Friday 24th January 2020

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Posts tagged ‘china’

Clint Cox: Formidable challenges face competitors of Chinese rare earths

January 20th, 2020

by Greg Klein | January 20, 2020

Depending which part of the supply chain’s under consideration, this one country produces anywhere from 70% to 95% of these critical minerals. China’s overwhelming rare earths dominance has long been obvious but trade tensions have once again highlighted the problem. Speaking at VRIC 2020 on January 19, Clint Cox outlined the hurdles Westerners face in the struggle to ensure security of supply.

Formidable challenges face competitors of Chinese rare earths

An analyst with The Anchor House who’s specialized in REs since 2006, Cox works with people throughout the supply chain including end users, government agencies, producers and junior explorers.

Last year China’s trade war threat to “weaponize” rare earths brought chills to Western end-users, who are all too familiar with the crisis of 2010. Prior to the Senkaku incident, prices had been trending downwards. Then came the monumental spike, shooting up costs of some elements 30 times.

“Our entire auto industry in North America almost shut down because of this,” Cox says. “A number of other industries almost shut down because of this.”

Naturally juniors found opportunity in crisis. Previously numbering about a dozen, ASX- and TSXV-listed rare earths explorers swelled their numbers beyond 450, a number grossly disproportionate to the availability of qualified geos. “They raised almost $6 billion in that time period,” Cox points out. “They ended up with one producing mine in Lynas Corporation and one mine in Molycorp, the Mountain Pass mine that went bankrupt.”

Mountain Pass in California has since re-opened—as a supplier to China. The world’s greatest source of rare earths deposits has, over the last two years, become a significant importer.

That’s a legacy of environmental neglect that includes an 11-square-kilometre tailings pond with about 100,000 to 150,000 tonnes of exposed radioactive muck, right next to a tributary of the Yellow River.

“China knows this,” he says. “They’re trying to fix it.”

As a result the government has been shutting down mines and looking for external sources. But on a global scale domestic production remains overwhelming.

As does the processing supply chain, led by six state-owned companies that have consolidated their operations. The Big Six benefits from China’s approach to capitalism.

Formidable challenges face competitors of Chinese rare earths

Clint Cox: China’s RE benefits include
geology, expertise, black market production
and totalitarian government support.

“They are all subsidized, every last one of them,” Cox emphasizes. “They’re subsidized at the local level, the provincial level and the national level. This could be free power, this could be interest-free loans, it could be loans that never have to be paid back, and sometimes just flat-out cash payments. They are subsidized at every level.”

Companies in Bayan Obo, China’s most important rare earths-producing region, received about $395 million in government support over just one year. “That’s free money, that’s a subsidy, that’s tough to compete with. That’s way over what the United States is going to spend to try to solve this issue.”

A 20-year expansion plan for rare earths projects in the region finished well ahead of schedule, he notes.

Cox says China began 37 rare earths projects last year, promising some 48,000 tonnes of magnet production. “We only have a couple of hundred tonnes of magnet production in North America. And they spent close to, we gather, ten and twenty billion dollars on making rare earths facilities last year. And we’re excited about tens of millions, or maybe a hundred million dollars spent on some of the projects by the government this year.”

The country’s environmental legacy notwithstanding, China’s current handling of radioactivity presents another advantage. Freeing up the miners, the Chinese nuclear authority now takes responsibility for dealing appropriately with waste. Non-Chinese companies have to fend for themselves. Such challenges have been illustrated by Lynas, which faces opposition to the cracking and leaching plant in Malaysia that processes material from the company’s Mount Weld mine in Western Australia.

Another Chinese advantage: The Big Six launders material from the “unofficial or black market,” coming from unsanctioned, artisanal operations of dubious environmental and workplace standards. Some of it comes from inside China, while additional sources include Myanmar and other parts of southeast Asia, South America and elsewhere.

“So a lot of material flows through this black market. They legitimize it, because once it enters one of their supply chains, one of the Big Six, they can stamp an ‘official’ stamp on it and it becomes official material.”

He adds, “In general, Western countries can’t utilize the black market like China can. That is a huge edge. Some of the black market material can cost one-third of regular material.”

The juniors are definitely the place where the last crop of potential mines came from, and it looks like they might be the next out there. There’s some out there today.—Clint Cox

Supporting all this is a totalitarian regime. “That is tough to compete with.” Despite heightened Washington concern, the U.S. government agencies trying to address the problem remain uncoordinated. U.S. Congress currently has 18 bills concerning rare earths, Cox says.

Still, efforts persist to extract rare earths from sources such as mineral sands and coal. Then there are the juniors.

