ICG Commodity Update – October 2022

The ICG Commodity Update is our monthly published comment on the energy, industrial metals and precious metals market.

 

Energy

Energy performance has remained strong following record 2Q results – most analysts expect 3Q earnings to show sustainable and competitive profitability and capital return while broader market struggles. Solid fundamentals have led Energy to regain lost ground with sector performance now in line with Materials, Industrials, Financials and Utilities since 2015. According to BMO, energy has further upside potential with companies still trading at a 2-5x P/E discount to other value sectors. Most recent OPEC+ cuts should support oil prices into year-end with underinvestment in the industry translating to higher long-term prices. Higher commodity prices, capital discipline, reduced costs and leverage has been a driver of share prices which is expected to continue by most market participants. With balance sheets repaired, a meaningfully higher percentage of FCF is expected to be returned to equity holders. Corporate returns (ROE) are increasingly competitive with the broader market at current commodity prices and given this outlook, analysts believe oil and gas companies can outperform in even a range-bound commodity market. The pullback in oil prices from peak levels has led to a flattening of the curve, although it remains steeply backwardated with the long-term price ~$60Bbl – there are some key upside risks to oil prices, supply could surprise to the downside given global underinvestment, U.S. producer discipline and peak shale productivity, Russia sanctions, the SPR having nearly run its course, and OPEC+ willingness to support price could all lead to higher prices in 2023 and going forward. Rystad scenario analysis show that under a most extreme (but unlikely) scenario, where geopolitical situation escalates to the point Russia restricts exports, and OPEC+ cut 1mbbld in Jan 2023 in addition to 1mmbbld in Dec, the supply shock could see prices hit US$230/bbl. On the negative side, for oil companies at least, President Biden says he is seeking to impose higher taxes on oil firms who do not boost their US production and refining capacity. This comes on the back of Exxon and Chevron reporting a combined 3Q net income of over $30bn and revenue of close to $180bn. The top 4, Exxon, Chevron, Shell and Total, are paying nearly $100bn to shareholders annually in the form of buybacks and dividends while reinvesting just $80bn in their core businesses this year.

 

Industrial Metals

Macroeconomic headwinds have pushed copper futures down almost 30% from a peak in March, despite brisk demand and shrinking inventories that are nearing historical lows. According to Freeport-McMoRan, the world’s largest publicly-traded copper producer, the copper markets don’t reflect a strikingly tight physical market. The company says, customers are not scaling back orders and are really fighting to get products. The decline in copper prices this year reflects investor concerns about the global economy, weak economic data from top consumer China, the European energy crisis and a strong dollar. Such a pricing environment will defer new projects and mine expansions just when the world’s epic shift to electrification requires a massive amount of all sorts of metals, including copper. Indeed, WoodMacenzie recently published a study that states the mining industry would have to deliver new projects at a frequency and consistent level of financing never previously accomplished to meet zero-carbon targets. For copper, the additional volume needed means that 9.7 Mt of new mine supply will be required over the next decade from projects that have yet to be sanctioned – equivalent to nearly a third of current refined consumption. To date, a shortfall of this magnitude has never been overcome within a decade. The study is underlining that more than $23bn of investment a year in new projects or 64% higher than the average annual spend over the last 30 years has to be made by miners to meet demand. In theory, higher prices should encourage project sanctioning and more supply. However, the conditions for delivering projects are challenging, with political, social and environmental hurdles higher than ever. But copper is not the only metal which will be key in the future – the world needs lithium supplies to grow fivefold by the end of the decade to meet projected demand as the electric vehicle revolution gets into full swing. This looming shortage has seen miners engage in bidding wars for assets. Rio Tinto for example is asking for pitches from some of the biggest investment banks for lithium companies and projects it could buy as the mining giant looks to expand into the key battery metal. Rio already bought a lithium mine in Argentina for $825 million and is looking to bring it into production as soon as 2024.

 

Precious Metals

Gold headed for its seventh straight month of declines, the longest losing streak since at least the late 1960s. Attention is now firmly on the Fed, whose aggressive rate hikes have caused bullion to drop more than 20% from its March peak. Gold slipped as US economic data set the stage for another 75 basis point rate hike, pressuring the metal. A core gauge of US inflation accelerated in September, while consumer spending stayed resilient. On the positive side, evidently for both gold and silver, physical investment demand remains incredibly robust, and mints are struggling to keep pace. Investment silver product markets seem to be experiencing the most acute tightness. Expected record silver imports into India, logistical issues, lack of Chinese supply, and demand for prompt delivery, has seen silver uncharacteristically flown by air. On the PGM side, lower than expected mine production from South Africa and lower PGM recycling supply has tightened balances for both platinum and palladium. On the back of a stronger outlook for global light vehicle production and sharp cuts to both mine and scrap supply, palladium balance has tightened up significantly this year, moving to around a 740 k oz deficit – according to JP Morgan. Also, top PGM producers expect to see strong demand growth in platinum markets going forward, owing to its vital role across the hydrogen value chain. PGM markets are in a chronic deficit but are driven by the ICE vs. EV story – analysts expect that demand for fuel cells will more than replace the demand from ICE catalysts by 2040, although innovation is a wildcard in both directions. Ruthenium, also a platinum group metal, was flagged for its potential in the catalytic conversion of bio-based feedstocks, and applications in next generation semiconductor wiring. On the company side, Newmont reported profits that trailed estimates as the world’s biggest gold producer struggled amid lower prices. The company has been grappling with higher costs of labor, energy and supplies this year as inflationary pressures wash through the industry amid lingering supply-chain disruptions. In mid-September, Newmont delayed a decision on a major investment in Peru until the second half of 2024, citing war in Ukraine, rising prices for materials, supply-chain disruptions and competitive labor markets.

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Recycling – a significat source of metals

Recycling is a significant source of metals that can reduce the need for new metal mines. The amount of each metal that comes from recycling varies, however. This is for two main reasons:

 

  • Some metals are used in ways that make it hard to recycle them (e.g. Lithium in batteries)
  • Recycling systems and technologies are less efficient for some metals

 

Independent Capital Group recently visited the Elrec Recycling Plant in Liechtenstein to get an insight into this business. Elrec is one of the leading recycling companies in the region and has a modern and the most powerful cable granulation plant nationwide. The plant is particularly interesting as it ensures almost 100% recovery of valuable copper granulate and by-products such as aluminium, other metals and plastics from cables. Due to the role of copper in the energy transition, efficient recovery through recycling is extremely important to soothe future supply deficits.

