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Uranium was hot in 2023. Will future demand make it go nuclear?

Uranium is a key element in the pursuit of sustainable and dependable energy infrastructure. Amid increased interest and investment in nuclear power in many countries around the world, uranium has the potential to be an attractive long-term investment.

The price of spot uranium hit a 15-year high – climbing 90% over the year due to supply and demand issues that will be explained in this blog.

Graph showing Uranium Spot Price in US$ per pound climbing 90% over the year
Source: Bloomberg, December 29, 2023

NUCLEAR REVIVAL

Several factors have driven the increase in the underlying price of the 92nd element on the periodic table. Just over a decade since the Fukushima disaster, nuclear energy is undergoing an unexpected revival.

First, thanks to global efforts to reduce carbon emissions, nuclear energy is being increasingly accepted as a more sustainable energy source1 given its low emissions. During 2023’s COP28 climate conference, more than 20 countries pledged to triple their nuclear energy capacity over the next 25 years.2

Second, a European energy crisis3 and paradigm shift have emerged in the wake of the Russian war in Ukraine, which began in early 2022. Imports of Russian commodities into Europe have been limited, catching Germany off guard due to its long-term bet on cheap Russian gas, and with its domestic nuclear energy programme originally scheduled to end around the same time.4

Energy security has also come into focus as the U.S. House of Representatives voted to ban imports of Russian uranium5 and several G7 nations agreed to invest $4.2 billion U.S. dollars to develop a global nuclear energy supply chain free of Russian influence.6

This isn’t the first time that energy systems and supply have been impacted by geopolitical events. Some investors may recall the oil embargo of the 1970’s.7

Graph - Oil (WTI) Inflation-adjusted 1970 to 1980
Source: Macrotrends.net

URANIUM OUTLOOK

As nations commit to new nuclear plants, on the supply side there is currently not enough uranium to meet rising demand8 over the next 20 years.

Bar graph - Nuclear Reactors by Country
Source: World Nuclear Association
Source: IAEA

Supply chain issues at major uranium suppliers in Canada and the world’s largest uranium producer in Kazakhstan have yet to be factored into the demand picture.9 And to make matters worse, a coup in Mali – a major uranium producer as well – has also upended previous uranium production.

This demand gap is prompting some suppliers to re-open old projects or speed up new ones. Uranium producers in the U.S.10 and Australia11 are restarting mining and processing operations in Texas, Arizona and Utah.12 The focus on nuclear has been particularly strong in the U.S., where the Biden administration signaled its commitment last year by offering $1.2 billion in aid to extend the life of distressed nuclear power plants.13

ASIA DEMAND

By far the biggest key to the demand picture comes from Asia. In China and India – which combined represent nearly 20% of the world’s population – nuclear energy is seen as a critical requirement to meeting the energy needs of the future. India operates 22 reactors and has plans to construct eight more.14

China is the world’s second-largest producer of nuclear power and accounts for almost half of new reactors under construction around the world.15 It’s currently building 26 reactors.16

China will need new sources of uranium if it wants to meet its nuclear power goals. The country currently has 55 operational reactors, producing an estimated 53 gigawatts of electricity. That’s the equivalent of over 16,000 wind turbines.17

A MODULAR FUTURE

And now a new breed of nuclear reactor could play into the demand story for uranium. These next-generation plants are known as Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). They supply one-third of the output of a conventional nuclear power plant and have a much smaller footprint.

Image comparing Small Modular Reactors to conventional nuclear power plant
Source: KPMG

SMRs are also cheaper to build: conventional nuclear power plants can cost billions while the new breed of smaller-scale nuclear plants cost in the hundreds of millions rather than billions.18 One place where these small modular reactors could have an outsized impact is in Canada’s far north, with SMRs capable of providing sustained low-carbon power regardless of the season – something that solar energy cannot do in regions where the sun does not rise for weeks at a time.19

INVESTING IN URANIUM

For Canadians interested in investing in the uranium opportunity, there are a number of options available. They can consider individual stocks or a uranium-themed investment vehicle such as an exchange-traded fund (ETF).