“The juniors are definitely the place where the last crop of potential mines came from, and it looks like they might be the next out there. There’s some out there today.”

But he has a warning for would-be miners who assume they’d receive a premium for non-Chinese supply. They won’t, he cautions. They’ll have to meet Chinese prices.

Other possibilities might not be predictable. “A dark horse can always come up. You never know what might happen in the rare earths industry. A new application, a new mine, a new processing technology, any of that can transform the industry.”

Read about the Canada-U.S. Joint Action Plan on Critical Minerals Collaboration.

Infographics: The United States and the new energy era’s lithium-ion supply chain

December 11th, 2019

by Nicholas LePan | posted with permission of Visual Capitalist | December 11, 2019

The world is rapidly shifting to renewable energy technologies. Battery minerals are set to become the new oil, with lithium-ion battery supply chains becoming the new pipelines.

China is currently leading this lithium-ion battery revolution—leaving our neighbour to the south dependent on its economic rival. However, the harsh lessons of the 1970s-to-’80s oil crises have increased pressure on the U.S. to develop its own domestic energy supply chain and gain access to key battery metals.

Introducing the new energy era

This infographic from Standard Lithium TSXV:SLL explores the current energy landscape and America’s position in the new energy era.

 

The new energy era’s lithium-ion supply chain

 

An energy dependence problem

Energy dependence is the degree of a nation’s reliance on imported energy, resulting from an insufficient domestic supply. Oil crises during the 1970s to ’80s revealed America’s reliance on foreign-produced oil, especially from the Middle East.

The U.S. economy ground to a halt when gas prices soared during the 1973 oil crisis—altering consumer behavior and energy policy for generations. In the aftermath of the crisis, the government imposed national speed limits to conserve oil, and also demanded cheaper, smaller and more fuel-efficient cars.

U.S. administrations set an objective to wean America off foreign oil through “energy independence”—the ability to meet the country’s fuel needs using domestic resources.

Lessons learned?

Spurred by technological breakthroughs such as hydraulic fracking, the U.S. now has the capacity to respond to high oil prices by ramping up domestic production.

By the end of 2019, total U.S. oil production could rise to 17.4 million barrels a day. At that level, American net imports of petroleum could fall in December 2019 to 320,000 barrels a day, the lowest since 1949.

In fact, the successful development of America’s shale fields is a key reason why the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) has lost most of its influence over the supply and price of oil.

A renewable future: Turning the ship

The increasing scarcity of economic oil and gas fields, combined with the negative environmental impacts of oil and the declining costs of renewable power, are creating a new energy supply and demand dynamic.

Oil demand could drop by 16.5 million barrels per day. Oil producers could face significant losses, with $380 billion of above-ground investments becoming worthless if the oil industry and oil-rich nations are not prepared for a surge in green energy by 2030.

Energy companies are hedging their risk with increased investment in renewables. The world’s top 24 publicly listed oil companies spent on average 1.3% of their total budgets on low carbon technology in 2018, amounting to $260 billion. That is double the 0.68% the same group had invested on average through the period of 2010 and 2017.

The new geopolitics of energy: battery minerals

Low carbon technologies for the new energy era are also creating a demand for specific materials and new supply chains that can procure them.

Renewable and low carbon technology will be mineral-intensive, requiring many metals such as lithium, cobalt, graphite and nickel. These are key raw materials, and demand will only grow.

 

Material 2018 2028 2018-2028 % growth
Graphite anode in batteries 170,000 tonnes 2.05M tonnes 1,106%
Lithium in batteries 150,000 tonnes 1.89M tonnes 1,160%
Nickel in batteries 82,000 tonnes 1.09M tonnes 1,229%
Cobalt in batteries 58,000 tonnes 320,000 tonnes 452%

(Source: Benchmark Minerals Intelligence)

 

The cost of these materials is the largest factor in battery technology and will determine whether battery supply chains succeed or fail.

China currently dominates the lithium-ion battery supply chain and could continue to do so. This leaves the U.S. dependent on China in this new era.

Could history repeat itself?

The battery metals race

There are five stages in a lithium-ion battery supply chain—and the U.S. holds a smaller percentage of the global supply chain than China at nearly every stage.

 

The new energy era’s lithium-ion supply chain

 

China’s dominance of the global battery supply chain creates a competitive advantage that the U.S. has no choice but to rely on.

However, this can still be prevented if the U.S. moves fast. From natural resources, human capital and technology, the U.S. can build its own domestic supply.

Building the U.S. battery supply chain

The U.S. relies heavily on imports of several key materials necessary for a lithium-ion battery supply chain.