 

To extract the valuable copper granulate, cables of all kinds are first shredded. The copper is then separated from the by-products and stored in large 1-tonne bags for resale.

 

 

In addition to copper and general scrap recycling, Elrec also specialises in aluminium – also a key metal in the energy transition. The company has a facility that uses magnets to separate the aluminium from by-products such as paper and plastic. The aluminium cans are pulled into the rear area of the unit by means of a magnet, while the by-products are stored in another compartment for further processing.

 

 

 

 

Many thanks to the whole Elrec team for the interesting tour!

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ICG Commodity Update – September 2022

The ICG Commodity Update is our monthly published comment on the energy, industrial metals and precious metals market.

 

Energy

Europe (and the world) is in the midst of an energy crisis that could materially worsen over the coming months. Europe has aggressively increased LNG imports to help offset the loss of Russian imports. To date, these have been accommodated by higher U.S. exports and lower LNG deliveries to China. North American natural gas prices could move higher through the winter heating season, enhancing the cash flow bonanza many companies are already experiencing. The intensifying global energy crisis has led politicians to consider incremental tax on oil & gas industry profits. The EU has proposed taxing the “windfall” earnings of oil & gas companies to the tune of €25bn. Analysts believe the policy is misguided out of convenience, as rising industry income is already a massive windfall to most producing jurisdictions via progressive royalties and taxes. As a cyclical business the industry relies on commodity upcycles to support full cycle returns on capital. Over the last 3 downturns the sector has written off $800 billion due to economic headwinds. Meanwhile, industry returns on capital have averaged <5% over the last decade, hardly “in excess” as many politicians suggest. Windfall tax also overlooks the root of the energy supply problem: underinvestment. While higher investment today may do little to ease near-term constraints, the fiscal uncertainty of a special tax is bad news for investment in future supply. There is mounting evidence that fossil fuel abhorrence and related policy is having a negative impact on global energy supply, and division over oil & gas investment is likely to extend if not worsen the crisis. Recently several high profile voices weighed in, reinforcing the position on the themes of global underinvestment and the sector’s necessary role in decarbonization/transition. Fossil fuel divestment may prove to be a problematic investment strategy as it not only leaves returns on the table, but also skirts opportunities to influence transition plans and ignores the vital role of oil & gas companies in leading/funding transition. The industry is already hesitant to invest, even though it generates record high cash flows. The weighted average free cash flow yield of the ECF portfolio companies increased to a record of over 24% this year. In other news, OPEC+ is preparing to meet this week to discuss the biggest production cut since the pandemic. The group is considering slashing production by more than 1 million barrels a day to revive plunging prices.

 

Industrial Metals

Commodity prices came under more pressure last month, as a deteriorating economic outlook and a surging US dollar weigh on the value of the world’s raw materials. The price of copper has fallen by nearly a third since March. Some of the largest miners are warning that in just a couple of years’ time, a massive shortfall will emerge for the world’s most critical metal. The recent downturn and the under-investment that ensues only threatens to make it worse, not only for copper but for base metals in general. Analysts say, the market is just reflecting the immediate concerns. But if people thought about the future, the world is changing. It’s going to be electrified, and it’s going to need a lot of metals. The latest price volatility means that new mine output, already projected to start petering out in 2024, could become even tighter in the near future. Last month, mining giant Newmont shelved plans for a $2 billion gold and copper project in Peru. Freeport, the world’s biggest publicly traded copper supplier, has warned that prices are now “insufficient” to support new investments. Commodities experts have been warning of a potential crunch for months, if not years. And the latest market downturn stands to exacerbate future supply problems by offering a false sense of security, choking off cash flow and chilling investments. It takes at least 10 years to develop a new mine and get it running, which means that the decisions producers are making today will help determine supplies for at least a decade. While much of the attention has been focused on lithium, the energy transition will be powered by a variety of raw materials, including nickel, cobalt and steel among others. When it comes to copper, millions of feet of copper wiring will be crucial to strengthening the world’s power grids, and tons upon tons will be needed to build wind and solar farms. EVs use more than twice as much copper as ICE cars, according to the Copper Alliance. Bloomberg estimates that demand for copper will increase by more than 50% from 2022 to 2040. To put it in context, in human history, we have mined 700mt of copper. To meet renewable energy demands, we need to do it all over again — but in the next 22 years. That’s setting up a scenario where the world could see a historic deficit of as much as 10mt in 2035, according to the S&P Global research.

 

Precious Metals

Gold equities continue to be impacted by competing macro themes that represent both headwinds and tailwinds. On one hand, heightened uncertainty, both geopolitical and economic, is generating investor interest. On the other hand, gold equities have not escaped the recent market volatility with decade high inflation and rate hikes. Some investors are turning to precious metals as a store of value. While on the operational side of the mines, the threat of margin compression due to cost inflation is growing, and investors have been concerned about capital cost inflation for companies building new mines or expanding existing operations. Analysts expect to see a continued trend of investors preferring capital returns over growth, a sentiment that is not aided by inflation, which is perceived to increase the risk associated with capital-heavy growth projects. However, the gold price remains conducive to strong free cash flow generation, as it is still above its historical average. The world’s top gold mining executives see cost pressures sticking around into next year – those gathering at the Denver Gold Forum recently shared a collective view that the current economic environment is unprecedented. Gold prices are under pressure and equities tied to the yellow metal have slumped. Rising costs are plaguing mining companies and their operations around the world. While there has been a cooling of fuel prices, other components key to mining, including explosives and reagents, haven’t come down yet thanks to persistent inflation. According to analysts, such an environment leaves room for mergers and consolidation, especially for miners with cash and a need to grow. The best risk mitigator for any mining company is liquidity – The portfolio of the precious metals champions fund is on one hand defensive thanks to its by-mix of physical gold but also because of the selection of low cost and low indebted companies which are still generating a lot of cash even in an inflationary environment. Currently, the weighted average cash margin of the portfolio is standing at close to 50%, with an AISC of only $ 726/oz and a negative net debt to equity (companies are debt free). Even with gold prices at $1’660/oz, these companies are generating a free cash flow yield of over 11% next year – as much as never before.

