Base Metals Weekly Round-Up: Nevada Copper Pulls the Trigger

In base metals news this week, Nevada Copper has big news, Vale ties its production numbers to iron prices, Australian miners tell the government to get on with its job and much more.

This week, free-trade has been talk of the town as the US and Mexico hammer out a deal that excludes Canada, while US President Donald Trump plays hardball with Ottawa.

Looking at base metals prices, after bottoming out two weeks ago copper appears to be on a bit of a rebound, touching a high of US$6,117 per tonne this week.

Nickel hit a high on Monday (August 27) as well, but by Wednesday (August 29) was back to where it finished last week at US$13,280 as it continues its roller-coaster journey to the end of August.

Lead has avoided a continuous downward trend over the week to basically plateau between US$2,060 and US$2,070 a tonne, while zinc has stayed with its base metal compatriots, and slid downwards from a high on Monday of US$2,534. Scroll down for some of the top stories this week.

Base metals top news stories

1. Full-scale Construction to Proceed at Nevada Copper’s Pumpkin Hollow

It’s been a period of big news for Nevada Copper (TSX:NCU): the company did the numbers and decided to go ahead with full-scale construction works at its flagship Pumpkin Hollow underground copper project in western Nevada.

The company plans for Pumpkin Hollow, which it describes as the “only major, shovel-ready and fully-permitted copper project in North America,” to achieve first production in the fourth quarter of 2019 — at a time of “growing copper supply deficits.”

In an announcement on Tuesday (August 28), the company said that the decision came hot on the heels of the completion of a successful C$108.5-million public offering in July.

The underground project will have a capacity of 5,000 tonnes per day of throughput grading 1.81 percent copper for an average annual copper production of 50 million pounds. It would also produce 8,000 ounces of gold and 150,000 ounces of silver annually over a 13.5-year mine life.

2. Vale Ties Higher Iron Production to Higher Price

Brazilian miner Vale (NYSE:VALE) has put a self-imposed cap on its iron ore production well below its stated capacity.

In a wide-ranging interview with Estado de S. Paulo on Sunday (August 26), Vale CEO Fabio Schvartsman said that the company would limit its annual iron ore production to 400 million tonnes, despite a company-wide capacity of 450 million tonnes.

Schvartsman said that only if the iron ore price increased again would the company increase its production, but until then it would take it easy.

Most analysts recently polled by FocusEconomics for their August consensus report saw iron prices ending the year lower than where they stood at the beginning of August (around US$67 a tonne) — based on those predictions, Vale is unlikely to be increasing production in the near term.

3. Australian Miners Tell Canberra: Get on with Your Job

Nobody was having fun in the government of Australia last week, with the leadership of one of the world’s premier mining destinations descending into a state of intraparty warfare over energy policy, culminating in the removal of a sitting prime minister.

Miners across Australia were quick to release statements encouraging the government to quit naval-gazing and get on with its job of making businesses easier to do.

“The Australian minerals sector encourages stable government following the Liberal Party leadership change,” said the Minerals Council of Australia on Friday (August 24), the day new Prime Minister Scott Morrison took power.

The council, which is Australia’s top mining lobby group, strongly implied that it would like the government to return to matters at hand that it wanted to talk about, like “a competitive investment environment and less red tape” instead of engaging in anything like the last week in Australian politics, wherein the government was consumed by infighting and not actually running the country.

In other base metals news

Q2 and annual report season is winding down as we reach the end of August. There was still plenty of news from Africa, Europe and on the tariffs front though.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, miners have banded together to form the Mining Promotion Initiative to push back against an increasingly rapacious government in Kinshasa that has so far not shown any interest in listening to miners.

Last week, Serbia revealed it had received qualifying bids for a stake in its unloved RTB Bor complex in the east of the country—and this week Belgrade announced that China’s Zijin Mining (HKEX:2899) had won the crown.

RTB Bor has been neglected for years, first during the Yugoslav wars and then afterwards in an economic slump. The International Monetary Fund, as part of a program to assist the Balkan country to untangle and tidy its books recommended state assets be sold off: and now Belgrade has done just that.

Chile’s Codelco released its numbers for the first half of 2018, revealing that it had an output of 875,000 tonnes of copper so far this year, putting it on track to meet its expected production target of 1.7 million tonnes for 2018.