 

U.S. net import dependence
Lithum 50%
Cobalt 72%
Graphite 100%

(Source: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management)

 

But the U.S. is making strides to secure its place in the new energy era. The American Minerals Security Act seeks to identify the resources necessary to secure America’s mineral independence.

The government has also released a list of 35 minerals it deems critical to the national interest.

Declaring U.S. battery independence

A supply chain starts with raw materials, and the U.S. has the resources necessary to build its own battery supply chain. This would help the country avoid supply disruptions like those seen during the oil crises in the 1970s.

Battery metals are becoming the new oil and supply chains the new pipelines. It is still early in this new energy era, and the victors are yet to be determined in the battery arms race.

Posted with permission of Visual Capitalist.

See European Union pledges €3.2 billion for lithium-ion R&D.

Commerce Resources reports high grades over wide intervals at Quebec rare earths-fluorspar project

November 28th, 2019

by Greg Klein | November 28, 2019

With core moved from the storage vault to the lab, new assays further confidence in a resource update anticipated for next year as the Ashram deposit advances towards pre-feasibility. The results come from a 14-hole, 2,014-metre program sunk in 2016 but only recently assayed for budgetary reasons. Now cashed-up Commerce Resources TSXV:CCE unveils an impressive batch of near-surface rare earths and fluorspar intercepts from the northern Quebec property.

Commerce Resources reports high grades over wide intervals at Quebec rare earths-fluorspar project

Among the highlights are one of the project’s best-yet intercepts: 2.38% rare earth oxides over 64.54 metres, with sub-intervals including 3.02% over 28.35 metres. Another standout shows 1.71% over 221.95 metres, including 2.18% over 36.16 metres. Yet another hole boasts 2.16% over 53.55 metres. (True widths were unavailable.)

These are near-surface results, starting at downhole depths of 66.5 metres, 2.69 metres and 1.54 metres respectively.

Another critical mineral and one not factored into Ashram’s previous PEA, fluorspar also comes through in impressive grades, such as 7.2% calcium fluoride over 221.95 metres, including 11.5% CaF2 over 36.16 metres. Metallurgical studies currently underway work on upgrading the fluorspar to higher-priced acid grade in a flowsheet that would provide both rare earths and fluorspar concentrates, improve RE extraction and reduce tailings. The Colorado lab will also produce samples to meet requests from potential customers.

This round of definition drilling targeted the deposit’s northern, western and southern margins with holes spaced 50 metres apart, and in some cases 25 metres apart. Additional drilling at 25-metre centres may take place.

Using a 1.25% cutoff, Ashram’s 2012 resource estimate showed:

  • measured: 1.59 million tonnes averaging 1.77% total rare earth oxides

  • indicated: 27.67 million tonnes averaging 1.9% TREO

  • inferred: 219.8 million tonnes averaging 1.88% TREO

The carbonatite-hosted deposit features relatively simple monazite, bastnasite and xenotime mineralogy, familiar to conventional rare earths processing

Anticipated for the coming year is Ashram’s first resource update since 2012, factoring in 9,625 metres of drilling since then. Previous drilling followed mineralization from near-surface to depths beyond 600 metres where mineralization remains open, as evidenced by 4.13% REO over 0.6 metres beginning at 599.9 metres’ depth.

Work continues as the United States and other allied countries show increasing concern about China’s domination of several critical minerals with a special focus on rare earths but also including fluorspar, tantalum and niobium. Commerce also holds the advanced-stage Blue River tantalum-niobium deposit in southern British Columbia.

About two kilometres from Ashram, Saville Resources TSXV:SRE operates the Niobium Claim Group under a 75% earn-in from Commerce. After releasing niobium-tantalum-phosphate results last June, Saville now has the project’s fluorspar potential under evaluation.

Earlier this month Commerce closed the final tranche of a private placement totalling $2.51 million. Another placement in August garnered $413,749.

Read more about Commerce Resources.

Mining for the future

November 21st, 2019

Saskatchewan Research Council R&D fosters innovation and sustainability

by Greg Klein

Predictably for a jurisdiction so rich in potash and uranium, mining plays a prominent role in the Saskatchewan Growth Plan, a 10-year economic program announced last week. Skeptics, however, might question the goal to extract lithium and rare earths locally and even set a near-precedent in non-Chinese commercial REE separation. But it turns out that some of that work has been underway for years, while other targets have already been in the planning stage. That’s just part of a wide range of mining expertise developed and applied by the Saskatchewan Research Council.