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ICG Commodity Update – August 2022

The ICG Commodity Update is our monthly published comment on the energy, industrial metals and precious metals market.

 

Energy

Oil declined by more than 20% in the three months through August, overturning all of the gains since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at the end of February. Investors are focusing on tighter monetary policy around the world, which could crimp economic growth and eventually hit oil demand. Notwithstanding that we are in the midst of a global energy crisis. There are regional differences and levels of exposure to the energy crunch. However, few expected that in 2022 Europe would be burning more coal, importing more liquified natural gas, shifting from gas to oil for industry, and spending more money to subsidize fossil fuel consumption. Mainly, European and Asian natural gas prices trade at record high levels. Russia cut exports to Europe to multiyear lows this summer supplying less than a third of normal volumes and there’s no clarity on further moves. Europe is filling its gas reserves for the winter through alternative supplies (LNG imports YTD up 70% from 2021 levels) but also demand destruction and substitution. Nevertheless, European gas storage facilities are about 75% full. Despite the cuts, the pace of refilling is at average levels thanks to alternative supplies. There is a high probability that Europe reaches its goal of filling storage to 80% by the end of October, traditionally the start of the heating season. Yet, electricity prices jumped in Germany to >€600/MWh for the first time ever. The current price is >1’000% higher than the €41.1/MWh 2010-2020 average. High prices are likely to persist because in a case of a cold winter creating high gas demand, Europe has limited ability to increase its current flows from non-Russian sources and there is still the threat that Russia could shut off its remaining flows at any moment. Numerous industry executives, including the chief executives of Chevron and Shell have said recently that they expect the market to remain tight also for crude oil. Last week Saudi Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said the oil futures market has become increasingly disconnected from supply and demand for energy. Saudi Arabia is considering cuts to OPEC+ production to try to balance this, a move that other members of the oil cartel said they may also support. The total free cash flow generated by all public oil and gas companies is expected to increase from $340bn in 2021 to >$550bn this year! This will be the highest value on record. Interestingly, all publicly-listed energy companies (excl. Saudi Aramco) have a combined market cap of $3tn, which is about Apple’s market cap even though these companies collectively generate 5x higher free cash flow. Further to that, given meaningful cost reductions, a robust commodity outlook and growing focus on cash harvesting, BMO believes that the industry ROCE could reach its highest level in 15 years, potentially exceeding 25% by 2023.

 

Industrial Metals

Recession fears continue to grip commodity markets, with oil, petroleum products, aluminium, wheat or sugar well below YTD highs and forward curves weaker. Goldman Sachs says commodities are pricing a recession more so than any other asset class. Nevertheless, they believe that commodities are the best asset class to own during a late-cycle phase where demand remains above supply. Mainly because physical fundamentals signal some of the tightest markets in decades. Inventories are in almost all markets significantly below the 5 year average and some stand at risk of depletion. Interestingly, Goldman Sachs analyzed the largest 50 copper projects, which are likely to bring 4mt of additional copper supply by 2026. Most of this incremental supply is likely to come online in the next 2 years, after which supply growth decelerates significantly. The majority of supply additions in 2027/28 come from unapproved projects, implying risks of delayed project starts and supply additions shifting to after 2030 given project complexity and scrutiny on ESG: 50% of projects were delayed by an avg. of 3 years vs 2018. By the way, US mining companies, automakers and a bipartisan group of congressional members are recommending that the US federal government cut the time needed to permit a new mine in order to boost domestic production of EV minerals. Further to that, Chile’s state-owned copper company Codelco cut its production outlook for 2022 to 1.49-1.51mt, down from a previous forecast of 1.61mt. Codelco’s production outlook for 2023 is also lower at 1.45mt and at risk according to local newspapers. The long-term supply gap remains unsolved, with widening mid-term deficits. Goldman estimates miners need to spend $150bn of capex over the next decade to solve the expected deficit of 8mt. On the other side, copper demand is likely to accelerate given the push towards a low-carbon economy and growing green copper demand. Indeed, REPowerEU plans using over $200bn of grants and other incentives aims to triple its wind and solar by 2030. In the US, the climate bill called the Inflation Reduction Act unlocks $370bn for clean energy but will likely trigger some $1.2tn in private investments by 2035 acc. to WoodMac. As we have highlighted several times, we still live in a material world. An energy system powered by clean energy technologies differs profoundly form one fueled by traditional hydrocarbon resources as they require significantly more industrial metals. Considering the difficulties to bring new mines online we are not surprised to see increasing M&A activity in the sector. Rio Tinto is buying Turquoise Hill Resources in a deal valued at $3.3bn, securing more control of a giant copper mine in Mongolia. BHP announced an $5.9bn offer to buy Oz Minerals that was declined. Nevertheless, it’s the first M&A transaction for BHP since 2011.

 

Precious Metals

Gold, silver and PGMs came under renewed pressure as the dollar resumed strengthening. Silver has now fallen below $18/oz for the first time since July 2020. Chair Powell’s Jackson Hole address struck a more hawkish tone, reiterating records caution “strongly against loosening policy prematurely” and acting as a cudgel against those looking for rate cuts in 2023. The market was too quick to price in a dovish shift by the Fed and with Fed member comments signaling continued focus on inflation. On the positive side, we saw some support from dip buying gold demand by EMs and central banks. The recent spike in Chinese gold imports is driven by a recovery in retail demand as lockdowns moderated occasionally. Looking at PGMs, stronger than expected shipments of platinum to China in the first half of the year spurred shortages elsewhere as supply declined from mines and recycling, the World Platinum Investment Council (WPIC) said. It was difficult to track what happened to some of the Chinese imports, so the platinum market was in surplus on paper but on the ground tightness sent lease rates surging to the highest levels in a decade, the WPIC said in its latest quarterly report. Metals Focus has released its Gold ESG Focus 2022, a report which looks at a number of ESG metrics across 16 of the largest gold miners. This shows that in 2021 combined Scope 1 & 2 greenhouse gas emissions dropped 1% YoY to 27’617kt CO2e, while water withdrawals dropped 5% YoY and water consumption 24% YoY. With this, the average emissions intensity of gold production fell 3% YoY to 0.81t CO2e/oz. Meanwhile, tax and royalty payments rose 39% YoY (with a higher average gold price and increased extraction) while community development spend rose 7% YoY. On the company side, Barrick Gold said it agreed to sell a portfolio of royalties to Maverix Metals for up to $60mn – the portfolio consist of 22 royalties on the production of minerals from mines located in North America, South America, Australia and Africa. Consideration consists of $50mn in cash and up to an additional $10m from three contingent payments. In general and despite the bearish sentiment for gold we see the precious metals companies at its best shape in history. The sector is going to be debt free this year. Our PMC portfolio companies have already net cash on their balance sheets. Miners cash costs increased recently amid the global inflation shock. However, margins are still above the average of the last few years. The free cash flow is as high as never before with an industry FCF yield of >8% – this will certainly result in higher dividends and shares buybacks.

