Uranium Miners ETF Report | March 2024

Uranium ETF Key Takeaways

Uranium markets pulled back in February, with the U3O8 uranium spot price declining -6.41%, from US$101.08 to $94.60 per pound. Uranium miners and junior uranium miners also sold off, falling -10.75% and -11.43%, respectively. This retreat follows a historic rapid run for the uranium spot price which had increased nearly 80% in seven months from July 2023 to January 2024. We believe the February price action marks a natural and healthy pause in the current uranium bull market.

Before retreating to the current price, February saw the uranium spot price hit a recent high of $107. Subsequently, a pause in buying activity has lowered trading volumes in the spot market. Prices were also negatively impacted by reports of profit taking by hedge funds. Despite this, the uranium spot price remains at levels not seen in 16 years, and the recent weakness does not indicate deterioration in the market’s strong underlying fundamentals, which are characterized by a structural supply deficit.

Over the longer term, physical uranium and uranium miners have demonstrated significant outperformance against broad asset classes, particularly other commodities. For the five years ended February 29, 2024, the U3O8 spot price has risen a cumulative 239.29% compared to 18.81% for the broader commodities index (BCOM).

The uranium market was jolted on February 2nd, after NAC Kazatomprom JSC (Kazatomprom), the world’s largest producer of uranium, confirmed they would not meet their previously announced 2024 production increase (14% reduction in production guidance). We believe this provides a strong signal to the market of the challenges to bring additional supply to market, irrespective of the higher uranium price.

Canadian-based Cameco Corporation, one of the world’s largest uranium producers, released its 2023 results in February. The earnings call provided both financial results and future operational guidance and is closely watched by investors for insights and uranium market signals.

Cameco reported uranium production for 2023 at 17.6 million pounds, slightly below guidance that had already been revised lower in September 2023.  Cameco announced similar production guidance for 2024 at 18 million pounds for both its Cigar Lake and McArthur River mines. Positive news included extending the estimated mine life of Cigar Lake to 2036, converting 73 million pounds from resources to reserves at Cigar Lake, and evaluating the expansion of McArthur River to 25 million pounds of capacity. While these potential production increases will help address the uranium supply deficit, they are not likely to have an impact until many years from now.

Cameco also highlighted a significant shift in the uranium market, with term contracting increasing from 124.6 million pounds of U3O8e in 2022 to 160.8 million pounds U3O8e in 2023. This represents the highest global contracting rate in over a decade and nears “replacement rate contracting,” which aims to meet annual nuclear reactor fuel needs. Long-term contracting figures could climb further, as the previous cycle’s peak was 250 million lbs. Notably, Cameco also indicated that it has never been this early in the contracting cycle with prices as high as they are today. Finally, investors reacted negatively to Cameco downplaying the importance of the spot market, which many view as critical for pricing signals and transparency and where sellers and buyers meet on a continuous basis to contract.

Multi-national Orano SA (headquartered in France) a privately owned major uranium miner, also released a production update in February. Orano is the majority owner of SOMAÏR, which mines uranium in Niger. Orano announced that uranium processing had slowly restarted at SOMAÏR in February after receiving some required reagents.  Operations had been disrupted for several months due to the coup d’état in Niger in July 2023 and resulting border closures inhibiting the importation of these reagents. The situation in Niger is still developing, and Orano continues to face logistical challenges with both accessing the required reagents and exporting uranium.

Canadian uranium exploration and development company IsoEnergy Ltd announced the recommencement of operations at its Tony M uranium mine in Utah, targeting first production in 2025. This restart coincides with Energy Fuels Inc.’s revival of its White Mesa Mill in Utah, with whom IsoEnergy has a toll milling agreement in place. The Tony M mine boasts full permitting and prior production history, having operated during 1979-1984 and 2007-2008. Though classified as a small mine, it yielded nearly one million pounds of U3O8 (yellowcake uranium) across these periods. IsoEnergy’s announcement adds to the growing trend of junior uranium miners reviving dormant projects, capitalizing on a potential rise in uranium prices.

Fuelled by rising uranium spot prices, several junior uranium mining companies are taking notice, even if trading volumes remain modest. Unlike established producers, many junior miners have not yet sold their production forward under long-term contracts. This could position them to reap significant rewards if uranium prices continue to climb.