Saskatchewan Research Council R&D fosters innovation and sustainability

SRC employees look over the remediated Lorado mill site
in northern Saskatchewan. (Photo provided by SRC)

SRC figures strongly in the province’s new agenda, whose mining-related initiatives include a continuation of the PST exception on drilling, streamlining permitting, creating a Geoscience Data Management System, boosting annual uranium and potash sales, upgrading and building road, rail, pipeline and power infrastructure, and developing nuclear energy.

If some of the mining-specific plans sound over-ambitious, it’s reassuring to learn how few of them are actually new. “The fact that the projects have been promoted in an integrated growth plan is in some ways new, and some of the projects themselves are fairly new in the public domain,” says SRC president/CEO Mike Crabtree. But a surprising amount of work is well underway at his organization, which plays an integral role in the growth plan, in Saskatchewan industry and, increasingly, on the global mining scene.

A Crown corporation with over 340 employees, 1,400 clients in 23 countries and $75 million in annual revenue, SRC focuses its largest division on mining and energy. Mining-related R&D covers everything from early exploration to remediation, with growing attention to sustainability and innovation.

Saskatchewan Research Council R&D fosters innovation and sustainability

Rare earths solvent extraction helps develop another
source of critical minerals. (Photo provided by SRC)

The SRC boasts the largest potash, uranium and diamonds labs in the world. Most Canadian diamond production and a substantial amount of kimberlite from around the world passes through the Saskatoon facility.

“With uranium we test tens of thousands of ore samples per year, predominantly for Saskatchewan but also on a global basis. In terms of that, we’re very much the largest laboratory in the world and, for very similar reasons, for potash.”

But SRC’s work goes far beyond assays. “We’ve also used those laboratories for designing and modelling mine feasibility, through to diagnostics and optimization of ongoing mine operations, and then monitoring and remediation for closure,” Crabtree explains. “That’s full-cycle mining and minerals, making SRC probably one of the largest integrated testing, research and development facilities for mining, certainly in Canada and possibly in the world.”

One sustainability project focuses on comminution, the highly expensive and energy-consuming practice of breaking, crushing or grinding rock for further processing. SRC’s advanced ore sensor and sorting techniques can greatly reduce the procedure with no loss of production and sometimes even an improvement.

Saskatchewan Research Council R&D fosters innovation and sustainability

The SRC’s mineral processing labs handle extensive
work in addition to assays. (Photo provided by SRC)

“We’re already seeing the opportunity to reduce energy costs and therefore the carbon footprint by anywhere from 20% to 40%. That’s huge, given that often 40% of operating costs are in energy. That kind of sustainability and economic optimization really just shows different sides of the same coin.”

Remediation work applies leading edge expertise to former mines through SRC’s Project CLEANS, which takes on the challenge of mitigating some 37 former uranium sites that shut down during the 1960s and earlier.

On another front, Crabtree says SRC oil and gas expertise brings “a lot of synergies” to the development of in-situ mining, a method that’s being tested on potash and uranium projects in Saskatchewan.

As for strategic minerals, the SRC harbours some surprising ambitions: local lithium and rare earths extraction, along with processing in both areas including commercial-scale REE separation. That last goal could give Saskatoon a key role in challenging China’s near-monopoly on rare earths supply chains.

Looking at lithium, Saskatchewan has two potential sources, the continental brines of the southern province, as well as oil and gas-produced waste water.

Starting with lithium levels of 50 ppm to 150 ppm, “SRC has developed technology to concentrate those brines up to maybe 2,500 or 3,000 ppm while excluding the contaminants, which makes processing to lithium hydroxide or lithium carbonate much easier and financially viable,” Crabtree says.

Saskatchewan Research Council R&D fosters innovation and sustainability

SRC oversees the Cowessess First Nation Renewable
Energy Storage Facility. (Photo provided by SRC)

Another possible source of critical minerals from waste comes from the world’s highest-grade uranium resources, which offer rare earths potential from tailings.

Of course with rare earths, the greatest challenge remains processing and separation. SRC plans to develop technology that could be applied to liquid raffinate from waste, or to the bastnasite or monazite minerals often associated with RE deposits.

Phase I begins next year. Working with industrial partners, SRC intends to produce a concentrate of 99.95% mixed rare earths oxides or rare earths carbonate.

Phase II, subject to funding from industry and government, will be to separate the concentrate into individual elements. He foresees “a smaller-scale commercial plant that would demonstrate the commercial viability of that technology. We can see a plant operating within about three years, assuming we can get funding. If no other plant is built by 2003, it would be the first commercial plant in North America.”

And a momentous achievement. Except for the Lynas facility in Malaysia and possibly a small-scale operation in France, there’s currently no commercial RE separation outside China, he points out.

Additionally, “we believe the process will be substantially more economically viable and much more environmentally sustainable than current techniques.”

