The broad commodities sell-off last week did not claim victims in all the metals sub-sectors, with some glimmers of hope in rare earths.
Precious metals particularly took a beating after the US Federal Reserve indicated last Wednesday that economic stimulus would likely start tapering off at the end of this year. Industrial metals were also hard hit, due to a corresponding report from China showing that the country’s purchasing managers index fell from 49.2 in May to 48.3. A level below 50 is considered a contraction. Growth in China, the world’s largest metals consumer, has been downgraded to 7.7 percent in 2013 from an earlier 8.4 percent.
While the US economy is improving enough for the Fed to consider scaling back its $85-billion a month asset purchase program, the economies of Europe continue to be mired in recession, and that, combined with the sluggish growth in China, has metal buyers waiting on the sidelines until prices weaken further, analysts say.
Against that backdrop, rare earth prices did see a modest uptick last week. Metal-Pages reported that China’s rare earth market has seen a rebound in the prices of terbium, praseodymium/neodymium and dysprosium, due to a crackdown on illegal rare earth concentrate in Jiangxi province. Earlier this month China announced that government officials and business owners discussed how to tackle the illegal mining and selling of rare earths — following up on a 21012 crackdown on illegal REE miners and related businesses that stopped production of about 30,000 metric tons of rare earths, Mineweb reported.
According to Metal-Pages, the price of terbium oxide has moved up to RMB3,000 a kilogram from the RMB2,400 to 2,500 range earlier this week, while suppliers of praseodymium/neodymium are quoting the metal at RMB340,000 a tonne. Dysprosium sellers have increased their offer prices to about RMB1,400 a kilogram and are reluctant to sell below RMB1,300/kg, Metal-Pages said.
Low rare earth prices are impacting Lynas Corporation (ASX:LYC), which recently began refining rare earths in Malaysia shipped from its Mount Weld mine in Australia. The Australian reported that Lynas has “set a minimum price schedule” to come into effect July 1. Current prices of US$16 to $20 per kilogram are 25 percent below the minimum level for producers and are not sustainable, Lynas said. The company will try to convince its mostly Chinese customers that they should lock into long-term contract to guarantee supply, even though that would mean paying above-market prices, The Australian said.
Oman Daily Observer reported that Canada-based Medallion Resources (TSXV:MDL) has signed an MOU with Takamul Investment Company, a subsidiary of state-owned Oman Oil Company, to conduct studies investigating the viability of a rare-earth processing facility in Duqm. The facility would produce rare earths from monazite extracted from mineral sands.
Commerce Resources (TSXV:CCE) announced a summer drill program at its Ashram rare earth deposit in Northern Quebec, Canada. The program involves 1,000 to 1,500 meters of drilling and is aimed at upgrading its resources from inferred to measured and indicated. The deposit currently hosts 29.3 million tonnes at 1.9-percent TREO in the measured and indicated categories.
Mining Weekly reported that Arafura Resources (ASX:ARU) has cancelled a land sale agreement with OneSteel, and is scrapping plans for a rare earths complex in South Australia. Termination of the land purchase agreement would save the company A$400-million, the company said on Friday. Arafura’s stock slid almost 9 percent on the news.
Pele Mountain Resources (TSXV:GEM) has updated its resource estimate for the Eco Ridge uranium- rare earths project in Ontario. The Toronto-based company upped its indicated resource tonnage by 11 percent to 22.74 million tonnes, including 80.51 million pounds of total rare earth oxides (TREOs) and 22.55 million pounds of U308. Inferred resources more than doubled to 125.25 million pounds of TREOs and 37.62 million pounds of U308.
Securities Disclosure: I, Andrew Topf, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.
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