Panicked Buyers to Drive Molybdenum Price and Moly Stocks Higher
There is presently a growing panic among molybdenum traders. From our sources, it appears reduced inventories have been overpowered by rushing demand for the silvery-white ‘energy metal.’ On the day before the Ryan’s Notes metals conference at the New York Athletic Club on Tuesday, our sources told us moly traders are sweating, scrambling to find inventory. One told us, “$50 per pound molybdenum is a heartbeat away.” This would represent an increase of nearly 50 percent from present pricing.
How did this tightly controlled, somewhat secretive and closed market get out of control?
Record nickel prices are one of the key drivers. Scarce inventory has forced ThyssenKrupp AG, the world’s largest stainless steel manufacturer, to start reducing the company’s use of nickel. Further cuts are being contemplated.
Finnish austenitic provider Outokumpu plans to increase production of ferritic stainless steels. Ferritic steels continue to use molybdenum, but are nickel-free. Outokumpu recently released a low-alloyed duplex stainless steel, trademarked LDX2101, with low nickel content, but balanced with manganese, nitrogen and molybdenum. Allegheny Ludlum began campaigning for greater manganese use earlier this year in stainless steel products.
According to the International Stainless Steel Forum, the fastest growing type of stainless are those grades absent the nickel content, or with lesser nickel in the composition.
In yesterday’s article, we covered the soaring substitution of super-ferritic stainless steels for copper-nickel and austenitic condenser tubes in nuclear reactors, coal-fired power plants and other power plants.
Molybdenum Tube general manager Dan Janikowski told us, “This year, at the pace we are going, we will sell more of this tubing than we’ve ever sold before. We are working at a record pace.” He was referring to the high chromium, low nickel stainless steel tube called UNS #S44660, which contains 3.7 percent molybdenum.
The S44660 tubing is presently used in Lake Maracaibo’s PDVSA collection towers (Venezuela) and in the U.S. government’s Strategic Petroleum reserves for cooling gas and/or crude when utilizing sea or brackish waters.
This week, Janikowski meets with General Electric to discuss plans for reactor condenser tubing for nuclear power plants to be constructed for Entergy and Dominion. Recently, his company won the contractor to supply tubing to China’s Qinshan #2 reactor. He estimated condenser tubing for new power plants can range between 35,000 and 41,000 pounds of molybdenum.
Our research shows there could be more than 1,000 power plants constructed around the world over the next decade. This quantity of molybdenum consumption alone would represent about one year’s of current mining production. China is reportedly constructing between one and two power plants per week.
According to Janikowski and Edward Blessman, technical director of Trent Tube, the major business with respect to the North American power plant market comes from re-tubing worn-out or eroded copper-nickel tubes in the plant’s steam condensers. These come in the form of life extensions for both nuclear and fossil fuel plants. “Two-thirds of our activity is in re-tubing existing plants,” Blessman told us. “Scarcity of water is driving the re-tubing.”
New water rules in Nevada, New York, Missouri, Iowa and Arizona have forced power plants to use treated sewage water as cooling water. Utilities can’t get fresh water to use in cooling their plants.
Blessman explained that secondary water, such as waste water, can have elevated levels of hydrogen sulfide, ammonia and chloride. These chemicals punish copper-nickel tubing. The highly corrosive water-environment has driven the replacement for super-ferritic stainless steel tubing. Janikowski and Blessman agreed this trend is expected to accelerate because of lessened water availability.
Nowhere is this scarcity more evident than in the Middle East. They both agreed this region has run out of fresh water and are using sea water or treated waste water in their district cooling and refrigeration.
We spoke with Otto Spork, who had been traveling in Europe. His Toronto-based Sextant Strategic Opportunities Fund was recently ranked the ‘best-performing Canadian fund’ over the past twelve months with 117-percent returns for that period.
Spork, who had been traveling through the Middle East to promote his recently launched Global Water Fund, confirmed there was no surplus fresh water left in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain or the United Arab Emirates. He called the situation ‘desperate.” This has driven more countries in this region to construct more desalination plants – another potential key driver for the molybdenum price.
Another key factor driving the molybdenum demand, according to Blessman, is the growing number of regulations about copper discharges into the environment.