are both working on the same deposit.
Great drill results were released by Baselode all throughout the summer. Some of the highlights include the following.
On May 31st: "Baselode Intersects Best Drill Hole To Date, 25 Metres From Surface"
AK22-051 intersected 2,320 cps over 30.1 m starting at 27.0 m drill hole depth, ranks as the best drill hole on the project, and includes six separate intervals of >10,000 cps*
AK22-047 intersected 5,229 cps over 7.35 m at 140.65 m, ranks as second-best drill hole on the project, and includes eight separate intervals of >10,000 cps
On June 27th: "Baselode Intersects 81 Metres and 30 Metres of Radioactive Mineralization Near Surface; New Near-Surface Zone Discovered"
AK22-065 intersected a total 81.0 metres of composite mineralization including 1,057 cps over 52.3 m, ranks as the second-best drill hole on the project
AK22-052 intersected 2,677 cps over 30.0 metres beginning 30.0 metres downhole, ranks as best drill hole on the project
On Aug 22nd: "Baselode Reports Numerous High-Grade Uranium Intersections Including 0.55% U3O8 Over 13.2 m"
AK22-032: 0.55% U3O8 over 13.2 m at 136.0 m true vertical depth includes 0.99% U3O8 over 6.3 m
AK22-011: 0.69% U3O8 over 3.6 m at 144.6 m true vertical depth includes 1.26% U3O8 over 0.5 m
AK22-009: 0.28% U3O8 over 10.5 m at 107.6 m true vertical depth includes 0.51% U3O8 over 2.0 m
Of the reported drill holes, five confirm high-grade uranium mineralization in excess of 0.5% U3O8 and eight intersected uranium mineralization at less than 200 metres below surface
As the results keep rolling in from the lab and it can be tough to keep an overall view of the discovery, CEO James Sykes uploaded a great video explaining the first set of assay Results from the ACKIO Uranium Discovery. This video also helps to understand, with historic context, why in the Athabasca Basin high grades are nice, but finding a shallow deposit is more important in terms of economic feasibility.
Source: The Ore Group YouTube channel
92 Energy updates
92E announced more discovery data from the current drill program at Gemini and also that they will start a 1,500m maiden drill program at their tower project. An interesting technical aspect of the 92E stock is that it is shorted highly, even though they have had great drill results so far. Seeing this short data makes you think something is wrong as 6.90% of shares are shorted (dated 8/24/22).
But then you see the progress they made in such a short time and all the drill results, which keep getting better and better. Something which is very rare with explorers. The deposit seems to be shallow but also extends deep vertically. Below are some slides that summarize their current program and the progress they have made since Jan 2021.
Source: 92E August investor presentation
"Next work will be ground radiometric survey of GMZ Project. This is much more accurate than the airborne radiometric survey already done and will help $92E to hone in on and target the best possible zones for the next drill program at the GMZ in Winter.
Additionally 1500m of drilling should start in September at the Tower Project which geos at 92E think could be as good if not a better prospect than the GMZ.
Certainly a lot to look forward to and cash balance remains above $10m - so well funded for next drilling."
With all that in mind, remember that the shorts have to cover (buy back the shares they borrowed) at one point to close their position. As the uranium market broke out to the upside last week, decoupled from broader markets (which were down) and 92E also has strong fundamentals -> 6.90% of shares shorted sounds like a big buy order at a much higher price to me 😀
In conclusion, based on the fundamentals and (finally) also the price movement decoupling from broader markets, I am very confident that we are in the early innings of a multi year uranium bull market. The stocks that are in my portfolio are performing well, I have high conviction in all of them and am happy about the way that I was able to scale into my positions over the last 2 years. Now the hard part starts: Holding onto the shares with diamond 💎 hands!
Bannerman, Deep Yellow, CGN Mining & Silex Systems are also part of the "Picks and shovels plays" wikifolio, which is traded on the German Stock Exchange and managed by me. If you feel more comfortable having exposure to the uranium sector via an actively managed vehicle than to choose and hold single stocks, check out my wikifolio. The YTD performance is +28.4% (dated 8/30/22) and it will also give you exposure to other sectors. Sign up here for free to learn more about wikifolio and where it is traded:
Disclaimer: This blog post is purely my personal opinion and is not financial advice. Please do your own research, before taking investment decisions. I am long AEE, BMN, DYL, SLX, 1164, FIND, 92E. No payment or other incentives were received in exchange to write this article.