It’s Blue Skies for the 5 Largest Emerging Market Aluminum Producers as China Cuts Output

Blue skies for aluminum producers

In line with its blue skies program, China (FXI) passed an “Air Pollution Control” regulation earlier this year which required aluminum producers in the four provinces around Beijing to cut aluminum output. The move is targeted towards reducing pollution and stabilizing the market. Smelters and aluminum refineries were mandated to implement cuts of at least 30%. Accordingly, the Asian (AAXJ) (VPL) country is estimated to cut around 3-4 million tonnes of aluminum capacity by the end of 2017. Since China is the world leader in aluminum production (chart below), the move is impacting market dynamics and prices for this base metal.

The price of aluminum has been treading north

Meanwhile, the price of aluminum is already treading north (see chart below) and is likely to continue, at least over the medium term.

This is bad news for the automotive sector being that they are one of the key drivers of global aluminum demand. Most equipment manufacturers and auto body producers are located in developed markets (EFA) (VEA). So, while auto parts makers stand to face dark clouds, aluminium producers have blue skies, as they benefit from the rise in the price of their product.

The largest aluminium producers in the emerging markets

Here’s a list of the five largest aluminum producers located in emerging markets (EEM) (VWO):

  1. UC Rusal (Russia)
  2. China Hongqiao Group Ltd. (China)
  3. Aluminium Corp. of China (China)
  4. China Power Investment Corp. (China)
  5. Shandong Xinfa Aluminium & Electricity Group Ltd. (China)

United Company RUSAL (RUSAL.PA), Up 33% YTD

The world’s largest primary aluminum producer based out of Russia (RSX), UC Rusal, produced a total of 3.7 million tonnes of aluminum in 2016. The company was formed by the merger of RUSAL, SUAL, and the alumina assets of Glencore (GLNCY) in March 2007. Currently, it accounts for almost 9% of the world’s primary aluminum output and 9% of the world’s alumina production.

The company’s GDR currently trades at the Euronext Paris Exchange under the ticker RUSAL. The GDR is up 33.2% on a YTD basis and commands a market cap over $9 billion (as of November 20). In the FY2016, the company reported an ROA (return on assets) of 8.65% and an EBITDA margin of 19.05%. The company’s revenue sources are spread across Asian and European countries with the Netherlands accounting for 28.6%, followed by Russia at 19.7%. 82.2% of the company’s long-term assets are located in Russia.

China Hongqiao Group Ltd. (1378.HK), Up 39% YTD

The Shandong province-based China Hongqiao Group Ltd. is one of the largest (as of 2016) and lowest-cost aluminum producers in the world with a combined annual capacity of 3.61 million tonnes.

The company’s stock currently trades at the Hong Kong Stock Exchange under the ticker 1378. The stock is up 39.3% on a YTD basis and commands a market cap of about $69 billion (as of November 20). The stock currently trades at a P/E of 11.54. Estimated forward P/E for the stock stands at 8.13. In the FY2016, the company reported an ROA (return on assets) of 3.6% and an EBITDA margin of 30.1%. The company’s revenue sources and long-term assets are concentrated in China. The stock has 50% BUY recommendations and 50% HOLD recommendations from the 6 analysts that reviewed the stock.

Aluminum Corp. of China (ACH) (2600.HK), Up 58% YTD

China’s state-backed producer Aluminum Corporation of China Limited (aka Chalco) used to be the largest refined metal maker in China until China Hongqiao Group overtook it in 2015. Chalco produces about 3.31 million tonnes of aluminum annually.

The NYSE-listed ADR of the company trades under the ticker of ACH and commands a market cap of $12.9 billion. The company’s stock also trades at the Hong Kong Stock Exchange under the ticker 2600. The stock is up 58.44% YTD and commands a market cap of $98.2 billion (as of November 20). The stock currently trades at a P/E of 58.9. Estimated forward P/E for the stock stands at 25.5. In the FY2016, the company reported an ROA (return on assets) of 0.21% and an EBITDA margin of 8.9%. The company’s revenue sources and long-term assets are majorly concentrated in China. The stock has 53.3% BUY recommendations, 33.3% HOLD recommendations, and 13.3% SELL recommendations from the 15 analysts that reviewed the stock.

China Power Investment Corp.