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Energy Crisis & Opportunities

Einleitung

 

Der Welt mangelt es derzeit an allen Formen von Energie. Während die erneuerbare Energieerzeugung und die Energiewende die Diskussion beherrschen, ist die Welt nach wie vor in hohem Maße von fossilen Brennstoffen – vor allem Öl und Gas – abhängig, und das wird voraussichtlich auch kurz- bis mittelfristig so bleiben.

 

Der Öl- und Gassektor war in den letzten zehn Jahren wahrscheinlich einer der unbeliebtesten Sektoren, was vor allem auf schlechte Aktionärsrenditen und ESG-Überlegungen der Anleger zurückzuführen war. In dieser Zeit haben die Unternehmen ihre Geschäftsstrategie bereinigt und sind gesünder als je zuvor – sie produzieren Cashflows in Rekordhöhe und halten ihre Kapitaldisziplin aufrecht, während sie sich auch im Hinblick auf ESG verbessern.

 

Obwohl die Öl- und Gasindustrie im vergangenen Jahr zu den Sektoren mit der besten Performance gehörte, sind die Anleger immer noch stark untergewichtet. Die Unternehmen erzielen derzeit Rekordmargen und belohnen ihre Aktionäre mit Dividenden und Aktienrückkäufen wie nie zuvor.

 

Die aktuelle Situation auf dem Energiemarkt sollte nicht nur als Krise, sondern auch als Chance gesehen werden.

 

Q&A über die aktuelle globale Energiesituation

 

Behandelte Themen

 

  • Wie sich eine Rezession, ein inflationäres Umfeld und steigende Zinssätze auf die Energiemärkte auswirken

 

  • Rentabilität und Aktionärsrenditen von Öl- und Gasunternehmen

 

  • Das zukünftige Geschäftsmodell eines Energieunternehmens

 

  • Überlegungen zur Kombination von fossilen Brennstoffen und ESG-Integration

 

 

Bitte klicken Sie auf den untenstehenden Button, um Zugriff auf den vollständigen Bericht zu erhalten.

 

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ICG Commodity Update – July 2022

The ICG Commodity Update is our monthly published comment on the energy, industrial metals and precious metals market.

 

Energy

Oil markets remain tight. At present, the global crude market faces a deficit of 2mboe/d and stockpiles are near record low levels. However, a key discussion with investors is related to potential demand destruction in a recessionary scenario. History shows that demand growth was negative in only 10 years since 1965. Equally, the demand decline was limited even during recessions. While recent US data has suggested that economic weakness is starting to impact oil demand, some analysts think that the pullback along with continued cost inflation will put additional pressure on supply, ultimately prolonging the duration of the current commodity super cycle. Indeed, low spare capacity continues to weigh on OPEC’s ability to deliver on its quotas. Further to that, with Saudi saying that its long-term max production capacity being only 13mboe/d, the world is increasingly looking for incremental barrels. However, public operators are not moving to accelerate activity levels in a hyper-inflationary environment, and service providers, are not investing in additional capacity, as supply chain and a lack of access to capital are increasingly barriers to entry. Gas markets are also tight, mainly in Europe. Russia cut exports to Europe to multiyear lows this summer supplying less than a third of normal volumes and there’s no clarity on further moves. Related to that, electricity prices jumped in Germany to >€400/MWh for the first time ever. The current price is ~1’000% higher than the €41.1/MWh 2010-2020 average. However, European gas storage facilities are about 69% full, with the pace of refilling at average levels despite the cuts. Nevertheless, EU nations are quickly lining up alternative supplies and import infrastructure. According to most analysts energy stocks offer the most attractive risk/reward opportunity within equities, especially after the recent sharp correction. Energy is a deep value sector that is simultaneously improving on quality, growth and income factors, a rare combination. The sector should deliver strong relative and rising capital return (dividend yield +4%, growing buybacks $16bn announced YTD, +100% vs FY21) funded by +20% FCF yields. Indeed, analysts keep lifting earnings forecasts for energy companies at a fast pace, and the stock market is struggling to keep up. As a result, the Stoxx 600 Energy index is now the cheapest sector in Europe, with a record low fwd P/E of 5x and trading at a historic discount relative to the Index of 56%. As a revenge of “old world economy” Exxon generated in 2Q22 more free cash than Alphabet and is #3 in the S&P 500 behind Apple & Microsoft. Chevron jumped up in the ranks with cash inflow to #5. Nevertheless, energy stocks remain broadly under owned. However, there is growing concern about ESG underperformance, resulting in many institutions starting to revisit their existing ESG frameworks and looking at different ways of softening ESG objectives all of which should translate to incremental equity flows into energy.

