Rick Rule of ‘Sprott Global Resource Investments‘ sits down with Maurice Jackson of ‘Proven & Probable’ to discuss the value proposition regarding ‘Clean Air’. Investors will be introduced to investment opportunities in platinum, palladium, uranium, coal, lithium, nickel and cobalt. Mr. Rule shares the macroeconomics regarding each of the aforementioned and how investors can participate in what may be an investment opportunity of a lifetime.
Get all the details here for the SPROTT NATURAL RESOURCE SYMPOSIUM (Be sure to mention this article from ‘Proven & Probable’ for your admission price reduction offered by Rick Rule of $400).
Rick Rule will also be speaking at ‘Capitalism & Morality’ hosted by Jayant Bhandari immediately following the Symposium. Please email [email protected]. Mr. Bhandari will offer for a limited time a $145 (U.S.) admission fee to ‘Proven & Probable’ subscribers. Please use the ‘Proven & Probable’ in the subject line.
Maurice: Welcome to Proven and Probable. I’m your host, Maurice Jackson. Today, we have an exciting show for investors as we uncover the value proposition regarding clean air. We will be discussing platinum, palladium, uranium, coal, lithium and cobalt. Joining me today is Rick Rule of ‘Sprott Global Resource Investments’ which is the preeminent name in the natural resource space. Rick, thank you for joining us today.
Rick: Maurice, always a pleasure. Thank you.
Maurice: Rick, before we begin today’s discussion, please share with investors why a discussion with ‘Sprott Global Resource Investments’ will be a prudent move for natural resource investors?
Rick: Well, my hope is that it’s consequence with 30 years of hard work building up Sprott. We believe ourselves to be the largest small cap natural resource money manager on the planet. We have decades of experience and also I think importantly on top of the experience, the money that we spend on an annual basis doing fundamental research, hiring geologists, hiring engineers, doing financial modeling, doing site visits, paying for market analysis on various commodities, puts us in a rather unique position as natural resource investors.
I think in fairness if investors are interesting in things like, I don’t know, supermarkets or textiles. They’d be better off with a specialist firm in those areas, but if people care about natural resources, the fact that we’ve done the same thing for 30 or 40 years, the fact that we’re probably the largest in the world and the fact that we have multi-million dollar research budget, probably argues in favor of participating with us.
Maurice: Well, thank you for sharing that. And for listeners that may not be aware, Rick Rule is one of the most distinguished serially successful investors of all time. So it’s quite an honor to have you here to share your thoughts on what may be an opportunity of a lifetime for contrarian and value-investors, which is clean air. You know, Rick, you’ve taught me a number of priceless lessons regarding investing and life. One in particular that I would like for you to expand upon which is germane for today’s discussion and that is scarcity, that it doesn’t necessarily mean high value. But scarcity with utility and demand are what create value. Can you expand upon that, please?
Rick: Well, yeah. Scarcity and utility as you just suggested, the conjunction of scarcity and utility is important. Scarcity means that in order for the commodity to—depending on pricing, of course, scarcity means that at a given price point, the demand for a commodity is greater than supply. And scarcity is useful as a concept for resource investors because when a commodity is being sold for less than its cost to production, well, the future looks bleak for the industry. In fact, the price of the commodity has to go up in order for supply to be present in years forward. That tells you why a commodity price should go up.
It’s important to look at utility too, how useful is the commodity to the consumer because that tells you that the price can go up. So, as an example later in this conversation, we’re going to be talking about platinum and palladium, and the truth is, that it costs the industry more to produce it than it sells for, which means if we’re going to have platinum and palladium in the future, the price has to go up or else the cost of producing it has to go down. And it’s important in the context of utility that at this price point, platinum and palladium generate really substantial values for users.
The consequence of understanding scarcity related to price and understanding utility again related to price is central to the thesis of platinum and palladium and central to the thesis of commodity investing in general.
Maurice: Well, you know, thank you for sharing that, Rick. Let’s delve now right into today’s conversation, which is clean air. You know, although it is a global challenge, whenever I hear clean air, as an investor, immediately my thoughts are focused on opportunities afforded by China because of their industrial pollution and the demographics on car sales and their need for catalytic converters as you just referenced to platinum and palladium. Can you expand the narrative on that, please?