China Power Investment Corporation (CPI) is one of the five largest gencos (generation companies) in China and a comprehensive energy group integrating industries of power, coal, aluminum, railway, and port. The company has an alumina refinery capacity of 2.6 million tonnes. The company’s stock is not listed on any exchange. In July 2015, the company was merged with the State Nuclear Power Technology Corporation (SNPTC) to form State Power Investment Corporation (SPIC).

Shandong Xinfa Aluminium & Electricity Group Ltd.

Shandong Xinfa is another privately held large-scale enterprise group in China. The company has an aluminum production capacity of about 1.63 million tonnes.

While above is a list of the largest aluminum producers based out of the emerging markets, UK’s Rio Tinto (RIO) and US’s Alcoa (AA) count among the notable developed market (EFA) (VEA) based producers of aluminum.

Electric Vehicle Battery Makers Are Disrupting Global Mining of These 3 Metals

World’s top battery makers have a plan…

With cobalt prices soaring, the world’s top battery makers, a majority of which are based in emerging Asia (AAXJ) (VPL), are looking to tweak the ratios of raw materials used in the manufacture of lithium-ion batteries. More specifically, they’re attempting to reduce the amount of one of the more expensive components, cobalt, being used in the production process. The rare metal has more than doubled in price over the past year on strong demand accompanied by a supply shortage. We’re now seeing car giants rushing to lock in supply deals with cobalt miners. The Volkswagen (VLKAF) (VLKAY)-CATL-Glencore (GLNCY) (GLCNF) deal in just one example.

…with the demand for EVs to jump 20x by 2025

With the demand for electric vehicle batteries predicted to jump 20-fold from 2015 to 2025, emerging market  (EEM) (VWO) battery makers are currently testing a new recipe.

Panasonic (PCRFF) (PCRFY), the world’s leader in battery production, is working on reducing cobalt consumption in its battery production process. With customers including Tesla (TSLA), Panasonic currently employs NCA (nickel-cobalt-aluminum) technology in battery production. The two companies are now together working to develop a battery with 85% nickel composition.

South Korea (EWY) based Samsung SDI (SSDIF) and LG Chem (LGCLF) are developing new power packs that use more nickel and less cobalt. Samsung SDI expects the industry-wide amount of cobalt per battery unit to decrease to about half of current levels over the long term.

Change is good

Currently, the more popular NMC (nickel-manganese-cobalt) formula employs a 6:2:2 ratio; that is, a ratio of 60% nickel to 20% cobalt and 20% manganese. SK Innovation, another of South Korea’s top battery makers, is working to change the composition of these cathode materials to 80% nickel, 10% cobalt and 10% manganese; so an 8:1:1 ratio.

Consequently, depending on the success of efforts to change the ratio of lithium-ion batteries inputs from the current 6:2:2 to 8:1:1, the demand for nickel may grow by 10-40% from its current level by 2025 (according to a UBS report).

Meanwhile, China’s (FXI) (YINN) EV battery producers such as BYD (BYDDF) (BYDDY) are focused on cheaper lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP) batteries that don’t use either nickel or cobalt.

Cobalt Prices Are Up 80%, Emerging Market Miners Gear Up To Address Shortage

Cobalt prices up 80% YTD, no reversal yet

Cobalt prices are up over 80% in the year so far. They’ve recorded a 112.5% rise over the past one year, thanks to the rapid rise in the adoption and usage of electric vehicles and consequently, the global lithium-ion battery market. Cobalt is a critical input in lithium-ion cell production accounting for 20% of its composition. The battery industry consumes over 40% of global cobalt production.

What led the price so high?

With the global lithium-ion batteries poised to become a $40 billion market by 2025 (Goldman Sachs (GS) estimate), demand for cobalt should continue to rise. According to estimates, the demand for cobalt is set to increase by 34% per year until 2026. However, the supply side of this key ingredient seems low, with battery makers struggling to secure supplies. This has driven prices up to where they are now (see chart above), affecting battery makers such as Tesla (TSLA), BYD (BYDDF) (BYDDY), CATL, and Tianjin Lishen, LG Chem (LGCLF), Samsung SDI (SSDIF), and SK Innovation, among others.

The price hike has been driven by higher demand and a supply shortage on account of the unstable political situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which accounts for nearly 60% of the world’s cobalt production. In 2016, DRC produced 66,000 metric tons of cobalt, more than eight times more than its closest competitor, China (FXI) (YINN).