 

Industrial Metals

According to a new S&P Global study, unprecedented and untenable copper shortfalls in the coming decade put the global shift away from fossil fuels at risk. The bullish findings are a long way from the slowdown of recent months, when copper lost a thirds of its value from a March peak. Analysts from Goldman Sachs to Bank of America have slashed their near-term forecasts in anticipation of a drop in consumer spending and industrial activity. Longer term though, the equation changes. Demand is set to reach around 50 million tons by 2035 from 25 million today. With new deposits trickier and pricier to find and develop, the main sources of new supply would come from recycling and gains at existing mines. Based on current trends, an annual supply shortfall of almost 10 million tons would open up in 2035, the study of S&P found. That’s equivalent to 20% of demand projected to be required for a 2050 net-zero world. Even assuming aggressive growth in capacity utilization and all-time high recycling rates, the market would still face persistent deficits, including nearly 1.6 million tons in 2035, it said. According to McKinsey, big deficits like the study found are hypothetical, with higher prices potentially boosting supply or curbing demand. Copper is not the only important base metal to the green energy story though – Teck Resources recently published an estimate of the resources needed to build a 13MW offshore wind turbine: 125t of copper, 7t of zinc and 700t of steelmaking coal among other key commodities, showing clearly the importance of commodities in a green, electrified world. On the equity side, quarterly results of the top mining companies came in with most miners flagging higher costs due to inflationary pressure and lighter revenues due to the commodity price slump in recent months. Although companies are facing rising costs, profitability is still strong – while Rio Tinto for example reported a decline in first-half profit, resulting in a dividend cut, the absolute figure of its dividend, $4.3 billion, is still an enormous cash windfall for its investors. For now, profitability remains strong by historical standards, and the biggest miners continue to pay out large amounts of cash to shareholders. However, producers including Rio and larger rival BHP Group have been warning about the threat of slowing global growth and surging energy prices. It is also important to underline the financial health of balance sheets in the industry during uncertain times. Rio Tinto ended the first half with $291 million of net cash, while the portfolio companies of the Industrial Metals Champions Fund are currently having a net debt/equity of less than 13%. Analysts wouldn’t be surprise to see an uptick in deal-making as valuations are still low and companies are having full coffers of cash.

 

Precious Metals

Gold rose to the highest level since early July as investors braced for a stormy period in US-China relations with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi heading for Taiwan. The precious metal often benefits from bouts of geopolitical turbulence, and the Pelosi trip only adds to tailwinds that have helped gold rebound from a 15-month low. Growing fears about the global economy have also aided bullion’s rise to a four-week high. Helping bullion’s recovery could also be an end to outflows from gold-backed ETFs after 21 days of uninterrupted withdrawals, according to Commerzbank AG analyst. On the equity side, Gold Fields investors may be softening their opposition to the company’s planned acquisition of Yamana Gold, CEO Chris Griffith said at a mining conference. Gold Fields in May agreed to buy Yamana Gold for ~$7b in an all-share deal that would make the South African miner the world’s No. 4 gold producer. Griffith has previously acknowledged investors’ concern, particularly over the 34% premium being offered. Gold Fields is trying to show investors that acquiring single assets would be much less value-accretive and much more expensive. Also, Gold Fields announced a more generous dividend policy and plans to list in Toronto as the miner seeks to convince investors to support its bid. Looking at the incoming quarterly reports, there was no surprise that gold miners are grappling with higher costs of labor, energy and supplies in the 2nd quarter. According to Newmont, the world’s largest gold producer, the company has observed cost pressures, including the impact from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and increasingly competitive labor markets over the past eight months. In general, earnings season has just started for gold miners and with precious metals equities selling off alongside the broader market, Q2 financial results will provide another data point for investors to gauge the health of the sector. While mining companies in Q1 battled to various degrees with inflation, supply chain issues, and labor force challenges, analysts have seen a mixed narrative in Q2’s production results, with some companies largely conquering these issues while others remain impacted. With both gold and silver prices down, analysts still expect strong realized metals prices as most of the decline occurred after the quarter ended. Most investors will continue to be focused on costs as the main variable impacting earnings. Thanks to our dynamic investment approach and our focus on low-cost producers, ICG calculates that the average weighted cash costs of the precious metals champions fund, adjusted to inflation and currency, is standing currently at around $785/oz which results in a cash-margin above 50% at current gold prices and should leave room for shareholder returns.

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ICG Commodity Update – June 2022

The ICG Commodity Update is our monthly published comment on the energy, industrial metals and precious metals market.

 

Energy

Oil headed for a third weekly drop, its longest losing run this year, on concern that a potential recession will cut into energy demand. Oil fell about 8% in June as investors fretted over a potential global slowdown, eroding a rally spurred by the war in Ukraine, interruptions to supplies and rising demand. The jump in prices alarmed President Joe Biden, who’s spearheading efforts to get producers in the Middle East to boost crude output. Even though oil fell in June, the world economy is short all forms of energy, with global natural gas and coal prices also soaring, as a result of improved fundamental conditions, poor policy choices and repercussions from Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine. Moreover, global refining capacity is also constrained, meaning that shortages of refined petroleum products are leading product prices to outperform crude oil prices. Relentless demand for energy has resumed following the COVID interlude, much as it has after any of the temporary downturns over the last 40 years. The world economy began to experience energy shortages in 2021 as demand recovered more quickly than many anticipated and supply growth continued to lag, in part due to the OPEC+ group managing the oil market. Then, seven years of underinvestment in productive capacity and infrastructure collided with the Western World’s pivot away from Russian oil and gas, creating an even bigger problem. Given the immovable force of climate policy and shunning of Russia supply, the only solution appears to be commodity prices that are high enough to weaken future demand growth. According to Analysts, oil is clearly driven by macro-economic developments at the moment, fundamentally, the market is still tight so downside is expected to be more or less limited. North American oil and gas equities have materially outperformed the broader market over the last 18 months. However, investors generally remain underexposed to oil and gas equities, with sector weightings not far off the lows in 1998/99. Somewhat incongruently, the sector’s earnings and free cash flow contribution to the market are more than double its weight in the S&P and TSX, and the sector is in the best financial position in more than 30 years. According to BMO, low investor exposure to oil and gas equities reflects misperceptions about the future of the industry as well as the causes of the sharp increase in crude oil and natural gas prices. Most generalist investors are convinced that oil is the new tobacco and should be avoided. Not surprisingly, oil companies are not taking their cash windfalls and re-investing them in new supply that would ultimately lead to lower oil prices and rather allocate their profits to shareholder returns via dividends and share buybacks.

