June has seen uranium miners come under further pressure as uranium prices continue their downward trend. The uranium spot price has continued its decline below $30 per pound, with the June spot price sliding to $28.25 per pound. Last week analysts at RBC Capital Markets slashed their price forecasts for uranium, putting even more pressure on uranium stocks. For 2014, their new spot price target is $31.50 per pound, down from their previous forecast of $45 per pound. They also slashed their 2015 price target from $60 per pound to $40 per pound and their 2016 to 2018 price target range from $75-$80 per pound to $40-$45 per pound.
Many companies putting projects on hold
As a result of the weak pricing environment, many uranium miners are putting projects on hold and focusing on cost cutting. Cameco (NYSE:CCJ) has decided to withdraw its application for its Millenium project, choosing to wait until market conditions improve before reapplying for necessary permits. Cameco has managed to remain profitable through the recent difficult market conditions, reporting net earnings of $318 million for 2013 on record revenue of $2.4 billion. For the first quarter this year, Cameco also remained profitable, reporting net earnings of $131, mainly because of $127 million it earned from the sale of its stake in the Bruce Power Limited Partnership. However, the main reason that Cameco has been able to remain profitable is because of long-term sales contracts that are based on the long-term uranium price.
Uranium explorer and developer, Denison Mines (NYSEMKT:DNN) has decided to keep its Midwest and McClean projects on standby due to the weak uranium pricing environment. With only $20.2 million in cash at the end of the first quarter and a 2014 budget of $20.5 million, things are looking tight for Denison. Investors should expect that Denison will continue to borrow money or issue equity in order to continue to fund operations over the short to medium term. Rio Tinto (NYSE:RIO) also joined the list of uranium companies taking strong cost cutting measures by announcing this week that it is laying off 265 workers at its Rossing Uranium mine in Namibia due to weak uranium demand. The move will allow Rio Tinto to cut costs and avoid putting the mine on care and maintenance.
A unique contracting strategy
Energy Fuels (NYSEMKT:UUUU), a small uranium producer, is using an interesting strategy to fulfill its short-term contractual uranium delivery requirements: It's filling part of them from production at its mines and existing stockpiles and filling the remainder by buying uranium at the spot price, which is much lower than the price the company is paid through long-term contracts. Like other uranium companies, Energy Fuels has also made a decision to place several of its mines on standby or care and maintenance status due to the low uranium prices. In February this year it placed its Arizona 1 mine on standby because it had depleted the economically viable resources. It plans to continue mining at its Pinenut mine, until 2015 at which time Energy Fuels anticipates it will have depleted its economically viable resources there as well. Energy Fuels is also planning to place all mineral processing at its White Mesa mill on standby in the second half of 2014 after it has completed planned production for 2014.
Foolish bottom line
While the long-term uranium fundamentals may remain intact, uranium companies are taking measures to cut costs by placing non-economical assets on standby and delaying projects that aren't economically viable given current low uranium prices. With uranium inventories appearing to be in excess of market demand and with the spot price continuing to fall, the short-term outlook appears to be quite negative.