2 Developments That Could Push Rare Earth Prices Higher

Rare earth prices could find some support amid two recent developments.

May 27, 2014 at 9:32AM

Earlier this week, Morgan Stanley slashed its price target for Molycorp (NYSE:MCP) to $2.50 and downgraded the company's stock to an underweight from an equal-weight rating. The firm cited weakness in rare earth prices and production bottlenecks at the Mountain Pass facility. 

The downgrade comes just few days after Molycorp posted a wider than expected fiscal first-quarter loss. The company felt the pressure as rare-earth prices remained weak due to an imbalance between demand and supply fundamentals. Indeed, the outlook for Molycorp remains bearish due to weak prices. However, two recent developments in the rare earth markets could help push prices up.

Molycorp reported disappointing results
The rare-earth market has been witnessing a very similar problem faced by the iron ore market. For years demand exceeded supply in the global iron ore market, prompting miners such as BHP Billiton (NYSE:BHP) and Rio Tinto (NYSE:RIO) to ramp up production. Now that miners are in a position to increase supplies, demand from China is expected to slow as the world's second largest economy rebalances. Not surprisingly, iron ore prices have fallen sharply this year on concerns of an anticipated supply glut.

Rare earth prices have also fallen sharply due to this demand/supply mismatch. During the first quarter, Molycorp's average selling price dropped to $33.69/kg from $44.71/kg in the same quarter of the company's last fiscal year. The price drop, coupled with lower production, meant that Molycorp's loss for the first quarter widened.

The company reported a net loss of $86 million, or $0.40 per share, compared to a loss of $38.2 million, or $0.27 per share, reported for the same period in the previous year. Excluding one-time items, the company's loss was $0.29 per share compared to Street estimates calling for a loss of $0.21 per share.

Given the weak performance, it is not surprising that Molycorp shares have fallen nearly 50% this year. I have noted in previous articles that the outlooks for Molycorp and the rare earth market are bearish due to weak prices. However, two recent developments could provide some support to prices.

China mulling an increase in taxes on rare earth producers
According to a report carried out by one Chinese daily, Chinese authorities may levy higher taxes on rare earth producers starting the second half of 2014. The report said that the taxes would be levied on the value of rare earths produced rather than the volume, which is the current practice.

If taxes are raised at the producer level, then rare earth prices are bound to rise. Higher rare earths prices in China would have a huge impact on the global market given the fact that the country accounts for nine-tenths of total rare earth production.

Officials believe that tax increases would push prices higher on the production side, which would help in bringing a balance to demand/supply fundamentals as well as discouraging illegal mining and smuggling.

To curb illegal and excessive mining, Chinese ministers are also contemplating issuing environmental compliance certificates for rare-earth exports, according to an official cited in the report. The plan, if implemented, could further restrict rare earth supplies.

Lynas' trouble
Another major story in the rare earth market that could help in altering the fundamentals is Australian rare earth miner Lynas' severe cash-crunch, which could affect its production.

Lynas, which announced plans to limit its production by half last October, has invested about AUD$1 billion on a processing plant in Malaysia. The company, however, has been stretched financially amid falling rare earth prices. Recently, it announced plans to defer its debt payments and raise more funds by selling shares in the primary market.

The two recent developments could possibly provide some support to prices. However, I would recommend a wait-and-watch approach when it comes to Molycorp and the rare earth market.

Say goodbye to "Made-In-China"
The Economist compares this disruptive invention to the steam engine and the printing press. Business Insider says it's "the next trillion dollar industry." And everyone from BMW, to Nike, to the U.S. Air Force is already using it every day. Watch The Motley Fool's shocking video presentation today to discover the garage gadget that's putting an end to the Made In China era... and learn the investing strategy we've used to double our money on these 3 stocks. Click here to watch now!

  

Varun Chandan Arora has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Money to your ears - A great FREE investing resource for you

The best way to get your regular dose of market and money insights is our suite of free podcasts ... what we like to think of as “binge-worthy finance.”

Feb 1, 2016 at 5:03PM

Whether we're in the midst of earnings season or riding out the market's lulls, you want to know the best strategies for your money.

And you'll want to go beyond the hype of screaming TV personalities, fear-mongering ads, and "analysis" from people who might have your email address ... but no track record of success.

In short, you want a voice of reason you can count on.

A 2015 Business Insider article titled, "11 websites to bookmark if you want to get rich," rated The Motley Fool as the #1 place online to get smarter about investing.

And one of the easiest, most enjoyable, most valuable ways to get your regular dose of market and money insights is our suite of free podcasts ... what we like to think of as "binge-worthy finance."

Whether you make it part of your daily commute or you save up and listen to a handful of episodes for your 50-mile bike rides or long soaks in a bubble bath (or both!), the podcasts make sense of your money.

And unlike so many who want to make the subjects of personal finance and investing complicated and scary, our podcasts are clear, insightful, and (yes, it's true) fun.

Our free suite of podcasts

Motley Fool Money features a team of our analysts discussing the week's top business and investing stories, interviews, and an inside look at the stocks on our radar. The show is also heard weekly on dozens of radio stations across the country.

The hosts of Motley Fool Answers challenge the conventional wisdom on life's biggest financial issues to reveal what you really need to know to make smart money moves.

David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, is among the most respected and trusted sources on investing. And he's the host of Rule Breaker Investing, in which he shares his insights into today's most innovative and disruptive companies ... and how to profit from them.

Market Foolery is our daily look at stocks in the news, as well as the top business and investing stories.

And Industry Focus offers a deeper dive into a specific industry and the stories making headlines. Healthcare, technology, energy, consumer goods, and other industries take turns in the spotlight.

They're all informative, entertaining, and eminently listenable. Rule Breaker Investing and Answers are timeless, so it's worth going back to and listening from the very start; the other three are focused more on today's events, so listen to the most recent first.

All are available for free at www.fool.com/podcasts.

If you're looking for a friendly voice ... with great advice on how to make the most of your money ... from a business with a lengthy track record of success ... in clear, compelling language ... I encourage you to give a listen to our free podcasts.

Head to www.fool.com/podcasts, give them a spin, and you can subscribe there (at iTunes, Stitcher, or our other partners) if you want to receive them regularly.

It's money to your ears.

 


Compare Brokers