 

Industrial Metals

Base metals booked the worst quarterly slump since the 2008 global financial crisis as China’s economy recovered only gradually and fears of a world recession intensified. Markets have been buffeted by both growth and inflation worries for some time now and are not getting any relief from G-7 central bankers, most of whom are intent on raising interest rates further. Early indicators for China’s economic activity tracked by Bloomberg suggest an improvement during June as Covid-19 restrictions were gradually eased. An overall gauge of the outlook returned to neutral after deteriorating for two straight months, though the recovery remains muted. It’s a dramatic reversal from the past two years, when metals surged on a wave of post-lockdown optimism, inflationary predictions and supply snarls. Inventories remain at critically low levels in several metals markets, setting the stage for potential price spikes. . Both exchange and estimated total stocks on average across the complex are at the lowest levels since at least 2000, leaving supply chains and prices more susceptible to supply and demand shocks, as well as financial market squeezes. Longer term, demand growth will have to be aggressively adjusted to cope with constrained supply across a number of energy transition metals, notably copper & nickel. According to analysts, the commodity bull market is not over, it has hardly just begun. Natural resource related equities experienced three distinct periods of outperformance over the past century. One period was associated with intense inflation (1970s), one period was associated with crippling deflation (1930s), and one period was associated with the China boom in the early 2000s. All of these three periods had one thing in common: commodity prices were extremely cheap relative to the broad market. Comparing the Goldman Sachs Commodity Index today with the Dow Jones Industrial Index, commodities remain still in undervalued territory. Investors have to keep in mind that despite the recent sell-off, almost all of the key commodities are trading well outside of the cost curves and as a results, margins and free cash flow yields of natural resource companies are still robust. Looking at the diversified miners alone, EBITDA expectations for 2022 are US 160bn, up 5% on 2021, with nearly half of the year’s EBITDA already banked. Even with analysts’ expectations of lower commodity prices going forward, they still support strong cash flow, with 2023 EBITDA of US$123 billion still the third highest year in a decade. Further, despite some inflationary pressure to capex and costs, analysts still expect free cash flow yields to be strong for the foreseeable future with solid balance sheets and potential for significant shareholder returns via dividends and share buybacks.

 

Precious Metals

Gold headed for a third straight monthly decline as investors weighed rising interest rates against recession fears, with central bankers warning of a longer-lasting inflation shock. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and his European counterparts may be forced to tear up their playbook of the last 20 years as they debate how to tackle persistent price pressures and slower growth. Speaking at the European Central Bank’s annual forum, President Christine Lagarde said it’s unlikely that the world will soon go back to a low-inflation environment as a result of the pandemic and geopolitics. According to analysts, the lingering uncertainty on the extent of policy-tightening to curb inflation may still be having a hold on the yellow metal’s prices, with central bankers’ comments continuing to reiterate their resolve in keeping prices down as a priority. Also, although for most market participants symbolic, the European Union is working on new sanctions to target Russian gold, matching a move by the Group of Seven nations aimed at further choking off Moscow’s revenue sources, according to people familiar with the matter. The impact from a ban on Russian gold imports by G-7 nations is likely to be fairly limited, given that the industry already took steps to restrict Russian gold. Looking at gold mining companies, the most important theme for most is inflation. While cost inflation is very real, and was a dominant theme in Q1/22 conference calls, analysts expect that higher-grade deposits, larger deposits, prudent management teams, and robust gold pricing should all act to maintain free cash flow margins. Assuming that the gold price remains robust, and inflation impacts other segments of the market, analysts expect that there is a good chance that investors could come back to the sector. This will be especially true if the companies maintain cost discipline and keeping their focus on dividends or shareholder returns in general. Most companies use a gold price assumption to calculate reserves that is roughly $1,400/oz on average, implying that the companies are retaining a relatively conservative stance in their mine plans. As with base metals miners, despite some inflationary pressure to capex and costs, analysts still expect free cash flow yields to be strong for the foreseeable future with companies being in their best financial health they have ever been – the net debt to equity of the precious metals champions funds portfolio companies is currently negative, meaning companies have more cash on their balance sheets than debt leaving still enough room for more dividend hikes and share buybacks to come, as we have already seen in the last couple of quarters.

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The thorny issue of oil majors and genuine ESG impact

Excluding all ‘old world’ players won’t cut it, so how can fund managers tap oil and gas giants as part of a meaningful energy transition? Pablo Gonzalez, our Senior Portfolio Manager, was interviewed by citywire to speak about investing in oil and gas companies and the ESG paradox.

 

“The investment industry is missing out on the chance to take a more responsible approach towards sustainable investment, such as engaging with management, rather than wholesale exclusion.”

 

Please read the full article below:

The thorny issue of oil majors and genuine ESG impact

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ICG Commodity Update – May 2022

The ICG Commodity Update is our monthly published comment on the energy, industrial metals and precious metals market.

 

Energy

Well three months into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, global markets remain tense with oil prices holding firmly >$100/bl. The call to secure global energy supplies is getting more relevant than ever, with new actions adding to uncertainty, including a potential EU embargo on Russian oil on the horizon. Further to that, the WSJ has reported that some OPEC members are considering exempting Russia from the group’s production quotas currently in place (Russia’s target were set at 10.5mboe/d in May). No decision has been confirmed, but exemption wouldn’t be without precedents: Iran, Libya and Venezuela are already not subject to production quotas. Exemption would allow Russia to produce at maximum capacity, which is probably limited at ~11mboe/d due to export constraints through Europe. Nevertheless, an exemption of Russia would probably not impact the medium-term S/D balance according to JP Morgan. While Saudi Arabia and Iraq plan to increase production capacity, non-GCC supply continues to fall short of expectations. Some estimate that in April OPEC+ missed quotas by 1.8mboe/d. Some expect OPEC’s spare capacity (about 3.6mboe/d) to come even more into light as demand continues to recover, China reopens and the summer driving season starts in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s time to take a look at an unloved sector. Commodity prices have skyrocketed well >100% in the last 2 years. However, it’s not too late to invest. Though commodities are up, natural resource companies trade at more than a 60% discount relative to the S&P 500, a level that has almost never been seen. Indeed, also relative energy stocks are cheap discounting oil prices in the range of only $50-$70/bl. Furthermore, the current discount may be understated, as the recent spike in commodity prices has yet to flow through to the companies’ reported fundamentals. If commodity prices were to stay at current levels, many of the largest commodity producers on the planet could pay down all their debt and buy back all their shares in just a few years and keep their billions and billions of dollars of cash flow for themselves. The implication of these deeply discounted valuations is that investors don’t need commodity prices to continue to rise in order to expect strong returns. In fact, flat commodity prices would be brilliant. Energy now represents 9% and 11% of S&P net income and FCF using consensus estimates, while these would increase by 150-200bps at strip. When comparing earnings and FCF contribution with a 4.8% of S&P market cap and other sectors struggling, we think investors will find it difficult to remain underweight given greater performance slippage. If valuations remain depressed, investors will benefit from a combination of high dividend yields, special dividends, share repurchases, and M&A activity. While the exact mechanism is unknown, if you invest in profitable businesses at attractive valuations, you will be rewarded sooner or later.