Rick: Well, I think that’s a good point. In truth, the desire for clean air is global. I think about what the air was like when I was growing up in California without the technologies that have evolved to reduce auto emissions and reduce industrial emissions. And believe me, the air that we breathe today after 5 decades of economic growth is substantially better than the air that we were breathing here 50 years ago. So the truth is that the market for clean air is a global market, but the growth market as you suggest is a market in China and this occurs for a variety of reasons. Probably the two most important of which is that as China becomes richer, it can afford to clean up the air. It’s one thing to have a desire. It’s another thing to have the means.
But probably just as importantly, Chinese society and the Chinese government have settled on clean air as a real social priority for China in the next 10 years. The Chinese government has identified particulate air pollution as a special health challenge. Killing, they say, in excess of 500,000 Chinese people a year and costing billions and billions and billions of dollars in public health expenditures. Now this particulate pollution comes about from a number of sources, but the 3 most important are automobile emissions, industrial emissions and industrial emissions from coal-fired electrical generation. And the government of China is at least acting as though they are going to address each of these 3 very aggressively in the next 5 years.
If they do as they say, and we have to acknowledge right now that governments aren’t world-famous for doing what they say. But if they do what they say, that would result in really substantial disruption in a variety of commodity markets.
Maurice: You know, thank you for sharing that. If I’m not mistaken, didn’t China recently surpasses in the number of cars being sold or versus the United States.
Rick: My understanding is that the largest new car market in the world is now China followed very closely by the United States, of course. But the penetration of automobiles, that is, the number of Chinese with automobiles relative to the total population of Chinese and also the demographic growth of Chinese, meaning the growth in disposal income in their working and middle class is such that it is likely, or at least it is believed to be likely by the global automobile industry, that China’s lead over United States will continue to grow going forward from here. Penetration, that is the number of cars for potential driver, is much higher in the United States, much lower in China, so China has much more room to grow.
Maurice: You know, just to add on to that, I believe it’s 9/10 working Americans or adults, I should say, own cars. But in China, it’s just 3/10, so there’s a lot of potential growth there.
Rick: It’s a wonderful statistic, Maurice. I wasn’t aware of it, so thank you for bringing it on the conversation.
Maurice: You know, Rick, sticking with platinum and palladium. You know, platinum is in essence 30 times more rare than gold and it costs about $250 less today per ounce than gold. But unlike gold, platinum, and palladium respectively serve a critical role in clean air specifically catalytic converters. Where do we derive these metals and what is their cost of production right now?
Rick: Well, let’s—first of all, the source of the metals is almost entirely South Africa and Russia with minor contribution from Zimbabwe and even more minor contribution from producing platinum and palladium as a by-product of producing other metals in particular nickel. It’s worthy to note that in Russia in particular, which is important in terms of palladium production, their actual cost to production is fairly low because they produce it in conjunction with producing nickel and copper in the gigantic ore bodies of Uralsk.
With regards to platinum and palladium production in South Africa, however, it has been suggested by the world platinum council, an industry group, that as much as 60% of South African platinum and palladium production is uneconomic at current platinum and palladium prices. This despite of 50% devaluation in the South African currency and the 50% reduction in energy costs. In other words, over 3 years, the cost of producing platinum and palladium in South African terms has fallen nominally by more than 50% because the input costs, energy and locally sourced labor and materials have fallen fairly precipitously. That notwithstanding the industry estimates that 60% of South African production is not economic at current platinum and palladium prices and, in fact, this year it is estimated that the world will consume about 750,000 more ounces of PGE metals than it produces.
Maurice: That’s astounding. You know, for someone who may be wondering, why can’t we use nickel in our catalytic converters?
Rick: Well, the truth is we can use nickel and we can use gold, but platinum and palladium are uniquely suitable for catalytic conversion and relative to the job they do, it’s cheap. You could do the job with nickel. Unfortunately, it would take so much nickel that your car would tow a catalytic converter in a housing that would look very much like a small trailer. In other words, the amount of nickel it would take to effect the same cleansing activity on the air would be uneconomic due to size and due to weight.