Recent headlines on uranium mine restarts mask an important fact: current uranium mine supply is significantly below the world’s uranium reactor requirements. Furthermore, the secondary supplies (predominantly commercial inventories) that have filled in the gap historically are no longer available for sale. We believe any further setbacks to uranium supply may reenergize the uranium markets, especially given lingering geopolitical considerations. Most recently, France and Mongolia made headlines with the delay of their $1.6 billion uranium mining deal.  France is the world’s third largest uranium consumer, and rising tensions with the East may have jeopardized the deal. Mongolia is landlocked between Russia and China, and Russia has become increasingly opposed to Western influence on its neighbours. The deal was set to be signed at the end of 2023, with France noting that it could provide Mongolia with “the means to benefit from greater strategic sovereignty” in the face of “two extremely powerful neighbours.” A cancelled deal would represent another hit to Orano, but an agreement is not likely until after France and Mongolia’s June elections.

U.S. efforts to diminish reliance on Russia represents another geopolitical risk to uranium markets.  A hearing entitled “Going Nuclear on Rosatom: Ending Global Dependence on Putin’s Nuclear Energy Sector” was scheduled for February 15, but then was postponed. The Prohibiting Russian Uranium Imports Act (the Act) passed the U.S. House in December and is still pending a vote in the Senate. The Act would limit imports of Russian supply to 2027 and ban them thereafter. However, Tenex, a Russian state-owned uranium company, has warned American customers that if this Act were to pass, Russia might pre-emptively bar exports of its supply to the U.S., further exacerbating supply uncertainty, especially in the U.S.

We believe that the governments continued support for nuclear energy helps bolster the uranium market and uranium miners. The most recent developments include:

  • China: Continues to showcase exemplary long-term demand for nuclear. The Chairman of China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) stated that the country can add as many as 10 reactors per year.
  • Japan: Added uranium to its critical minerals list, allowing the allocation of more funds and resources for uranium-related research. This furthers the country’s U-turn in nuclear policy, where it has restarted 11 reactors and has another 16 at various stages in the process of restart approval.
  • South Korea: Has made a full reversal of its nuclear phase-out policy and expanded its program. Bloomberg reported recently that the country may need to increase nuclear energy to account for 45% of the electricity supply. Currently, nuclear power accounts for about 30% of the country’s electricity consumption, and South Korea still relies on fossil fuels for 60%.
  • United States: Continued its push for domestic enrichment capabilities by unveiling a bill with $2.7 billion earmarked for the industry. The funds are part of a broader plan to buy domestically produced enriched uranium.
  • Canada: Issued its first nuclear-inclusive green bonds. At C$4 billion, the debt raises funds to support the nuclear power sector and paves the way for similar issuances from companies. The issuance clearly showcases that nuclear is, in fact, “green”.

Source of all performance data: Bloomberg / HANetf as of 29.02.2024. Additional sources available upon request. All performance figures are showing net data. Past performance is not indicative of future performance and when you invest in ETFs your capital is at risk.

Macro Outlook

We believe that uranium’s recent pullback from the triple digits may be an attractive entry point in the overall uranium bull market. A longstanding primary supply deficit and renewed interest in nuclear energy highlight the real challenges to bring the market back into balance. With no meaningful new supply on the horizon for three to five years, we believe this bull market has further room to run. While last year’s multi-year record in long-term uranium contracting was celebrated, the overall numbers disguise a bifurcated market. Some utilities are well covered, while others have ignored the powerful market signals and adapted their procurement strategies to the new market realities.

With global uranium mine production well short of the world’s uranium reactor requirements, the supply deficit building over the next decade, and near-term supply inhibited by long lead times and capital intensity, we believe that restarts and new mines in development are critical. The uranium price target as an incentive level for further restarts and greenfield development is a moving target, and we believe that we will need higher uranium prices to incentivize enough production to meet forecasted deficits. Over the long term, increased demand in the face of an uncertain uranium supply may likely continue supporting a sustained bull market.

Please remember that when you invest in ETFs, your capital is at risk.

Uranium ETF Performance
As of 29/02/2024

1M3M6MYTD12M3YSI
Sprott Global Uranium Miners UCITS ETF-10.75%3.34%31.13%0.65%50.15%N/A36.24%
North Shore Sprott Uranium Miners Index-10.69%3.57%31.45%0.80%51.01%106.64%38.12%

Please note that all performance figures are showing net data. Source: Bloomberg / HANetf. Data as of 29/02/2024

Performance before inception is based on back-tested data. Backtesting is the process of evaluating an investment strategy by applying it to historical data to simulate what the performance of such a strategy would have been. Back-tested data does not represent actual performance and should not be interpreted as an indication of actual or future performance. Past performance for the index is in USD. Past performance is not an indicator for future results and should not be the sole factor of consideration when selecting a product. Investors should read the prospectus of the Issuer (“Prospectus”) before investing and should refer to the section of the Prospectus entitled ‘Risk Factors’ for further details of risks associated with an investment in this product. When you invest in ETFs and ETCs, your capital is at risk.