Energy traders have spent weeks mulling over an agreement among OPEC nations to cut oil supplies, in a move to boost oil prices. The jury is still out on that move, but in the meantime, there is another commodity production cut on the table that really should move prices on one energy source - uranium.
The cut is coming directly from Kazakhstan, arguably the world's largest uranium suppliers. The Central Asian, formerly Soviet nation recently announced plans to cut supplies by 10% in 2017.
That's a big deal in the uranium market. According to World Nuclear News, Kazakhstan holds 12% of the world's uranium resources and "has been the world's leading uranium producer since 2009. Its 2015 production of 23,800 tU accounted for 39% of world production."
The uranium policy move is a big change for the country.
"The announcement by the Kazakhs of a decrease in planned uranium production marks a significant change from their production practice since the late 1990s, during which time Kazakhstan production increased more than tenfold and fundamentally shifted the nature of global uranium mining," states Ian Emsley, senior project manager at the World Nuclear Association, in comment to World Nuclear News.
Uranium prices are also on the rise due to the approved shipment by the United Nations of 116 tons of natural Russian uranium to Iran. Uranium, which had been trading in the $18 per-pound range to over $20 per-pound in mid-week trading.
The uranium supply cut is already boosting the price of the world's only uranium exchange traded fund Global X Uranium ETF (URA - Get Report) , which rose 8.5% in a single day of trading, on Tuesday, January 10. The fund has also skyrocketed from $13 per share to $16.41 per share since January 3, 2017.
Analysts point to the Kazakhstan production cuts as the primary reason. "We had given up on expecting Kazakhstan to exercise production restraint as its mines were the lowest cost operators in the world," says Rob Chang, head of metals and mining at Cantor Fitzgerald in Toronto, in a research note this week. "This news is a definite surprise and may be the inflection point for the uranium space to head higher across the board."
Kazakhstan readily expects prices to rise after the production cut.
In an email from a Global X fund spokesperson to TheStreet, the fund managers state that "as with other commodities, a cut in supply typically supports higher prices when there is an oversupply in the market, just as we have seen with OPEC and the oil output cut."
But the fund's management doesn't see uranium's price move as a short-term issue - it has plenty of long-range steam, as well. "Uranium is one of the only energy sources that couples large scale power output with low greenhouse gas emissions at a cost that's comparable to fossil fuels," the fund states. "The desire to service the ever-increasing global demand for energy in a cheap and clean manner positions nuclear reactors as one of the few sources that fit the world's needs, particularly in rapidly growing emerging markets like China and India."
But some commodities specialist urge prudence for investors jumping in, head first, to uranium-heavy funds like URA.
"Investors should be cautious in using narrow sector ETFs like URA and really understand the exposure they are adding," says Kevin Feldman, CEO at Feldman Capital LLC, an asset management advisory firm in San Francisco (Feldman is also a former CEO of World Gold Trust Services.)
"Unlike gold and silver ETFs which hold actual gold and silver bullion and track the spot prices of these two metals, this ETF tracks an index of uranium producers -- mostly small and micro-cap stocks which may not track the price movements of the physical commodity," notes Feldman.
Although URA has had strong performance since the beginning of the year, its highly concentrated portfolio of mining stocks can be extremely volatile, he adds. "Average three- and five-year returns have been negative, -18% and -20% respectively, even worse than the Solactive Global Uranium Index returns for the same period (-16.6% and -19.6%) which is the fund's benchmark.
Feldman makes a fair point. Yes, URA and uranium have had a great week, but that doesn't mean both will have a great year. But with prices trending upward due to the Kazakhstan and Iran news, uranium may be worth discussing with your financial advisor in the coming weeks.