Rising demand for EVs to add to demand cobalt

Macquarie Research has predicted that trouble in the DRC and rising demand for electric vehicles will lead to a four-year-long cobalt shortage. However, since approximately 97% of the world’s supply of cobalt comes as a by-product of nickel or copper, as long as the demand for nickel and copper remains sufficient, so would cobalt production.

Meanwhile, cobalt-rich economies and cobalt miners are eyeing additional reserves and deposits to address the shortfall in supply.

  • Chile (ECH) is conducting surveys in its Atacama and Coquimbo region in search of cobalt deposits.
  • First Cobalt (FTSSF), a Canadian mining company, is looking to expand its footprint in Cobalt, Toronto.

Prominent cobalt miners include Glencore (GLNCY) (GLCNF), China Molybdenum (CMCLF), Katanga Mining (KATFF).

Meanwhile, to hedge their exposures, battery makers are working on ways to reduce their dependence on cobalt as prices rapidly rise.

Watch These Foreign Mining Stocks As Kazakhstan Cashes In On Metal Price Recovery

Increase in mining production

Kazakhstan is the world’s largest producer of uranium (URA). It stands second in chromium production (after South Africa (EZA)) and also boasts a high level of availability and mining of lead, zinc, copper, petroleum, and other minerals. Being a landlocked nation, the country also enjoys the advantage of exporting directly to its neighbors such as China (FXI) and certain European countries via Russia (RSX). Over the past few months, Kazakhstan’s mining sector has been going quite well.

Since October 2016, Kazakhstan has been recording positive growth in mining production (see chart above). Mining production increased by 14.4% in April 2017 as compared to April 2016.

Foreign investment into Kazakhstan’s mining sector

Foreign miners including the Anglo–Swiss multinational commodity trading and mining company Glencore (GLNCY), Russian gold producer Polymetal International plc (AUCOY), Luxembourg-based diversified natural resources producer Eurasian Resources Group, and Anglo-Australian resource company BHP Billiton (BBL) hold mining assets in Kazakhstan. Other large foreign mining companies that are active in Kazakhstan include Rio Tinto (RIO), Iluka Resources (ILKAY), Central Asia Metals Plc, Areva SA (ARVCY), ArcelorMittal (MT), Yildirim Group, Russian Copper Company and Rusal. A safer regulatory environment and good projects could help Kazakhstan attract more foreign capital into its mining sector (XME).

Recovery in metal prices

The recovery seen in metal and mineral prices over the last few months (see chart above) has contributed significantly to the economy of Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan’s mining companies, including Kazakhmys, KAZ Minerals (up 72% YTD as of July 19), Kazzinc (a Glencore subsidiary), Syrymbet JSC, ShalkiyaZinc, JSC AK Altynalmas, have benefitted from the same. Copper-focused KAZ Minerals reported a 43% growth in revenues in 2016 over the previous year. The depreciation in the Kazakhstani currency, the tenge, has also helped reduce the average operational cost for certain metal producers. The past two years have seen the tenge depreciate by around 45% against the US dollar.

Meanwhile, Kazakhstani petroleum producer JSC National Company KazMunayGas (up 28% YTD as of July 19), has benefitted from the oil price recovery.

As the mining industry continues to attract investments into Kazakhstan, China’s Belt & Road Initiative is another big factor contributing to increased investment into this Central Asian (AAXJ) (VPL) economy.

Why Peru and Colombia Have a Higher Spread of Profitability than Emerging Markets Globally

Higher profitability + idiosyncratic opportunities

Felipe Asenjo, regional head of equities at SURA Asset Management sees valuable investment opportunities in the Pacific Alliance countries of Mexico (EWW), Chile (ECH), Columbia (ICOL) and Peru (EPU). Asenjo expects companies in these regions to grow at 17% CAGR over the next 3 years. “The Pacific alliance has always had a higher spread of profitability than global emerging markets… the second region in the world in the last 15 years with the highest delivery of earnings growth,” said Asenjo.

Meanwhile, Diana Kiluta Amoa, senior portfolio manager on the local-currency team at JP Morgan (JPM) Asset Management sees idiosyncratic investment opportunities in Peru and Colombia.

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Private investment in Peru (EPU) is expected to bounce back and grow 0.5% in 2017 and gradually reach 6.5% growth by 2021, according to the Economy and Finance Ministry. The Ministry expects greater infrastructure investment due to the resumption of projects linked to Brazilian enterprises, to be the primary driver of such growth. The agency also expects increased mining activity to boost private investment. The Finance Ministry also forecasts public investment to rise by 15% in 2017 and in 2018.