Saskatchewan’s Growth Plan also calls for nuclear power. By becoming a consumer of its own uranium, the province hopes to drastically cut its dependence on coal and natural gas-fired electricity.

Saskatchewan Research Council R&D fosters innovation and sustainability

Staff operate SRC’s Centre for the Demonstration of
Emissions Reductions Mobile Facility. (Photo provided by SRC)

Again, SRC can offer a range of expertise. “We have experience not only with mining and processing uranium but also with an operational research reactor, which we just de-fueled in September. So we are the only entity in the province that has a nuclear reactor operating licence. In addition, other parts of SRC are highly skilled at environmental assessment and engineering assessment, so we hope SRC will be playing a role in Saskatchewan for small modular reactors.”

What comes up repeatedly in SRC’s work is the convergence of economics and sustainability as researchers find newer, less expensive and greener methods of producing materials that are, in turn, crucial to economic and environmental well-being. Ongoing innovation, of course, plays a vital role.

So it’s not surprising that a growing SRC priority is artificial intelligence—“specifically for industrial and resource processes in Saskatchewan,” Crabtree emphasizes.

“A lot of the processes that we’re talking about, whether it’s rare earths, lithium, sensor-based sorting, in-situ mining, all these things are going to have a significant deep data analytics and artificial intelligence component. That’s something we’re working very closely on.”

Looking ahead, he adds, “It will be difficult to envisage major projects like these in the next five years that don’t have a significant AI component.”

Read more about mining’s role in the Saskatchewan Growth Plan.

Read the Saskatchewan Research Council blog.

Paved with promises II

October 9th, 2019

The North’s infrastructure deficit impacts sovereignty, the economy and quality of life

by Greg Klein

The North’s infrastructure deficit impacts sovereignty, the economy and quality of life

The Chinese government’s majority-held Izok Corridor project
would benefit from Canadian infrastructure. (Photo: MMG Ltd)

 

This is the second of a two-part series. See Part 1.

Canada would gain a deep-water arctic port, Nunavut would get its first road out of the territory and mineral-rich regions would open up if two mega-proposals come to fruition. Recent funding announcements to study the Northwest Territories’ Slave Geological Province Corridor and Nunavut’s Grays Bay Road and Port projects could lead to a unified all-season route from a highway running northeast out of Yellowknife to stretch north through the Lac de Gras diamond fields, past the Slave and Izok base and precious metals regions, and on to Arctic Ocean shipping.

In mid-August, as federal and NWT elections neared, representatives from both levels of government announced a $40-million study into a possible 413-kilometre all-season route linking the NWT’s Highway #4 with a proposed Nunavut road. The project would also extend the NWT electrical grid to the Slave region, which straddles both sides of the NWT-Nunavut border.

The North’s infrastructure deficit impacts sovereignty, the economy and quality of life

Isolated Grays Bay could become an arctic shipping hub,
helping fulfill a dream that dates back to John Diefenbaker
and, not exactly a contemporary, Martin Frobisher.
(Photo: Grays Bay Road and Port Project)

That same month the federal and Nunavut governments, along with the Kitikmeot Inuit Association, announced $21.5 million to study a possible 230-kilometre Nunavut section. That proposal includes building a deep-sea port at Grays Bay, about midway along the Northwest Passage. Supporters hope to reach the “shovel-ready” stage in two to three years.

A “champion and proponent” of the project, KIA president Stanley Anablak said, “We know that this is only the first step, but if it is constructed, this infrastructure project will be a game-changer with respect to improved community re-supply, marine safety, arctic sovereignty, regional economic development and international investment.”

KIA perseverance helped revive the proposal after Ottawa refused to provide majority funding for the $527-million estimate in April of last year, 18 months before the federal election.

Another supporter is MMG Ltd, with two advanced base metals deposits in the region: Izok holds 15 million tonnes averaging 13% zinc and 2.3% copper, while High Lake shows 14 million tonnes averaging 3.8% zinc and 2.5% copper.

The North’s infrastructure deficit impacts sovereignty, the economy and quality of life

The Nunavut portion of a grand trans-territorial proposal.
(Map: Grays Bay Road and Port Project)

The Kitikmeot region “hosts some of the world´s more attractive undeveloped zinc and copper resources,” MMG stated. “However, located near the Arctic Circle and with no supporting infrastructure, these resources have remained undeveloped since their discoveries roughly 50 years ago.”

But could a supposed nation-building project become a nation-buster, compromising sovereignty for the sake of another country’s new silk roads? The proposal’s main beneficiary “will be the Chinese government, more so than the government of Nunavut or the government of Canada,” Michael Byers told the National Post in August.

