Skip to comments.Dr. Copper’s Red Metal Elixir
Posted on 01/09/2013 12:06:53 PM PST by blam
Dr. Coppers Red Metal Elixir
Do you take diet or nutritional supplements? It could be as simple as popping an everyday vitamin pill from the many choices at the supermarket. Or perhaps you frequent one of those high-end stores where they have the super-duper top-shelf nutritional and homeopathic remedies.
If you take these kinds of supplements, there are a couple of things that Im sure you know. You wont cure what ails you by just taking one pill once. And you could do yourself harm by swallowing an entire bottle of some otherwise healthy elixir.
So whats the secret to success in this arena? Pick your pills carefully. Look for the supplement that suits your needs. Then buy a jar that contains enough product that you dont have to make frequent resupply runs to the drug store. But dont buy the extra-large, giganto-jumbo-size package, lest the product go stale over time.
Plus, you have to take the pills regularly. Find a routine. Usually, you take a dosage every day, or every other day. You want your body to get used to a certain level of the particular vitamin or supplement. But the key is to build it into your schedule. Dont go for a week or two on the meds and then go for a time when you forget about it.
So what does this have to do with investing? Its my way of getting into a discussion of commodity cycles, and particularly of investing in copper. You want to get in at a good time, and hang in there over the long haul. Thats the healthy way to build your portfolio over time.
Adding Copper to Your Diet
Copper? Didnt the metal fall victim to a precipitous mid-year fall in 2012, you may be wondering? Isnt the Chinese economy slowing down? Wont that drag down copper prices and hurt the share price of copper mining firms?
Its true that copper prices drifted down in the middle of last year from a high around $4/lb to a low closer to $3/lb. Indeed, share prices of many copper miners followed this same downturn.
Now, however, if you follow the charts, copper prices are recovering. And yes, the Chinese economy has slowed down, but only in some sectors. Other parts of the Chinese economy are going strong.
In particular, the Chinese are building out a massive electrical grid across their country. This project requires many thousands of tonnes (metric tons) of copper. Its not a high-visibility story, like the North Koreans firing a missile or something. But stringing copper wires across China is a daily fact of the worlds economic life. Its very good for copper.
Not long ago, I was in Toronto at a conference on technology metals. These include elements like uranium for nuclear power, lithium for batteries, rare earths for magnets and electronics. And much more.
One of the speakers was a well-known U.S. metals consultant named Jack Lifton. Mr. Lifton stood at the podium and casually mentioned almost in passing that the next worldwide metals crisis will be a shortage of copper.
Mr. Lifton explained, Copper forms the nerves of our civilization. The copper crisis will make the current rare-earth crisis look minor by comparison.
According to Mr. Lifton, the global copper industry isnt increasing output nearly as fast as demand for the red metal is growing. Just China alone is building a new grid for half a billion people.
Mr. Lifton continued, Thats like doing North America all over again, from scratch, and then some. Everything depends on moving electrons around on copper wire. And were approaching the point where theres not enough copper to make enough wire.
The Copper Industry Investment Cycle
Mr. Liftons comment helps illustrate a point about industries with high levels of capital expenditure. These kinds of businesses have unique dynamics. That is, some industries move through upturns and downturns unrelated to broader economic fluctuations, such as the normal business cycle. This is certainly the case in the mining industry, especially for critical metals like copper.
In the olden days, most copper came from underground mines, where workers used picks and shovels to chop high-grade ore out of veins. But as world copper demand increased in the 20th century, the industry evolved.
Now most of the worlds copper comes from about 30 very large mines. These are almost all massive pits just immense, deep holes in the ground. The ore grades in the pits tend to be low, which necessitates moving large tonnages of rock to the crushers. That is, a copper miner has to dig a lot of low-grade rock to refine enough product into copper metal for sale.
Another way of saying it is that copper is energy and capital-intensive. A typical mine requires a large array of mechanical equipment, such as large earthmoving machines, rock-crushers, grinders and all manner of chemical and metallurgical processing stations. Basically, the rolling equipment burns large amounts of diesel fuel, hauling rock and such. The stationary equipment spins due to the use of vast amounts of electricity.
The Era of Underinvestment
It takes money, equipment and management to set up a new copper mine. It also requires time 1015 years to go from an undeveloped prospect to a full-up operating mine.
When Jack Lifton said that theres not enough new copper coming online to make all the copper wire that the world needs, he was referring to an issue that has plagued the world over the past 30 years. Its been an era of underinvestment. For a variety of reasons, since the 1980s, there hasnt been nearly enough investment in new exploration, and certainly not in new mine development.
The result of underinvestment is that about 20 of the worlds largest copper mines are on their last legs. That is, they have perhaps 1020 years of mine life remaining. If you do the math, that means that copper companies across the world need to start building many new mines right about now. But that isnt happening.
Were past the point where anybody can just send a few more big trucks down into the big pits. Now, we need new mines, and theyre not out there in anything like the number and scale the copper market needs.
This scarcity is going to hit the market sooner rather than later inside of 36 months, 60 months on the outside.
Right now, copper supply is about equal to demand allowing for growing inventories in China, balanced with shrinking inventories most everywhere else that doesnt have state banks paying the carrying cost for inventory.
When the rest of the world begins any sort of economic recovery and increases use for copper the demand side will quickly overcome the supply side.
Well see copper move from $3.75- $4/lb to the $6 and $8/lb range. A double and more, for starters.
Does the future favor copper miners? You bet.
For now, my advice is to buy a modest-sized jar of Dr. Coppers Red Metal Elixir. Build a position in your favorite copper miners for the long haul, to benefit your financial health.
US nickels are 75% copper - 25% nickel.
Texas investor, billionaire Kyle Bass, has 20 million nickels in storage at his house. (His house is 41,000 square feet.)
Most main power wiring is done with Aluminum. Check it out yourself, look up at the high voltage power wires, are they white or red?
Just a thought.
Bingo. And the run up to your house also. Yes, there is copper lines, but not so many.
In my 30 years of chip-making, we (mostly) used aluminum for the wiring interconnections, etc. Later, we used TiW underneath to keep it (the alum) from 'migrating' and causing other problems.
Aluminum (rust) oxide (Al2O3) is a very good insulator and was mostly the cause of house fires on houses that were wired with aluminum wires.
TIP: Don't buy a house that has alum wiring.
As to the aluminum wiring, you got that SPOT ON. The only place aluminum wiring should be in a house is the main feeder and worst case the feeds to the oven and dryer.
IF you have aluminum wiring It would be highly advised to replace every socket and switch in your house with spec grade back wired screw clamp type. Strip back to fresh wire and dip or wipe No-Lox anti oxidant on the wire before inserting into the recept or switch.
Also check to see that the wires in your circuit breaker box have grey grease on them. If not they need to be redone also. If there is grease, power down the main and tighten all the connections in the power panel to a nice firm grip.
This will eliminate the problem permanently.
IF you have stick in the back receptacles with the friction grip on aluminum wire, your house is a ticking fire bomb waiting to happen. Aluminum was a mistake, but when they added the push in terminals it all went south fast. They work ok on copper but fail on aluminum.
Now that we have that out of the way, are you saying that all the heavy/long-distance transmissions wires we see on the biggest and highest poles are made of Aluminum?
If they are, I didn't know that. And, you think they're the same in China?
The wiring is made of aluminum with a single strand core of steel for tensile strength. The advantage of Aluminum is that it is less costly, weighs less so the hardware to hang it is cheaper, it is also more corrosion resistant. The wires are made slightly larger than the same rating in copper so that it will carry the same current.
Aluminum beats copper for transmission hands down.
It's a good day...I've learned something.