Meanwhile, analysts are warning China-US trade war tensions will ‘shackle’ copper prices, as we witness more flow-on effects of the American president’s tariffs on trading partners.

In Australia, Mineral Resources (ASX:MIN) secured its ownership on the Koolyanobbing iron ore assets in Western Australia.

Don’t forget to follow us @INN_Resource for real-time updates!

Securities Disclosure: I, Scott Tibballs, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.

Editorial Disclosure: Nevada Copper is a client of the Investing News Network. This article is not paid-for content.

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A growing supply deficit pushed palladium to US$2,892 per ounce this week before a mild correction forced values lower.

A growing supply deficit pushed the palladium price to US$2,892 per ounce this week before a mild correction forced values lower.

Shortages of the autocatalyst metal are expected to reach a five year high this year, a factor that will likely add more upside in the months ahead.

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Supported by a declining US dollar, gold maintained the gains it made at the beginning of May to sit above US$1,800 per ounce this week.

Gold maintained gains made at the beginning of May to sit above US$1,800 per ounce this week.

A drop in the US dollar pushed the yellow metal to the US$1,840 range before concerns over rising inflation and a potential interest rate increase muted gains.

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The other precious metals were also in the green and moving higher to start the month. Meanwhile, copper hit an all-time high.

The gold price was on an upward trend this week, ultimately breaching the important US$1,800 per ounce level for the first time since February 22.

After slipping to US$1,735 to end the second month of the year, gold values struggled to gain momentum in March. As headwinds from 10 year Treasury yields and the US dollar dissipated, concerns over inflation mounted, allowing the yellow metal to edge higher through April.

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gold bars

2020 was a banner year for gold-backed ETF inflows, but interest has lagged this year as investors become more comfortable taking risks.

In 2020, gold-backed exchange-traded fund (ETF) inflows ballooned to an impressive 877 tonnes, marking the largest one year intake in ETF history.

Investor appetite was fueled by economic stimulus mixed with concerns about COVID-19 closures, which together brought risk-averse buyers to the yellow metal in droves, propelling investment demand.

"Over the first three quarters of 2020, gold ETFs accounted for almost two-thirds of total investment demand," notes a monthly ETF report released by the World Gold Council (WGC) in January.


"This is significantly higher than any previous full year. Gold ETF demand was also equivalent to a quarter of the average annual gold mine production over the past five years."

Since then, gold ETF demand has waned as investors become more comfortable taking risks. So far, 2021 has seen outflows of 269.1 tonnes compared to 87.6 tonnes of inflows. Of the first 10 months of the year, six registered net outflows from the ETF segment.

In fact, a large part of gold's muted Q3 price performance has been attributed to a 7 percent decline in demand coming largely from the ETF segment. This trend continued in October, when gold ETF holdings shed 25.5 tonnes.

"Global gold ETF holdings fell to 3,567 tonnes (US$203 billion) during the month — notching year-to-date low levels — as investor appetite for gold diminished in the ETF space following price declines in August and September," an October WGC gold ETF report states.

After two months of pressure pushed the gold price to a six month low at the end of September, October saw the metal begin to rebound from the US$1,750 per ounce range to US$1,819.

Adam Perlaky, senior analyst at the WGC, told the Investing News Network (INN) that gold's price positivity in October was largely driven by growing inflationary tones.

"In recent years, gold has been inversely correlated with nominal interest rates, and yet gold strengthened during the month despite higher nominal rates," he said via email. "This is likely a result of rising inflation expectations, though changes in the relative move in interest rates may have had an impact."

He added, "Though higher rates could be a headwind for gold, broader concerns of inflation and a potential recession highlight gold's value as an effective portfolio hedge."

The role of gold amid uncertainty

Gold's use as a hedge against inflation is likely to come into focus in the coming months, a sentiment that was echoed by Juan Carlos Artigas, head of research at the WGC.

Artigas explained that while some are of the belief that the "elements of high inflation we've seen so far are transitory" and will dissipate, there will be longer-term reverberations from the current inflation, and potential secondary effects from the fiscal and monetary policies that were put in place to restart the economy.

In mid-November, JP Morgan (NYSE:JPM) said it anticipates that the US Federal Reserve will raise rates in September 2022 by 0.25 percent, followed by 25 basis point increases on a quarterly basis until real rates hit zero.