About 26% of MMG stock trades on the ASX. China’s state-owned China Minmetals Corp owns the rest.

Byers, a political science prof and holder of the Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law, “does not see a problem with a Chinese-controlled company operating mines in Canada,” the NP stated, “but he wonders if the company will be allowed to bring in Chinese workers to build the road and if Canadian taxpayers should foot the bill.”

The prospect of a Chinese company importing Chinese workers for a Canadian resource project has already been demonstrated by HD Mining International. In 2012 the company planned to staff underground operations at a proposed British Columbia coal mine exclusively with Mandarin-speaking Chinese. The mine was later put on hold, but not before an 18-month bulk sampling program conducted entirely by Chinese workers.

A new Grays Bay port and 350-kilometre all-season road formed part of the 2012 pre-feasibility study for MMG’s proposed mine. The company has since backed away from the estimated $6.5-billion price tag, calling for collaboration with others to build regional infrastructure.

We know that this is only the first step, but if it is constructed, this infrastructure project will be a game-changer with respect to improved community re-supply, marine safety, arctic sovereignty, regional economic development and international investment.—Stanley Anablak,
president of the
Kitikmeot Inuit Association

Certainly other companies would benefit too, as would the communities represented by the KIA. And as for sovereignty, neglecting infrastructure would cause the greater setback. That’s the perspective of a Senate report issued in June that called for several measures to expand the northern economy and enhance its culture. “The impact of federal under-investment hits hardest on the Arctic’s greatest asset, Indigenous youth,” the committee emphasized. “Opportunities for nation-building can no longer be missed.”

Among the senators’ priorities were energy and communications, as well as transportation, for the benefit of communities and industry. The committee recognized that mining comprises “the largest private sector employer in the Arctic, contributing to 20% to 25% of the GDP of the northern territories and supporting about 9,000 jobs directly, or one in every six jobs.”

The report also noted “growing global interest in the Arctic and rising international rivalry outside of the Arctic. Several non-arctic states in Europe and Asia have developed arctic policies or strategies.” Canada’s sovereignty over the Northwest Passage and other arctic waters depends on the principle of use it or lose it, the committee suggested.

The Northwest Passage route to Asia had been an alternative considered by Baffinland Iron Mines, the Nunatsiaq News reported last month. With ambitious infrastructure proposals of its own, the Baffin Island company currently relies on  trans-Atlantic routes to Europe and has also used Russia’s Northern Sea Route to reach Asia.

As part of its Phase II plans to increase production, Baffinland has applied for permission to build the territories’ second railway, which would run north from the Mary River mine to the company’s Milne Inlet port, now reached by a 100-kilometre freight road. The new track would precede a 150-kilometre southern rail extension to a port the company would build at Steensby Inlet. The Steensby route and facilities received environmental approvals in 2014.

This is the second of a two-part series. See Part 1.

Related reading: Reaching arctic mines by sea.

Infographic: The world’s most powerful reserve currencies

October 8th, 2019

by Jeff Desjardins | posted with permission of Visual Capitalist | October 8, 2019

Visual Capitalist The world’s most powerful reserve currencies

 

When we think of network effects, we’re usually thinking of them in the context of technology and Metcalfe’s Law.

Metcalfe’s Law states that the more users a network has, the more valuable it is to those users. It’s a powerful idea that is exploited by companies like LinkedIn, Airbnb or Uber—all companies that provide a more beneficial service as their networks gain more nodes.

But network effects don’t apply just to technology and related fields.

In the financial sector, for example, stock exchanges grow in utility when they have more buyers, sellers and volume. Likewise, in international finance, a currency can become increasingly entrenched when it’s accepted, used and trusted all over the world.

What’s a reserve currency?

This visualization comes to us from HowMuch.net, and it breaks down foreign reserves held by countries—but what is a reserve currency, anyway?

In essence, reserve currencies (i.e. U.S. dollar, pound sterling, euro, etc.) are held by central banks for the following major reasons:

  • To maintain a stable exchange rate for the domestic currency

  • To ensure liquidity in the case of an economic or political crisis

  • To provide confidence to international buyers and foreign investors

  • To fulfill international obligations, such as paying down debt

  • To diversify central bank portfolios, reducing overall risk

Not surprisingly, central banks benefit the most from stockpiling widely held reserve currencies such as the U.S. dollar or the euro.

Because these currencies are accepted almost everywhere, they provide third parties with extra confidence and perceived liquidity. This is a network effect that snowballs from the growing use of a particular reserve currency over others.

