Entrepreneurs have a saying: “When everyone is digging for gold, we want to sell the shovels.”
We’ve seen the effect technology has had in the past 30 years, in everything from cellphones and computers to the cars we drive. These kinds of technological marvels will continue to be staples of the economy long after our children are grown.
So what’s the one element that all technology depends on?
To start with, technological advancement wouldn’t be possible without certain materials — so-called rare earth metals.
Comprising 17 different elements with names like names like yttrium, neodymium, promethium and dysprosium, rare earths are vital to a huge array of high-tech products and clean-energy initiatives like hybrid engines.
China controls 95% of the world’s supply, creating a virtual monopoly on these resources. Since 2009, China has attempted to curb exports, prompting Russia to announce a $1 billion investment into the sector by 2018 to cut Chinese dependence.
Although China controls the vast majority of these metals, the United States has a stake in the field through a small $1.2 billion company — Molycorp Inc (NYSE:MCP).
Molycorp has 26 locations spread across 11 countries. Its downstream operation ties it to the prices of rare earths, but that could prove to be a boon if rumors about China planning to buy these metals to build a national stockpile are true. The speculation on Molycorp has caused shares to rise nearly 12% since those reports surfaced last week.
|Copyright © 2013 Molycorp, Inc.|
|As of 2012, global demand for rare earths was around 145,000 metric tons, but supply was limited to just 113,000 — worldwide demand is forecast to rise 7.6% by 2015, up to 180,000 metric tons.|
According to management, companies reliant on these materials have held reduced inventories, but as demand picks up, the same companies will need to replenish their supplies and will look to Molycorp. As a business with a high barrier to entry, Molycorp has few competitors outside of China. The closest may be the Australian LYNAS CORP ADR (OTCMKTS:LYSDY), a $794 million miner that trades as a penny stock.
Molycorp missed earnings expectations last month, but MCP has rebounded almost to its original price level after a 19% drop. Considering that earnings are expected to increase 93% to profitability in 2014, it may be time to officially say the bottom has passed and acknowledge that this stock is in value territory.