 

Industrial Metals

May was a rollercoaster with most commodity prices posting a weak run and all major base metals fell on the LME as stocks and bonds slid and the U.S. dollar rose, while accelerating inflation, rising borrowing costs and lockdowns in China depressed sentiment. China’s stringent response to virus outbreaks are stoking angst over its impact on the economy. The country’s leaders warned against questioning Xi Jinping’s Covid-zero policy, reaffirming support for the lockdown-dependent approach despite pressure to relax restrictions and protect growth. Anyway, by the end of the month, commodities rebounded from a five-month low as the demand outlook was bolstered by a weaker US dollar and China’s loan-rate cut. Chinese authorities cut a key interest rate for long-term loans by a record amount. The move will help reduce mortgage costs and support the country’s beleaguered property sector, a key source of metals demand. The Stoxx 600 Basic Resources index has fallen 16% in the past month, at a time when analysts are still raising estimates. That’s left miners looking more of a bargain than they have in years, trading at about six times forward earnings, a 50% discount to the broader market. In recent history, the sector was only this cheap during the global financial crisis of 2008 and the European sovereign debt crisis in 2011, in absolute terms. Commodity prices have skyrocketed well over 100% in the last 2 years. Though commodities are up, resource companies trade at more than a 60% discount relative to the S&P 500, a level that has almost never been seen. Furthermore, the current discount may be understated, as the recent spike in commodity prices has yet to flow through to the companies’ reported fundamentals. According to GMO, the market is simply not valuing resource companies at reasonable levels given any plausible base case for how the world might play out. If commodity prices were to stay at current levels, many of the largest commodity producers on the planet could pay down all their debt and buy back all their shares in just a few years and keep their billions of dollars of cash flow for themselves. The implication of these deeply discounted valuations is that investors don’t need commodity prices to continue to rise in order to expect strong returns. In fact, flat commodity prices would be brilliant. If valuations remain depressed, investors will benefit from a combination of high dividend yields, special dividends, share repurchases, and M&A activity. While the exact mechanism is unknown, if you invest in profitable businesses at attractive valuations, you will be rewarded sooner or later.

 

Precious Metals

Gold has recovered some lost ground recently and is now hovering just below its 200-day moving average of USD 1,840/oz. This consolidation has been underpinned by an uptick in buying of exchange-traded funds following a decline in these holdings by more than 2 million ounces since the mid-April peak. The moderation in 10-year US real yields and the topping out of US dollar strength has supported some demand, with gold’s correlation with the US dollar index turning more negative of late. Despite the commencement of the much anticipated Fed tightening cycle in March and a general sell-off in equities, which likely also weighed on gold as it is typically used initially as a source of liquidity, the gold price is only down around 10% in dollar terms from its recent $2,000+ highs. Analysts believe gold’s robust performance has been driven by increasing concerns around the prospects for growth, inflation and the extent to which central bank policy can balance the mix of the two successfully. Looking at PGMs, platinum supply could contract slightly over the next two years as the industry struggles to recover from Covid-related supply chain disruptions, labor and power stoppages in South Africa and Russia’s isolation. Southern African producers have pushed the growth button potentially boosting output from 2026 should favorable market conditions hold. From 2024, platinum supply could increase by 1.5-2% a year as new projects offset reserve depletion and grade decline. The gold sector showed some M&A-activity by the end of May with Gold Fields offering 0.6 of one of its shares for each Yamana share which will make the combined company the world’s number 4 producer. The $7bn purchase implies a 34% premium to Yamana’s closing share price on May 27th. That premium offered by Gold Fields contrasts with the shift in recent years to mergers of equals in the gold industry. Those zero-premium deals, which consolidate assets to minimize costs and maximize shareholder returns, began with the $5.4 billion mega merger of Barrick Gold and Randgold announced in 2018. Yamana Gold considered other options before agreeing to be acquired by Gold Fields, suggesting there are discussions for other prospective deals in the gold industry, the Canadian firm’s executive chairman said. This is no surprise to most market participants as the so called M&A-wave is long overdue in the still segmented gold industry. Even though gold prices have risen over 40% in the last 5 years, equities of the miners are still looking cheap – companies of the precious metals champions fund producing an ounce of gold at roughly $800/oz while being almost debt-free and highly profitable (EBITDA margin >50% and a free cash flow yield 2023E >11%), this with a price-to-cashflow ratio of only 2.9x, a price-to-book ratio of 1.7x and a dividend-yield of 2.9%.

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ICG Commodity Update – April 2022

The ICG Commodity Update is our monthly published comment on the energy, industrial metals and precious metals market.