"Gold still can face headwinds from potentially higher interest rates," said Artigas.

"(The) opportunity cost of holding gold is one of the drivers of performance, and especially in the short and the medium term, interest rates tend to influence gold's behavior significantly, especially in a period where investors are looking to understand how central banks will behave."

However, as the head of research at the WGC pointed out, there are also some tailwinds that could move gold higher, including inflation that may not be transient, but more structural.

He also pointed out that interest rates are still historically very low, which has pushed investors to make their portfolios more risky. Hedging against this type of exposure is positive for gold's investment side. Additionally, on the consumer side, US infrastructure spending could also serve as a catalyst to more gold upside.

"What we know historically is that better economic growth tends to support consumption of gold, whether it is in the form of jewelry or technology, and 2021 is a good example of that, where you saw the contraction in gold-backed ETF holdings, you (also) saw an increase in demand coming from jewelry, technology and even bar and coin investment," Artigas commented to INN.

Another factor the researcher is watching is central bank gold holdings, which are on track for a 12th consecutive year of inflows. Artigas noted that a 2021 survey of central bankers conducted by the WGC found that the monetary institutes are interested in "expanding the role that gold has in foreign reserves."

"We do expect central banks to continue to be net buyers," he said, adding, "We have seen investors, especially more strategic longer-term investors, taking advantage of the price pullback that we saw in previous months as an opportunity to add gold to their portfolios."

For investors wanting to look at the strategic role gold has played throughout history, the WGC recently released a five part documentary series titled The Golden Thread.

The price of gold was at the US$1,790 level on November 25.

Don't forget to follow us @INN_Resource for real-time updates!

Securities Disclosure: I, Georgia Williams, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.

Editorial Disclosure: The Investing News Network does not guarantee the accuracy or thoroughness of the information reported in the interviews it conducts. The opinions expressed in these interviews do not reflect the opinions of the Investing News Network and do not constitute investment advice. All readers are encouraged to perform their own due diligence.

Commercially viable scandium deposits are rare, making widespread use of the metal tricky. However, there is indeed opportunity in the space.

Scandium is a critical metal that is as strong as titanium, as light as aluminum and as hard as ceramic.

While it is more abundant than lead, mercury and all the precious metals, there are no pure scandium-producing mines. The rare earth element is often a by-product, produced from refining other metals, including uranium.

Pure scandium metal rarely concentrates at higher grades alongside other metals, making commercially usable scandium deposits very rare. What's more, even when scandium is found at elevated levels, processing it can be difficult, leading to very few stable sources of this critical metal.


Not surprisingly, that means there has been very little adoption of scandium in commercial applications. However, as John Kaiser of Kaiser Research has pointed out several times in the past few years, as well as more recently, that doesn't mean there hasn't been research into how scandium could be used in the future.

"Hundreds of applications (have been) filed, many of them related to alloys with aluminum," he said in an interview with the Investing News Network. "This obscure metal is going to go ballistic in the next few years."

Kaiser made that statement a few years back, and scandium has yet to go ballistic. But he still has hope for the metal, and it could yet have its day in the sun.

Below is an overview of the scandium market. Topics covered include current production, newcomers to the space and the metal's potentially bright future.

Current scandium production

The first known large-scale scandium production was associated with Russian military programs. Details are lost to history, but Russians reportedly alloyed the metal with aluminum to make lightweight MIG fighter parts. Mining at these historic Russian production sites has ceased, but stockpiles of scandium oxide and scandium master alloy remain in Russia. These stockpiles are rumored to be dwindling, but continue to be offered for sale on the market.

Today, most scandium is produced as a by-product during the processing of other ores, such as uranium or rare earths, or recovered from previously processed tailings. As a result, scandium supply can be affected by the supply and demand dynamics of the metals it is produced with. That can make the metal's already tough-to-follow market dynamics even more difficult to understand.

According to the US Geological Survey, scandium-producing countries include China, where it is a by-product of iron ore, rare earths, titanium and zirconium; and the Philippines, where it is a by-product of nickel. Scandium is also produced as a by-product of uranium in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

More US production could be on the horizon as well after a push in legislation that encourages the Department of Defense to look into the potential uses of the metal. Environmental and construction permits have been approved for NioCorp's (TSX:NB,OTCQX:NIOBF) polymetallic Elk Creek project with probable reserves estimated to be 36 million tonnes containing 65.7 parts per million scandium.