The Horizons Global Uranium Index ETF (ticker symbol HURA) provides exposure to companies that are primarily involved in the uranium mining and exploration industry and to the price of the underlying commodity.

HURA looks to copy the performance of the Solactive Global Uranium Pure-Play Index. This index is designed to provide exposure to the performance of a group of global stock exchange-listed companies involved in uranium mining and exploration or invest and participate directly in the physical price of uranium.

Since HURA’s inception in 2019, it has gained 32.40% on an annualized basis. For 2023 alone, the ETF was up almost 60%.

Annualized Performance (%)

1mo 3mo 6mo YTD 1 yr 3 yr 5 yr 10 yr SIR*
Horizons Global Uranium Index ETF 1.19 3.05 51.39 59.95 59.95 38.19 32.40

Calendar Year Performance (%)

2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023
Horizons Global Uranium Index ETF 65.67 71.52 -3.81 59.95

The indicated rates of return are the historical annual compounded total returns including changes in per unit value and reinvestment of all distributions and do not take into account sales, redemption, distribution, or optional charges or income taxes payable by any securityholder that would have reduced returns. The rates of return shown in the table are not intended to reflect future values of the ETF(s) or future returns on investment in the ETF(s). Only the returns for periods of one year or greater are annualized returns.

*Fund performance since inception on May 15, 2019, as at December 31, 2023.

84% of HURA is held directly in stocks with the remaining 16% with exposure to the price of physical uranium, as at December 29, 2023. These two parts of the supply chain would likely see the most significant growth in value with increasing global demand for uranium.

Pie Chart - Hura Holdings

Source: Horizons ETFs as at December 29, 2023.

Investors can find more information on HURA here.

Image of HURA Product Webpage

SOURCES:

1 Source: U.K.’s National Grid Group https://www.nationalgrid.com/stories/energy-explained/what-nuclear-energy-and-why-it-considered-clean-energy#:~:text=It%20produces%20zero%20carbon%20emissions,in%20fossil%20fuel%2Dbased%20generation.

2 Source: US Dept of Energy, December 1, 2023 “Countries Launch Declaration to Triple Nuclear Energy Capacity by 2050” https://www.energy.gov/articles/cop28-countries-launch-declaration-triple-nuclear-energy-capacity-2050-recognizing-key

3 Source: International Monetary Fund, December 2022 https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/fandd/issues/2022/12/beating-the-european-energy-crisis-Zettelmeyer

4 Source: Reuters, March 8, 2022 https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/how-dependent-is-germany-russian-gas-2022-03-08/

5 Source: Reuters December 11, 2023 https://www.reuters.com/world/us/us-house-passes-bill-banning-uranium-imports-russia-2023-12-11/

6 Source: US Department of Energy, December 7, 2023 “US, Canada, France, Japan, and UK Announce Plans to Mobilize $4.2 Billion for Reliable Global Nuclear Energy Supply Chain”  https://www.energy.gov/articles/cop28-us-canada-france-japan-and-uk-announce-plans-mobilize-42-billion-reliable-global

7 Source: U.S. State Department, Office of the Historian https://history.state.gov/milestones/1969-1976/oil-embargo

8 Source: Finegold & Lawson, Ocean Wall Research, September 2023 “The Case on Uranium” https://oceanwall.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/Case-on-Uranium-September-2023.pdf

9 Source: Bloomberg, November 27, 2023 https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2023-11-27/uranium-is-flying-high-on-war-and-climate-change?srnd=undefined&sref=LPt71ok7

10 Source: enCore Energy, November 6, 2023 https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/encore-energy-announces-license-renewal-for-the-south-texas-isr-uranium-central-processing-plants-cpp–800270502.html

11 Source: Boss Energy, October 11, 2023 https://www.bossenergy.com/images/documents/BOE-Boss-commences-Honeymoon-mining-operations.pdf

12 Source: Mining Technology, January 2, 2024 https://www.mining-technology.com/news/three-new-uranium-mines-open-in-us/?cf-view

13 Source: Reuters, March 3, 2023 https://www.reuters.com/world/us/biden-admin-offers-12-bln-distressed-shut-nuclear-plants-2023-03-02/

