There is battle going on in North Asia. And no, it’s not the war of words between President Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.
Instead, it’s the “war” being fought by China to finally tackle its chronic air, water and land pollution. There has been a wave of environmental inspections that has led to the closure of tens of thousands of businesses.
The news here is that these measures by the Chinese authorities are unprecedented and dwarf anything China has done in the past.
You may say, “So what, Tony, that means nothing to us here in the U.S.”
Ah, but it does as it is disrupting some global supply chains.
And more importantly, these moves are sending the prices of many industrial metals soaring.
This spells a major profit opportunity for us as China limits the output of industrial commodities such as aluminum.
Tricky Iron Ore Situation
However, you can’t just throw a dart at some industrial metals company and expect to find a winner.
There are nuances to China’s policy. Iron ore is a perfect example… let me explain.
China has placed restrictions on sintering – the highly polluting process that turns iron ore fines (very small particles) into a material that can be used in steel-making blast furnaces. That has seen the price of iron ore lumps and pellets spiking higher. It has also seen price spikes for higher grades of iron ore as China’s steel mills can improve efficiency (more steel per ton of iron ore used) by using the higher grades of ore.
That is pushing the producers of low-quality iron ore toward bankruptcy, but is a boon for the producers of high-quality iron ore such as Rio Tinto PLC (NYSE: RIO) and Vale SA (NYSE: VALE).
Aluminum Capacity Cutbacks
The situation is a little more straightforward with regard to aluminum, which is on pace for its best year since 2009, thanks to China. It trails only copper among commodities tracked by the Bloomberg Commodity Index.
The number of closures of unlicensed aluminum producers in China has already exceeded expectations this year. Add in the shutdowns being imposed by the government’s pollution crackdown and you have a real change in the global outlook for aluminum, which has been plagued by chronic oversupply from China for many years.
The world’s largest aluminum producer, China Hongqiao, said it would cut about 30% of its capacity or about 2.68 million metric tons. This led the biggest U.S. producer Alcoa (NYSE: AA) to say aluminum production is returning to “relative balance”.
And while supplies are being cut, demand is rising. Global consumption this century has been rising at an annual rate of 5.5%. That contrasts with the prior two decades when the demand growth rate was a third of that level. That has eaten into inventories, which have fallen by three-quarters since 2014 on the London Metals Exchange.
Needless to say, China’s actions has only added fuel to the fire, sending the stocks of companies like Alcoa to their best year to date in a very long time.
Dr. Copper Is Feeling Healthy
Leading the way this year among the industrial metals is copper. The red metal is often called Dr. Copper because of its ‘PhD in economics’. Usually, when copper is doing well, so is the global economy and that is the case once again.
Copper has been particularly perky in 2017 – it recently surged above $7,000 a metric ton (or $3.10 per pound) for the first time since 2014. Again, the gains have been largely due to China, though this time not because of its pollution crackdown, but because of very strong factory data. In other words, demand for copper in China is running above expectations.
There is also a lot of optimism in the market about the future of electric cars, which will boost future demand for the metal. Investment bank UBS estimates battery-powered vehicles will add 1.2 metric tons of demand to the copper market by 2025 (5% of forecast consumption for that year) just as supplies are expected to peak.
Shorter-term, there is still a lot of optimism for the copper price. Chile state copper commission Cohilco recently came out with its forecast for the copper price. This is important since Chile is the world’s largest producer of copper.
For the rest of 2017, it raised its forecast for the average copper price from $2.64 a pound to $2.77. And for 2018, it raised its estimate for the average copper price from $2.68 a pound to $2.95 due to greater demand in China.
3 Profitable Metals Investments
So how can you invest in this trend? After all, China’s actions practically mean free money.
For broad exposure, I really like the iShares MSCI Global Metals and Mining ETF (NYSE: PICK), is up 25.3% year-to-date and 40.23% over the past year.
Its expense ratio is only 0.39% and has about a 2% yield.
The fund’s portfolio contains 182 stocks.
Its largest positions are the world’s biggest mining companies such as the aforementioned Vale and Rio Tinto.
Other familiar names include BHP Billiton (NYSE: BHP) and the world’s largest publicly-traded copper company, Freeport-McMoRan (NYSE: FCX).
My second choice is in a very specific sector that China is really cracking down on – aluminum.
Years and years and years of overcapacity and oversupply may finally be at an end.
This should be – and already is – a major boost – for Alcoa (NYSE: AA).
The stock is up 71% year-to-date and 128% in the last year.
In its latest presentation, the company said the aluminum market this year will be in a forecast range of a 300,000 ton deficit to a 100,000 ton surplus. Quite a change from its July forecast of a 300,000 to 700,000 ton global surplus. That’s why Alcoa raised its 2017 EBITDA earnings estimate up to $2.4 billion, well above the previous forecast of EBITDA of $2.1 billion to $2.2 billion.
That should be even better in the years ahead. There is the China factor as well as rising demand. Demand from the automobile industry is forecast to rise 40% by 2025.
Next, I like copper very much.
So I want exposure there.
But I would not go with Freeport McMoRan and instead opt for Southern Copper (NYSE: SCCO).
This company is a majority-owned subsidiary of the Mexican mining giant Grupo Mexico S.A. de C.V. (OTC: GMBXF) with mines in both Mexico and Peru.
Its recently-released earnings report showed that earnings were above expectations with revenues in line. Those good numbers, and I believe improving numbers in the future, thanks to rising copper prices, will boost its stock even more. SCCO rose 35.4% so far in 2017 and is up nearly 58% over the last 12 months.
I consider many industrial metals companies a must own for my portfolio right alongside technology companies. You should do the same.
Commodities, specifically metals, aren’t always included when talking about technology and the rapid transformation it’s ushering. Yet without metals like aluminum and copper, among others, there would be no smartphones, tablets, sensors, high end medical equipment… pretty much anything we in the advanced economies take for granted.
Commodities represent a space where you want to invest in for the long term. They’re backbone of all technology and the rapid transformation in technology, society, lifestyle, and even life itself that’s happening all around us. I call this the Singularity.
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Source: Investors Alley