The Peruvian economy has already shown its resilience towards the El Niño phenomenon (causing heavy rains and flooding), by slowing less than expected. Prudent actions taken by the central bank such as cutting interest rates should “boost activity” and put Peru on track towards an expected 3% overall economic growth, claims Prime Minister Fernando Zavala.

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According to Santiago Angel, head of the Colombian Mining Association, enormous potential lies on offer in the mining industry (XME) in Colombia (ICOL), which serves as a major growth engine for the economy. Angel sees the industry bringing in a whopping $1.5 billion in 2017 and $1.7 billion in 2018, with a five-year investment of $7.5 billion; provided the government guarantees legal certainty to businesses. Coal (KOL), gold (GLD), and copper (COPX) remain the three main mining sectors in Colombia.

AngloGold (AU) and Eco Oro Minerals (GYSLF) are the larger players in Colombia’s gold sector. The biggest coal companies are Drummond, Glencore (GLNCY) (GLNCF), Murray Energy, Colombia Natural Resources, and Cerrejon, which is jointly owned by BHP Billiton (BHP), Anglo American Plc (AAUKF) and Glencore.

Three Reasons Why Investors Are Still Betting on Mongolia

The light at the end of the tunnel

Not all is well with Mongolia (AZIA). Growth in the economy has tumbled with commodity prices, which account for over 90% of its export earnings. The economy’s GDP grew at just 1% in 2016 due to, a) commodity price decline, and b) slowdown in China demand for copper (JJC) (CPER) and coal (KOL). Meanwhile, the nation’s debt has been burgeoning, reaching $23 billion as of 4Q16.

At a time when Mongolia’s banks threaten an economic crash, Hong Kong-based Asia Frontier Capital is invested in the region. Thomas Hugger, chief executive officer, and founder of Asia Frontier Capital, a firm dedicated to investing in the Asian frontier markets (FRN) (FM), has maintained portfolio exposure to Mongolia for many years. “We see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Hugger recently told Frontera.

Hugger spoke about three key reasons for his belief in this frontier market’s long-term prospects.

1. Copper price recovery

Following a five-year slide (2011-2016), copper prices finally began to recover in early 2016. Over the past one year, the shiny metal’s price has surged 28.7%, with mining giants such as Anglo American (NGLOY), BHP Billiton (BHP), Glencore (GLNCY), and Rio Tinto (RIO), expecting it to rise further as excess supply seems to have come off the market. Moreover, the government initiated stimulus programs in China; which consumes 40% of world copper; have also contributed to the metal’s resurgence. Copper ore accounts for 42% of Mongolian exports.

Mongolia is ranked 12th in the world for copper reserves. The south Gobi Desert alone has an estimated of 35 million tons of copper. UK-based Central Asia Metals (CAML.L) and Rio Tinto (RIO), Canada-based Entrée Gold Inc. (EGI), Turquoise Hill Resources Ltd. (TRQ), and Kincora Copper Ltd (KCC) are among the foreign mining companies engaged in copper mining in Mongolia.

2. Coal price recovery

Coal, Mongolia’s number 2 export (14% of exports), has followed a similar trajectory; a five-year slide followed by a quick recovery through 2016 and continuing. Australian thermal coal has recorded a whopping 68.8% price gain over the past 1 year alone. Foreign companies engaged in coal mining in Mongolia include Australia-based Aspire Mining Limited (ASPXF) and Hong Kong-based Mongolia Energy Corporation Limited (MOAEF).

3. Foreign exchange influx

Hugger also expects the spat over Rio Tinto’s (RIO) $5.3 billion Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold mine in Mongolia to resolve soon. Rio Tinto would then be investing a lot into the second phase of the Oyu Tolgoi mine, thereby opening up a huge additional source of foreign exchange for the nation.

$440 million support extended by the IMF

The economy has recently been able to secure a $440 million loan package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to ease the country’s balance-of-payment pressures and support it’s government’s looming debt repayments. “The Asian Development Bank, the World Bank and bilateral partners including Japan and Korea are expected to provide up to another $3 billion in budget and project support, while the People’s Bank of China is expected to extend its 15 yuan billion ($2.2 billion) swap line with the Bank of Mongolia for at least another three years,” the IMF said in a statement on Sunday.

The package is thus, a part of the $5.5 billion bailout envisaged for this frontier market. According to Citigroup, we may see Mongolia tapping the international markets pursuant to the IMF deal.