Scandium resources have been identified in minerals-rich regions across the world, most notably in Australia, where a number of junior mining companies are working to develop scandium deposits in New South Wales. These include Scandium International Mining (TSX:SCY), which controls the Nyngan project; Clean TeQ Holdings (ASX:CLQ,OTCQX:CTEQF), which holds the Sunrise project; and Platina Resources (ASX:PGM,OTC Pink:PTNUF), which is working on the Owendale project.

Scandium price and trading

The US Geological Survey states that the global scandium market is "small relative to most other metals." This is exemplified by global production and consumption, which is only an estimated 15 to 20 metric tons annually.

The US Department of Commerce and the International Trade Commission do not have specific data on trading for the metal. Furthermore, there is no formal buy/sell market today — scandium is not traded on an exchange and there are no terminal or futures markets.

Instead, the metal is traded between private parties, mostly at undisclosed prices and in undisclosed amounts. Therefore, understanding the precise volume of production and cost of scandium is difficult, and independent estimations are more relevant.

Production estimates are based on levels of trader activity and interest, as well as the knowledge that some traders deal in the critical metal from very small operations.

The estimates also include consumers believed to be sourcing their own scandium through small, controlled recovery operations, but don't consider amounts of the metal contained in the master alloy currently being sold from Russian stockpiles.

The scandium opportunity

Analysts expect the global scandium market to grow at a compound annual growth rate of above 11 percent between 2020 and 2025. "The major factors driving the growth of the market studied are the accelerating usage in solid oxide fuel cells, and the rising demand for aluminum-scandium alloys," notes ReportLinker.

Despite the lack of known, stable supply, scientists and engineers have been working hard to develop new products incorporating the metal. Scandium's potential in high-tech applications is well documented. Highlights of the metal's properties include:

  • It can be used in the creation of stronger, corrosion-resistant, heat-tolerant and weldable aluminum alloys for lightweight aircraft and automobiles.
  • Its outstanding electrical properties and heat resistance are valuable for solid oxide fuel cells.
  • It has unique optical properties for high-intensity lamps.

A recent Kaiser Research report on scandium details the wide variety of end uses for scandium now and into the future, as well as where potential supply to meet that demand may originate.

potential scandium oxide supply and demand

Potential scandium oxide supply and demand.

Kaiser Research

As Kaiser has explained, "There's an enormous latent demand for scandium if it ever became available on a primary, scalable basis."

In other words, the only barrier to accessing demand from a new family of high-performance aluminum materials and energy/lighting products is the lack of commercially viable larger-scale scandium production. Interestingly, Kaiser's work highlights two important scandium market events that may "have the potential to launch scandium demand growth over the next decade towards a 1,000 (tonne per annum) market worth US$2 billion."

For one, Rio Tinto (NYSE:RIO,ASX:RIO,LSE:RIO) announced in 2020 that it has developed a route to recovery for scandium at its Sorel-Tracy facility in Quebec, where it produces titanium slag from the Lac Tio iron-titanium deposit. In mid-2021, Rio Tinto began commercial-scale operations at its new scandium oxide production facility.

"The Rio Tinto development is a game changer for the scandium sector," said Kaiser, who believes the increase in scandium production could help boost the sector.

Secondly, Scandium International Mining filed an application in late 2019 for a patent protecting a method for recovering scandium and other metals from the waste streams of copper oxide leaching operations. In mid-2020, the company announced that copper raffinate tests showed its patent-pending process could recover enough scandium to match the supply being added to the market by Rio Tinto.

"Conditions are finally right for scandium to become the ideal lightweighting solution for aluminum," Kaiser said in his note to investors.

This is an updated version of an article originally published by the Investing News Network in 2014.

Don't forget to follow us @INN_Resource for real-time news updates!

Securities Disclosure: I, Melissa Pistilli, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.

Editorial Disclosure: The Investing News Network does not guarantee the accuracy or thoroughness of the information reported in the interviews it conducts. The opinions expressed in these interviews do not reflect the opinions of the Investing News Network and do not constitute investment advice. All readers are encouraged to perform their own due diligence.

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