You know, Maurice, I haven’t seen the statistic for this year, but my memory tells me that it takes about $150 worth of platinum group metals in a catalytic converter to allow Americans to enjoy the air quality that they enjoy today and to permit the sale of the new car. So if you think about the fact, it takes $150 worth of material to sell a $30,000 car, it says something about the demand elasticity for platinum. If you doubled the price, let’s say it costs you $300 rather than $150, in other words, the platinum price doubled. I don’t think it would make a material increase on the demand for cars or on the demand for clean air.
Maurice: Well said. You know, as well as if we stick with platinum and palladium, you know, the number of investors that are actually in the bullion and/or mining stocks is relatively low compared to gold and silver. Would you agree with that as well?
Rick: I absolutely would. You know, the attractiveness of gold has been very well-demonstrated now for the last 9 months really as a consequence of 0 interest rate and subzero interest rate policies. People have really began to be genuinely scared about the debasement of the currency. And the truth is, in some cultures historically, platinum and palladium but particularly platinum have also been regarded as mediums of exchange and stores of value. But in the western markets, the markets where still the money is, the role has always been assigned to gold and to a lesser degree silver.
The fact that platinum and palladium do have jewelry uses and do have uses in terms of the store of value, but in addition have these industrial uses tells me that when platinum and palladium get done playing catch-up that they have very, very large moves in front of them.
Maurice: I’m looking forward to those moves. You know, back in April, I had the distinct pleasure of listening to your masterful presentation regarding cars. Now I’m not ashamed to admit, but I learned something that surely captured my attention and it was when you asked the audience their thoughts on the future of cars specifically on hybrids and electrical cars. You know, Rick, besides platinum and palladium, what other natural resources can we find in these cars?
Rick: Well, it depends on the way that the technology perceives electric cars, certainly—well, anything electric—will lead to greatly increased utilization of copper. Copper is the most efficient relative to cost conductive metal in the world. So, ironically, almost whatever happens to the future of individual transportation, there will be more electronics in a car and more copper used. But battery technology, of course, would argue that there would be more lead used, more lithium used and more cobalt used if a different technology emerges, which is more fuel cell-centric. My suspension is that more platinum and palladium and more nickel would be used.
My own belief in the energy future and not just the transportation energy sector but the total energy sector is that the answer in terms of which sources will prevail will be yes, meaning that we will need as a society to generate and store electricity in many, many, many different ways and all of the so-called energy metals will benefit as a consequence of that.
Maurice: All right. You know, lithium has been gaining excitement in the natural resource space. Do you see a cause of concern regarding this excitement?
Rick: I do. What’s happening is that in the very near term, the increase in demand for lithium as a consequence of increased utilization of lithium-ion batteries is straining the industry’s ability to supply demand in current terms. But in termsof reserves and resources, we have already discovered lithium reserves and resources that would satisfy demand for in excess of 100 years. We need to, as a society, increase our investment in productive capacity on already identified reserves and resources.
The risk for investors comes in assuming that the current shortages can be best met by new ventures, by companies that are looking for lithium or companies that want to develop lithium. The shortage will be addressed by the big 4 existent lithium producers from their current reserve and resource. There is a mania underway in lithium with all of the money, virtually all of the money going into companies that are looking for lithium or hoping to develop lithium rather than companies that are going to produce lithium. And I would suggest you that 95% of the economic rent, real economic rent that will derive—that will be derived from the increased utilization of lithium will come from the existing producing players who can for much less capital cost ramp up production of already existing operations.
Maurice: All right. Now, does this also apply to cobalt or are the circumstances different?
Rick: I think in cobalt, the situations are different. You have some fair—well, different and the same interestingly. You have in cobalt an industry that produces about 40,000 tons a year and you could up that to 90,000 tons a year fairly easily from identified sources. The problem with that is that the vast majority of the identified sources are in the Congo and the Congo is an extremely troubled place—social risk, political risk, all kinds of risks. The other sources of cobalt in a global basis include once again Russia with their great ultramafic endowment and also places prospectively like Uganda and the Central African Republic.
