North American rare earth stocks jump on Lynas woes

Lynas Corp (ASX:LYC) on Tuesday lost another 3% bringing its losses since news of a fatality at its plant in Malaysia to over 7%.

Opponents of the Australian company's operations in Kuantan, Malaysia — known as the Lynas Advance Material Plant (LAMP) — are now calling for the facility to be shut down pending an official investigation into the death of an engineer.

Shares in the company on the Sydney stock exchange gave up 3.6% on Tuesday in heavy volumes of more than 8.5 million shares traded. The counter ended at A$0.265, just half a cent off a fresh 52-week low struck earlier in the day affording it a market capitalization of $519 million.

Lynas stock is down 55.8% this year and is now trading at levels last seen in March 2009. Lynas's value peaked at close to $5 billion in April 2011.

Lynas began initial production at LAMP last November and shipped its first batch of 144 tonnes of rare earth oxide (REO) equivalents in the June quarter.

Raw material are transported to Malaysia from the company's Mt. Weld mine in Western Australia. Lynas announced in June it would limit production to 11,000 tonnes per year at Mt. Weld — one of the world's richest deposit of rare earth — due to low demand and depressed rare earth oxide prices.

Government permitting delays and legal challenges from environmental groups and local residents dogged the project for several years and LAMP still only has a temporary operating licence from Malaysian authorities.

In contrast to the besieged Australian firm (and maybe because of its troubles), North American companies in the rare earth sector were enjoying a particularly positive day.

US producer Molycorp (NYSE:MCP) which together with Lynas produce the bulk of rare earths outside China, surged more than 6%, lifting its market value to $1.15 billion.

The Colorado-based company's outgoing CEO recently remarked that for light rare earths Molycorp and Lynas and perhaps one other smaller player outside China would be enough and as for heavy rare earths, "one or two projects" outside of China would be sufficient to meet demand.

Canadian juniors locked in a race to build the country's first rare earth mine all made strides. Rare Element Resources (TSE:RES) and Avalon Rare Metals (TSE:AVL) were up 7.5% and 5.3% respectively. Gains for Quest Rare Minerals (TSX:QRM) were more modest at 2.3%.

China, which produces close to 90% of the world's REOs, recently allocated a total of 15,110 tonnes of export quotas for the first half of 2014, little changed from previous years.

Privately-held SRE Minerals earlier this month announced the discovery in North Korea of what is believed to be the largest deposit of rare earth elements anywhere in the world, holding more than 200 million tonnes of REO.