Reserve currencies over time

Here is how the usage of reserve currencies has evolved over the last 15 years:

Currency composition of official foreign exchange reserves (2004-2019)
U.S. dollar Euro Japanese yen Pound sterling Other
2004 65.5% 24.7% 4.3% 3.5% 2.0%
2009 62.1% 27.7% 2.9% 4.3% 3.0%
2014 65.1% 21.2% 3.5% 3.7% 6.5%
2019 61.8% 20.2% 5.3% 4.5% 8.2%

Over this timeframe, there have been small ups and downs in most reserve currencies.

Today, the U.S. dollar is the world’s most powerful reserve currency, making up over 61% of foreign reserves. The dollar gets an extensive network effect from its use abroad, and this translates into several advantages for the multi-trillion-dollar U.S. economy.

The euro, yen and pound sterling are the other mainstay reserve currencies, adding up to roughly 30% of foreign reserves.

Finally, the most peculiar data series above is “Other,” which grew from 2% to 8.4% of worldwide foreign reserves over the last 15 years. This bucket includes the Canadian dollar, the Australian dollar, the Swiss franc and the Chinese renminbi.

Accepted everywhere?

There have been rumblings in the media for decades now about the rise of the Chinese renminbi as a potential new challenger on the reserve currency front.

While there are still big structural problems that will prevent this from happening as fast as some may expect, the currency is still on the rise internationally.

What will the composition of global foreign reserves look like in another 15 years?

Posted with permission of Visual Capitalist.

James Rickards says China might have imposed a gold standard on the IMF’s special drawing right

October 7th, 2019

…Read more

James Rickards describes the world’s second-largest economy as a Ponzi scheme

October 3rd, 2019

…Read more

The end is still nigh

August 21st, 2019

So James Rickards found time to write another doomsday survival guide

by Greg Klein

So James Rickards found time to write another doomsday survival guide

 

St. John wrote just one Book of the Apocalypse but James Rickards has finished six so far. His most recent, Aftermath: Seven Secrets of Wealth Preservation in the Coming Chaos, offers a warning and advice for the economic end times that he considers imminent. Exactly how and when that’ll happen, he doesn’t say. But this book continues his exposé of the world’s monetary system: “the real system as distinct from the one elites would have you believe exists.”

What Aftermath offers in addition to Rickards’ trademark pitch for gold are some very general tips on investment and asset allocation—so general, however, that they hardly merit a book. This volume’s strength comes in its essays, discussions and digressions on a variety of (usually related) topics.

Among the most important is public debt, primarily that of the U.S. Long unsustainable, the burden groans under a 300% increase over 20 years, currently fuelled by Donald Trump’s revival of trillion-dollar deficits. He gets away with it, though: “Entitlements and defense both get to gorge at the trough, so there’s no dissension in D.C. The only loser is the country.”

So James Rickards found time to write another doomsday survival guide

Among the less-acknowledged causes of American debt are student loans, “now more than 50 percent larger than the junk mortgage pile in the last financial crisis” and growing. Also growing are the default rates, already more than three times that of mortgages at the height of the 2007-to-2008 crisis.

Debt hardly distinguishes the U.S. from other countries, and the entire world remains at risk from contagious sovereign defaults in emerging countries. Rickards’ at-risk list might surprise some readers.

China is a Ponzi like Madoff. China has trillions of dollars in external dollar-denominated debt, wealth management products, bank loans, intercompany loans, and other financially engineered arrangements that can never be repaid. If everyone with a claim on China wanted her money back, China couldn’t come close to satisfying even a small portion of those seeking liquidity.

…. Apart from borrowed money, wasted infrastructure investment, and fictitious accounting, there is no Chinese economic growth miracle.

While the U.S. denominates its debt in U.S.-printable U.S. dollars, money-creation won’t work forever. The only thing supporting fiat currency is confidence, and that can’t last, Rickards argues. History, psychology and common sense demonstrate that “confidence in money is fragile, easily lost, and impossible to regain.”

Spreading to all reserve currencies, “this loss of confidence will be exacerbated by malicious efforts on the part of Russia, China, Turkey, Iran, and others to abandon dollars entirely and to bypass the U.S.-dollar payments system.”

This accumulation of risk factors is entirely new, and outside the experience of any trader or quant.

Contagion demonstrates one danger of interconnected systems, but exceedingly complex technology and financial instruments intensify the peril. Flash crashes only hint at the possibilities, Rickards suggests. “Markets now confront a lethal brew of passivity, product proliferation, automation, and hypersynchronous behavioral responses. This accumulation of risk factors is entirely new, and outside the experience of any trader or quant.”