You have a chicken and egg situation here, Maurice. Cobalt has enormous utility, but people are afraid to invest in the processes that would require cobalt as a centerpiece in the technology because they are afraid of supply shortage and higher price. The industry is afraid to invest an awful lot of money in productive capacity in cobalt as a consequence of the fact that it’s produced in places like the Congo. In particular, in places like Eastern Congo where there’s no real rule of law and, in fact, no political authority at all, so you have an interesting chicken and egg situation there.
What I suspect, Maurice, is going to happen in the cobalt business and ultimately the platinum and palladium business is that when the prices of these materials begin to run, and I think the price of these materials will begin to run, that you’re going to have a fad developing around cobalt exploration and platinum and palladium exploration very similar to the fad that you had 5 or 6 years ago with rare earths and that you’re having with lithium now. And ironically I think that that fad will ultimately benefit some speculators because although they may not be able to compete producing cobalt or platinum and palladium, my suspicion is that a global search for the ultramafic rocks that produce cobalt and platinum and palladium may yield some very large copper and nickel deposits. In other words, I think that the fad— the investing fad around cobalt and platinum and palladium will generate nickel exploration in effect in drag and that could ultimately be beneficial for everybody.
Maurice: Interesting. You know, Rick, I know you’re a big advocate for uranium. Why is that?
Rick: Well, pretty simply, one thing is I’ve learned to make money by investing in things for which there is ongoing demand that people hate, and people hate the uranium business. As a contrarian, of course, if somebody is ignoring something, that’s good enough. But people hating something is, if you will, the Holy Grail and when you talk about uranium, people don’t only talk about the fact that it’s an industry that isn’t earning its cost of capital. They talk about it in the context of Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Three Mile Island. So they despise it, but the fact that people despise it doesn’t disguise the fact or at least doesn’t obviate the fact that uranium is an absolutely critical part of the world’s electrical generating matrix. We may not like uranium in the United States, but it generates depending on the day between 16% and 18% of the base load electrical supply in the United States.
And, make no mistake, if uranium prices don’t go up, that supply will come off-market. The International Energy Agency and Cameco, the world’s largest uranium producer estimate that it costs the industry worldwide between US$60 and US$65 US a pound to produce uranium including the company’s cost of capital, that is indirect costs. And the company sells that same pound of uranium for between $35 and $40 a pound. So let’s use the high number. You make the stuff for $60 a pound and you sell the stuff for $40 a pound. You’ll lose $20 a pound and try and make it up on volume. That is not sustainable.
Maurice, your listeners and your viewers, if they’re American can ask themselves a simple question. 6 years from now or 7 years from now when they turn on the lights switch, will the lights come on? If they believe in 7 years that when they flip on the switch, the lights will come on, then they believe that the uranium price will go up high enough to cover the cost of production because if you take 16% of the US generating capacity offline, when the margin for error in the US is about 5%, what you do is you shut down the grid and that simply isn’t going to happen.
Maurice: You know, it sounds like the classical case of the cure for high prices is high prices and the cure for low prices will be low prices.
Rick: You know, Maurice, you’re right. Markets work. They’re messy and we hate them. But markets work. Your viewers when they hear this stark juxtaposition of math versus the narrative need to understand that although something absolutely has to happen, although it’s inevitable, it may not be imminent, which means that while the uranium price has to go up, it had to go up 3 years ago too. It doesn’t have to go up now. It may go up 2 years from now or it may go up 3 years from now. But the truth is it has to go up.
Maurice: You know, that’s a critical point you just emphasized there, so thank you for sharing that. Last but not least, how about coal?
Rick: At current prices, I like the coal business. Ultimately over time our utilization of coal is going to decrease. It’s going to decrease faster in places like the United States where we can afford alternatives like nuclear and alternatives in particular like natural gas. But the truth is that coal is one of the most efficient by volumes sources of electricity on the planet and there are places on the planet that are not going to be able to diversify out of coal as fast as rich countries are. The other simple truth about coal is that the United States at present is even more reliant on coal than we are nuclear. So the phase-out of coal is going to take place slowly over time.
Meanwhile, in the United States with regard to thermal coal, that is the type of coal that’s used to generate electricity, about 90% of US production now takes place at costs below—pardon me, gets sold at prices below the cost of production. So the same discussion that we had with regards to uranium takes place with regards to coal.