14 Source: World Nuclear Association, June 2023 https://world-nuclear.org/information-library/country-profiles/countries-g-n/india.aspx

15 Source: The Financial Times, December 10, 2023 “China uranium grab poses threat to western energy supply” https://www.ft.com/content/e2380ad4-4381-4d2f-b698-1652dabe0c4c

16 Source: World Nuclear Association, December 2023 “Nuclear Power in China”: https://world-nuclear.org/information-library/country-profiles/countries-a-f/china-nuclear-power.aspx

17 Source: US Department of Energy, August 24, 2023 “How much power is 1 gigawatt?” https://www.energy.gov/eere/articles/how-much-power-1-gigawatt

18 Source: KPMG Insights January 1, 2023 “How small modular nuclear reactors can help decarbonize power grids” https://kpmg.com/xx/en/home/insights/2023/01/how-small-modular-nuclear-reactors-can-help-decarbonize.html

19 Source: APTN, May 5, 2023 https://www.aptnnews.ca/investigates/will-small-modular-nuclear-reactors-be-part-of-net-zero-carbon-emissions-in-the-north/

DISCLAIMERS

Commissions, management fees and expenses all may be associated with an investment in the Horizons Global Uranium Index ETF (the “ETF”) managed by Horizons ETFs Management (Canada) Inc. The ETF is not guaranteed, its value(s) change(s) frequently and past performance may not be repeated. The prospectus contains important detailed information about the ETF. Please read the prospectus before investing.

The ETF is an alternative mutual fund within the meaning of National Instrument 81-102 Investment Funds (“NI 81- 102”) and is permitted to use strategies generally prohibited by conventional mutual funds, such as the ability to invest more than 10% of their net asset value in securities of a single issuer or the ability to borrow cash. While these strategies will only be used in accordance with the ETF’s investment objectives and strategies, during certain market conditions they may accelerate the risk that an investment in the ETF Shares decreases in value. The ETF will comply with all requirements of NI 81-102, as such requirements may be modified by exemptive relief obtained on behalf of the ETF.

The financial instrument is not sponsored, promoted, sold, or supported in any other manner by Solactive AG nor does Solactive AG offer any express or implicit guarantee or assurance either with regard to the results of using the Index and/or Index trade name or the Index Price at any time or in any other respect. The Index is calculated and published by Solactive AG.  Solactive AG uses its best efforts to ensure that the Index is calculated correctly. Irrespective of its obligations towards the Issuer, Solactive AG has no obligation to point out errors in the Index to third parties including but not limited to investors and/or financial intermediaries of the financial instrument. Neither publication of the Index by Solactive AG nor the licensing of the Index or Index trade name for the purpose of use in connection with the financial instrument constitutes a recommendation by Solactive AG to invest capital in said financial instrument nor does it in any way represent an assurance or opinion of Solactive AG with regard to any investment in this financial instrument.

Certain statements may constitute a forward‐looking statement, including those identified by the expression “expect” and similar expressions (including grammatical variations thereof). The forward‐looking statements are not historical facts but reflect the author’s current expectations regarding future results or events. These forward‐looking statements are subject to a number of risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results or events to differ materially from current expectations. These and other factors should be considered carefully and readers should not place undue reliance on such forward‐looking statements. These forward‐looking statements are made as of the date hereof and the authors do not undertake to update any forward‐looking statement that is contained herein, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise, unless required by applicable law.

This communication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase exchange traded products (the “Horizons Exchange Traded Products”) managed by Horizons ETFs Management (Canada) Inc. and is not, and should not be construed as, investment, tax, legal or accounting advice, and should not be relied upon in that regard. Individuals should seek the advice of professionals, as appropriate, regarding any particular investment. Investors should consult their professional advisors prior to implementing any changes to their investment strategies. These investments may not be suitable to the circumstances of an investor.

All comments, opinions and views expressed are generally based on information available as of the date of publication and should not be considered as advice to purchase or to sell mentioned securities. Before making any investment decision, please consult your investment advisor or advisors.

 

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