Getting back to currencies, the author presents intriguing evidence that a gold standard is actually in place. Using research from D.H. Bauer, Rickards says that special drawing rights, the International Monetary Fund reserve asset that’s speculated to replace the U.S. dollar as the world currency, have been pegged to gold. Bauer’s data shows yellow metal hovering around SDR900, fluctuating no more than SDR50 in either direction.

 An important pillar of a global monetary reset seems already in place.

Rickards blames China. “Even if the peg is nonsustainable in the long run, it’s a clear short-run signal that China is betting on the SDR and gold, not the yuan or the dollar. An important pillar of a global monetary reset seems already in place.”

Sometimes digressive in his subject matter, Rickards’ other topics include an interesting perspective on the Uranium One purchase. He served on a CIA advisory board as manoeuvres by Frank Giustra and Bill and Hillary Clinton led to the company’s takeover by Rosatom. “It’s as if the deal were being handled inside the intelligence community on a special track, precisely to avoid the analysis our group was formed to provide.”

Another digression looks at the disturbing prevalence of surveillance, data mining and choice architecture to monitor and manipulate citizens. “Neofascist” China plans 600 million surveillance cameras, digital facial and gait recognition software and internet monitoring to reward its people for good deeds or penalize them for offences ranging from smoking in public to tweeting verboten thoughts.

Most plans for catastrophe will fall apart in the first five minutes of being needed.

He also criticizes some alternative end time strategies. “Most plans for catastrophe will fall apart in the first five minutes of being needed.” Survivalists holed up in bunkers will face “pop-up militias,” he warns. The ultra-rich, with plans to flee to their luxurious New Zealand estates, haven’t considered how they’ll get to the airport, how they’ll refuel their private planes en route, whether they’ll get past the NZ military on arrival, or how they’ll ensure the loyalty of their private security guards. The catastrophe will be worse than they imagine.

Even so, too many of his digressions are unnecessary, such as his tedious account of being locked out of his car, an unnecessarily long rebuttal of behavioural psychology and the rather weird discussion of finite size involving King Kong, Godzilla, skyscrapers and whales.

“Investors should not focus on the cause of the collapse (it’s a long list and the timing is uncertain),” he notes. Certainly the book’s rambling nature belies any sense of urgency. He even hopes to finish another volume before the catastrophe finally hits. That would be his seventh on the subject since 2012.

Update: Lynas responds to Malaysia’s six-month extension for rare earths processing plant

August 16th, 2019

by Greg Klein | August 15, 2019, updated August 16, 2019

Lynas gets a six-month reprieve to continue rare earths processing in Malaysia

Lynas expressed confidence in meeting government-imposed conditions
for its rare earths processing facility in Malaysia. (Photo: Lynas Corp)

 

Even a six-month reprieve augers well for Lynas Corp, the company emphasized on August 16. The Malaysian government granted an extension the previous day after threatening to shut down a plant that refines and separates material from Lynas’ Mount Weld rare earths mine in Western Australia.

The government’s original conditions called for Lynas to render the mine’s output non-radioactive before shipping it to Malaysia and to remove the low-level radioactive waste that has accumulated since 2012. The deadline was September 2, the former licence expiry date.

Lynas said yesterday’s decision was consistent with a science-based government report released last December and the company remains confident of meeting conditions.

The decision’s only significant divergence from the report, Lynas stated, was the requirement that cracking and leaching operations be moved out of Malaysia within four years. Earlier this month CEO Amanda Lacaze said the company hopes to have a C&L facility operating in Western Australia by 2022, part of the company’s $500-million expansion planned by 2025. The new facility would allow Lynas to ship non-radioactive material to Malaysia for further processing and separating.

As for the presence in Malaysia of radioactive water leach purification residue—a reported 580,000 tonnes has piled up so far—the company has six months to find a location and obtain consent for a permanent deposit facility.

Although the government rejected Lynas’ proposal to convert WLP residue into soil conditioner for agricultural use, the company vowed to continue R&D into other possible outcomes.

“While we may have preferred a longer licence … the effect is essentially the same because under either structure there will be an administrative application for renewal,” Lacaze told a briefing for analysts and investors.

In a statement issued earlier that morning, she expressed optimism “that this decision will bring an end to the politicization of Lynas over the past year.”

Last May Lacaze emphasized Lynas’ determination to keep its supply chain separate from the involvement of China, which dominates all aspects of global rare earths production and processing. Considered critical elements by the U.S. for several uses including defence, REs figure prominently in the American-Chinese trade disputes. Consequently the U.S. has implemented policies to encourage production from domestic and allied resources and technology.

Read more about Lynas Corp.

Read more about rare earths, critical elements and the U.S.-China trade dispute.