The second thing is that remember, the coal market isn’t the monolith. First of all, there’s thermal coal, the stuff that’s used to generate electricity, and there’s metallurgical coal, the stuff that’s used to make steel. And although about 20% of world steel production takes place with electric arc or reduction technology, 80% utilizes metallurgical coal. The same discussion that we had with regards to—
Maurice: Platinum and palladium essentially.
Rick: Platinum and palladium, pardon me, also takes place with regards to coal. If your readers and listeners believe that 7 years from now, they’ll be able to buy items that are made of steel, that means that they believe the coal price is going to be up because whether or not we like it, coal is a critical component in the making of steel and hence the fabrication of things like automobiles and refrigerators.
Maurice: All right. You know, it’s quite fascinating and very exciting and, again, from a value proposition. You know, Rick, you shared with the audience again the value proposition and opportunities regarding clean air. In my experience, I’ve seen investors take a discussion—I’m guilty of this myself—take a buckshot approach to the point capital to companies simply because their nomenclature had the name of the metals we’ve just discussed today without—[Laughing], you know, doing their due diligence. Sometimes that may be simply because they’ve grasped the fundamentals and they want to take action, but they have a difficult time discerning which companies they should deploy the capital towards. How can ‘Sprott Global Resource Investments’ assist them with this endeavor?
Rick: Well, I think we can help in 2 different ways, Maurice. For people who aren’t our clients, if they email us their existing resource portfolio, email it to [email protected] and have your portfolio both company name and symbol in the text, I personally will rank the companies and the portfolio and send it back to the people who emailed it to me with absolutely no obligation to the person who sends their portfolio in for ranking.
For people who would like to become customers of Sprott Global, after we have asked them some questions to ascertain their goals, their means and their risk tolerance, we will suggest strategies to accomplish that goal. In other words, if people are attracted to the value proposition offered up by lithium, we will separate the wheat from the chaff among lithium producers.
For people who like the platinum and palladium producers or the platinum and palladium narrative, pardon me, we will suggest implementation strategies with regards to platinum and palladium and coal and nuclear and the whole of natural resource commodities including, of course, the agricultural or soft commodities.
Maurice: Well, thank you for offering that. And for the listeners, we’d ask that you please put in the subject Proven and Probable to streamline the process in the email box for Rick Rule. So, thank you again, Rick. You know, finally, for investors that wish to learn about the best of the best exploration and mining companies, July 26th through 29th in Vancouver, British Columbia, Sprott will be hosting the ‘Sprott Vancouver Natural Resource Symposium’. What type of investors attend this symposium and why should someone listening attend?
Rick: Well, generally high net worth investors because part of the attraction of the conference is that you will meet 55 public company exhibitors and the possibility always exists to get them to private placement list with regards to those exhibitors. It’s probably suitable in many ways for all speculators, but the truth is that it costs money to attend and it costs time to attend. And so, people who have relatively good-sized portfolios probably can more realistically afford the time and treasure that’s required to show up to that conference. It’s worth noting, Maurice—I think a couple things about that conference.
First of all, it served the market for 25 years. The utility of the conference is such that survived the bear market that we’ve just been through in fine form. The conference has always delivered enough utility that investors could come to it in good markets and bad. The second thing that I think is important to note about the conference is that every public company that you see there will be public companies that are owned by Sprott in fee-generating managed accounts by Sprott. Now, that doesn’t mean that every one of these stocks is going to go up. What it does mean is that we know the companies well and we have researched the companies. In other words, they aren’t just advertisers. They’re content.
And the third thing I’d like to stress about this conference is that there will be 700 high net worth investors there, and the idea that all of the knowledge at the conference comes from the speakers, or comes from the exhibitors is nonsense. The truth is that the collective knowledge of 700 high net worth investors is worth a lot and you’ll have a chance to see those people in action, listen to their questions, participate with them in discussion groups. You’ll have the ability, by the way, to watch various speakers, several of whom have made hundreds of millions of dollars, and in the case of Robert Friedland, billions of dollars building natural resource companies. You’ll have the ability after they’re done speaking to watch them wander around the exhibit hall and listen to the questions that they ask of the companies. And I would suggest in the right set of circumstances, the bull market that’s coming that that opportunity itself is almost priceless.
