We have to talk about Fanya Metal Exchange
Bismuth is a lead substitute and pearlescent pigment widely used in the cosmetics industry (hence the picture of a fashion model).
Explorers and miners hardly ever give bismuth a second thought.
And fewer still bother to indicate Bi reserves in reports (with one notable exception and for good reason).
It's relatively abundant (11 parts per million in earth's crust compared to gold's 0.0013) but usually in negligible concentrations. Only one mine in Bolivia and one in China mines bismuth ore.
Pretty boring topic then, much like rare earths were a decade ago. When the rest of the world handed the industry to China on a platter.
We all know what happened then:
- REE prices went into the stratosphere (for example, dysprosium prices did a bitcoin, rocketing from $118/kg to $2,262/kg between 2008 and 2011).
- Scores of explorers jumped into the space with Canadians and Australians finding deposits all over the world from Manitoba to Malawi.
- Old mine plans were dusted off and punters poured billions into the sector.
- Trade spats ensued, lobby groups sprang up and politicians even found ways to bash Barack Obama over rare earths.
- Rare earths became the basis for a bestselling video game and Hollywood came to the party, albeit unfashionably late, using samarium as a plot device and confusing entertainment writers everywhere.
- Even Kim Jong-Un got in on it.
Fast forward to 2014 and the REE party's over.
Perhaps the antimony, germanium, gallium, wolfram, indium, silicon, cobalt and bismuth party is just starting.
The Fanya Metal Exchange in Kunming, China trades all of these rare metals.
From total obscurity a couple of years ago Fanya is now the dominant player. It has stockpiled 3 times global indium production and is doing the same for bismuth.
After going nowhere for a very long time, bismuth prices are up 20% over the last year and and all the action in the industry has shifted from mines to Chinese broker-dealers.
Fanya is not quite Wall Street, but the exchange has now opened in the Shanghai Free Trade Zone.
If silver – which it also trades – can be cornered by two brothers who knows how far Fanya's ambitions reach.
Fanya makes no bones about its ultimate goal as a state-sanctioned operator.
In its mission statement it talks of China's "unique advantage in rare metals" and goes on to say that "from the perspective of the world economy, the protection and utilization of rare metal has been related to a nation’s strategy, safety and development."
Granted, a shortage of bird shot, Bi subgallate, Moodstruck Minerals Blusher and Pepto-Bismol does not rank as high as control systems for jet fighters (that can't fly without samarium according to Frank Underwood) or absorbers in nuclear reactor control rods.
We could probably get by without cheap, readily available and in-volume bismuth.
But why should we?
Image of bismuth germanate scintillator crystals by Savannah River National Laboratory.