As I write, shares of Cameco (NYSE: CCJ ) are pushing to fresh intraday highs, and are trading hands more than 8% higher than Friday's close. What's going on with the uranium powerhouse?
The fact that Canada and India are poised to sign a nuclear cooperation agreement certainly doesn't hurt. The Canada-based company recently deemed India "a large market opportunity for any uranium fuel supplier." However, we need to look to Australia for the proximate cause.
A couple of weeks ago, there was an incident at BHP Billiton's (NYSE: BHP ) giant Olympic Dam mine, which accounts for between 5% and 10% of global uranium supply. A loaded ore skip fell to the bottom of an 800-meter mine shaft, which a Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS ) analyst described as "one of the most serious incidents that can occur in a haulage shaft." The spot price of uranium has been ticking higher since that time, from an average of below $43 per pound in September to above $47 today.
Only this week, with the release of BHP's quarterly production figures, did the extent of the problem begin to come into focus. The Australian first reported that the company had declared force majeure on some uranium supply contracts, and may see production drop to 20% of capacity for up to six months. BHP then confirmed the former point, and stated that full output should resume by the end of March, with ore hoisting at 25% of capacity until then.
The market for uranium is very thin, so it didn't take much to move the spot price. The miners have jumped as well. Denison Mines (AMEX: DNN ) tacked on a decent gain on strong volumes yesterday, as did various Canada-listed miners like Paladin Energy and Uranium One.
The uranium market has seen some serious mine mishaps in the past. Compared to the flooding at Cameco's Cigar Lake mine, this looks like pretty small potatoes. It's always possible that the damage could be worse than expected, but I would not be rushing into one of the uranium miners on account of this haulage shaft hoopla.