Maurice: I wholeheartedly concur with every statement you’ve just made specifically with something that you mentioned there with the 700 high net worth investors. I had an opportunity to attend last year and you do receive just as much valuable information from those investors as you do from the exhibitors. So, thank you again for sharing that. And for investors that want additional information, we will provide a link with all the specifics for those that wish to attend physically or virtually for the ‘Sprott Vancouver Natural Resource Symposium’. Now, Rick, at the conclusion of the symposium, you will be speaking at another event in the same location hosted by Jayant Bhandari which is ‘Capitalism & Morality’. What can you share with us about this event?
Rick: Well, ‘Capitalism & Morality’ has become one of my favorite activities. It’s not a financial conference per se. It’s more of a philosophical conference. ‘Capitalism & Morality’ will appeal to those listeners and viewers of yours who believe themselves to be libertarian or free market-oriented. ‘Capitalism & Morality’ is really a discussion of the social and political issues of the day. So speakers, of course, like Jayant Bhandari, speakers like Doug Casey like myself will be talking really about nonfinancial topics. One of my personal favorite libertarian or anarco-capitalist intellectuals is a guy named Walter Block who teachers at Loyola University in New Orleans. And inexplicably to me, Mr. Block has come out in favor of Donald Trump for President. So I look forward to having a detailed conversation with my friend, Dr. Block, about what I see is sort of a divergence from his libertarian background. But I’ve known Walter for a long time, so it’ll be interesting to see if he can convince me.
Maurice: Well, I look forward to attending that as well. You know, I mentioned earlier that I’ve learned a lot regarding investing from you but also about life and this is what I was referring to earlier for those that are listening is when I’ve heard you speak in the past at the ‘Capitalism & Morality’ again through Jayant Bhandari, it’s just been phenomenal. I’ve learned so much in this. And again, there are additional speakers—Dough Casey, Adrian Day as well, is that correct?
Rick: That’s correct.
Maurice: Yes. So it’s going to be quite an opportunity for investors and again it’s not investment specific but to learn more about liberty in events such as this. You know, last question, Rick, what did I forget to ask?
Rick: Well, that’s a good question. Probably what you forgot to do among other things is ask me so that you could tie me down on air if I could provide any discounts for your listeners to the Vancouver Investment Conference. And if people mentioned in the subject line of the email where they inquire about the conference ‘Proven and Probable’, we will extend the preconference discount rate of $400 per attendee which actually expired a week ago. The regular conference rate is $699. So, the $400 rate affords a pretty substantial savings to people who avail themselves of it. I guess the last—well, actually it should probably be the topic of a different discussion, but at some point in time in the context of clean air and in the context of transportation, you and I should talk about oil and gas, but that probably we can save for another day.
Maurice: We’ll do. I look forward to doing that. I wanted to segregate the two because these are the metals that most investors tend to disregard and I wanted to put a little emphasis on them, but I look forward to conducting an interview in the future regarding that. Absolutely. Thank you.
Rick: You know, perhaps Vancouver, Maurice.
Maurice: Yes, sir. That would be great. Rick, in closing, please share the website and phone number for those that wish to contact ‘Sprott Global Resource Investments’.
Rick: Yeah, you get hold of us at www.sprottglobal.com. Look at in particular Contacts at sprottglobal.com and request any sort of information you want. The website is an interesting place by the way, Maurice. You’ve been there.
Rick: There’s about 200 hours of educational programming on the site which cost you nothing. Including 50 hours of coursework of something called ‘The Mining Investment College’ that we did in conjunction with the ‘Colorado School of Mines’. We sold that course years ago for $1000 per subscription. It’s now yours absolutely free at sprottglobal.com.
Maurice: Awesome. Rick, again, thank you so much for your time. It’s just—it’s always a pleasure and always enlightening.
Rick: Always a pleasure, Maurice. I look forward to seeing you in Vancouver at both conferences.
Maurice: I look forward to it as well. Take care, sir.
Rick: Thank you, sir.
Maurice: All right, sir.
[End of transcript]
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