 

Energy

Oil climbed for a fifth month in April, marking the longest monthly winning streak since January 2018 before falling at the beginning of May. Oil demand keeps holding up on a global level. Most oil products have fully or almost fully recovered back to 2019 levels. Particularly China’s oil demand was very strong this year until the recent lockdown. According to JP Morgan energy demand is expected to exceed supply by 20% and would require $1.3tn of incremental capital to close the gap by 2030. Therefore energy investment needs to rise 45% to $2.7tn annually by 2030, to meet rising energy demand. US oil and gas producers are suddenly under pressure to accelerate the pace of supply additions and contribute to the security of global energy markets. Certain public producers already started revising their capital and production guidance for 2022 up. While the upside for production in 2H22 remains limited amid ongoing supply chain bottlenecks and cost escalation, the outlook for the rig counts keeps improving and nationwide growth capacity for 2023 looks much more favourable than it looked like two months ago. Nevertheless, Rystad expects the US to grow by 1mboe/d but labour and equipment shortages may reduce growth potential by half. Particularly fascinating is that total free cash flow generated by upstream for all the public E&P companies is expected to increase from $460bn in 2021 to almost $850bn this year! This will be the highest value on record. Indeed, our ECF portfolio has a weighted avg. FCF yield for 2022E of 19.3%! Energy stocks are far from pricing in strong and sustainable outlooks for fundamentals and shareholder return. For instance, Energy S&P 500 weight is only 4% (vs. 20yr average of 8% and 2008 peak of 16%). For a sector that is a direct input into every segment of the economy and a natural hedge against geopolitics and inflation. In ours view, energy’s earnings stream is worth more than the 2022E PE of 10.3x (ECF with a PE of 5.6x) which is a steep discount relative to long-term average of 16.5x since 1990. During 2013-2014 it traded at 13.5x when oil price was at a similar level though profit margins were much lower and credit risk was higher. Interestingly, all US publicly-listed energy companies have a combined market cap of only $2.2tn, which is lower than Apple’s market cap even though these companies collectively generate 5x higher revenues. Energy continues to be the cheapest sector on all valuation metrics despite the strong performance over the last 2 years. Also relative energy stocks are cheap discounting oil prices in the range of $50-$70/bl vs spot prices of $100/bl. No wonder to us that W. Buffett increased its energy exposure heavily this year making Chevron it’s 4th biggest position. However, with anti-Energy constraints likely loosening given increasing ESG performance pressure and with many reconsidering how to define ESG, we expect a positive impact to energy equity flows in the future.

 

Industrial Metals

Concerns around the Fed’s tightening and China’s widening COVID outbreaks have weighed on markets last month. Strict lockdowns are wreaking havoc on consumer spending and snarling supply chains in China, putting its growth target for GDP of about 5.5% this year under increasing pressure. Chinese authorities have already taken some steps to stem the economic damage, including accelerating government borrowing and spending to boost infrastructure investment. Still, virus concerns persist as flareups intensified, along with looming interest-rate hikes by western governments. Looking at inventories, there have been continued inventory challenges this year for base metals and upward squeezes remain possible. While Goldman says copper is “sleepwalking” toward a depletion of stockpiles, Barclays highlights that the most significant disruption is currently occurring downstream, as activity in China is disrupted. Also, copper output in Chile, the worlds largest copper producing country, is facing significant underperformance so far this year due to a combination of widespread water shortages, ore grade disappointments and technical issues that are disrupting close to half of supply in the country. On top, MMG is facing the possibility of a prolonged disruption at its Las Bambas copper mine in Peru, which represents 2% of world supply, after failing to clear the site of all protesters in an operation that has further inflamed tensions with indigenous groups. On the company side, Glencore’s trading business is headed for another year of bumper profits as the company cashes in on soaring prices and market volatility. The volatile markets have helped boost earnings for commodities traders, with merchants including Mercuria and Gunvor earning windfall profits last year. However, surging prices have also created liquidity pressures for traders, as they face massive margin calls on derivative hedging positions. Still, like several other big miners, Glencore has had problems operationally. The company cut its zinc production goal for the year and also said it would produce less copper. Anglo American and Freeport both tumbled after forecasting steep cost rises, while other miners such as BHP disappointed as COVID absenteeism and operational missteps curb output across the sector. The recent pressure on the equity side could be an attractive entry point for investors, as financial ratios remain extremely favourable. For example, the average price-to-book-ratio of the fund is currently at 2.3x, combined with an EV/EBITDA 2022E of 4x and a price-to-earnings ratio of 7x makes the portfolio look cheap compared to benchmark figures or other sectors. Also, the companies are incredibly healthy with a net-debt/equity of only 12% and profitable: free-cash-flow yield 2022E 13.2%, EBITDA margin 2022E 44%, dividend yield 3.4%.

 

Precious Metals

According to Analysts, Gold has been hamstrung by expectations the U.S. Federal Reserve will now act quite aggressively to bring inflation under control. The prospect of further U.S. interest rate hikes adds to the relative attractions of the dollar over real assets like gold that have no yield. Gold investors are balancing searing inflation against more aggressive monetary policy tightening, while digesting the added complications of a weakening economic growth backdrop and elevated geopolitical risks. Higher inflation prints, geopolitical risk and recessionary fears, in isolation, should support prices, however, central bank tightening to rein in this inflationary juggernaut will likely take some shine off gold. Looking at silver, demand is expected to climb to a record level this year thanks to increasing use of solar panels as governments boost renewable energy to meet climate goals, setting the stage for years of supply deficits, an industry report said in April. Global silver demand is expected to rise to 1.1 billion ounces this year, up 5% from 2021, consultants Metals Focus said in an annual report compiled for the Silver Institute. On the equity side, miners face shrinking margins as inflationary pressures abound. Inflation is flowing through to labor, consumables, freight, diesel, power, and royalties, while easing COVID restrictions, rising by-product credits, and an appreciating U.S. dollar offer some potential reprieve. While prices for industrial metals have risen sharper this year than inflation, gold and silver prices remain flat by end of April. Independent Capital Group attended this years European Gold Forum in April to get some insight into the industry, as gold mining companies still struggle with investors’ attention in recent years due to bad management, overspending on acquisitions and projects and in general weak communication to the public. We want to highlight that the industry is still heavily undervalued, debt free and is rewarding its shareholders for their loyalty either with dividends, share buy-backs or a combination of both, which means that shareholder returns are steadily growing. Also, the value proposition of large-caps is starting to fade. Investors will start looking for great mid-tier companies which should drive share prices and speaks for diversification instead of a single stock pick. In addition, the industry stays extremely disciplined and keeping their budgets under control – while M&A is still on everyone’s mind, an acquisition has to come at the right price. No one wants to pay high premiums anymore as many recent zero-premium acquisitions and mergers showed.

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