A guide to investing in lithium, nickel, and cobalt used for electric vehicles as it spurs another gold rush as mining companies scramble for “modern” resources such as lithium (white petroleum as its now aptly called), nickel, and cobalt.
Lithium’s properties include being the lightest metal on the Periodic Table which has the highest electrochemical potential of all metals. Lithium is a soft silvery metal that reacts immediately with water and air. Some analyst predicts that current lithium demand would rise from 16,500 to between 120,000 to 250,000 tons by 2025 to feed the 14 battery mega factories that are developed, mainly in China. Rising lithium prices in the short term are not seen as a threat to the electric vehicle sector, as most large battery manufacturers indicated that they had fixed forward prices when we asked them to comment. Lithium prices are set through direct negotiations, as no terminal or spot market exists for the commodity. Investors should be careful not to get to fixated on sentiment and remind themselves that lithium batteries have been around for some time for use in cell phones and other handheld devices. Batteries for these devices, up till now, make up nearly 90% of demand supplied by the likes of Samsung and LG Chem. Lithium is not a scares commodity, and production capacity should increase over the longer term to keep up with the growth in demand due to electric vehicles. Lithium mining is also not an expensive venture. Lithium carbonate is extracted through an evaporation process from a brine found in salt flats. A risk with lithium is that the biggest deposits are concentrated in South America, especially Bolivia, where a handful of mining companies can control prices.
Commodities that shows a bigger opportunity on the upside include nickel, copper, and cobalt. Analyst comments remained bullish on these commodities at the recent African Mining Indaba, held in Cape Town, South Africa. Although Africa also has lithium deposits, its mostly found in rock and more expensive to extract. These deposits are also better suited for the technical applications such as ceramic and glass industries, than chemical applications such as batteries. Reuters (February the 14th 2017) reports that investors are scrambling for physical stocks in cobalt, a key ingredient for electric vehicle batteries. By adding cobalt to the chemistry of lithium batteries, car manufacturers can gain range. Cobalt is a buy product of copper, where investors are exposed to larger risk and cost if they invest in mining companies, such as Anglo American, Glencore or BHP Billiton to gain exposure in cobalt. Therefore the only direct investment is to buy and stockpile physical cobalt, a process which has a high barrier of entry, excluding smaller investors. A further concern is that most of the world’s cobalt comes from the Eastern Congo, a war-torn region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), close to Rwanda and Burundi, whose rebels also use the region as a springboard for causing trouble. The political environment in the DRC has deteriorated and will not improve soon as the country prepares for elections by the end the decade.
Investors trying to make a mint out of the electric vehicle boom should also keep a constant eye on how technology and battery chemistry change in this new and fast-moving sector, creating new opportunities for certain metals or bubbles for those becoming outdated. Let the history of investing in solar cells not repeat itself for battery investors.
Please leave a comment on your best or worst performing electric vehicle related stock pick below.
Picture – Source NY Times