The Weekly Review: Optimism on Lynas, pessimism on REE prices, high hopes in the Philippines

Two ongoing stories – Lynas in Malaysia and the likely prices for rare earths – and a new one – another potential Asian player – make up this edition of RareMetalBlog’s Weekly Review.

Item #1: The report during the week on RareMetalBlog regarding Lynas and a conspiracy theory about Chinese intervention in Malaysia certainly got the comments flying. Now we have a more impartial assessment, this time from Sydney-based Foster Stockbroking. It sent out a client note Monday (Australian Eastern Summer Time) suggesting this was the time to buy Lynas Corp shares in anticipation of the company receiving approval for the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant in Malaysia. Foster believes that the Malaysians are proposing a temporary licence in order to make Lynas demonstrate that it can operate the plant safely and thus soften local opposition. (Editor’s comment: This is a good point. If the Malaysians had the intention of refusing the licence, why would they bother making it a temporary one?)

Foster expects the Malaysian cabinet to be positive on the Lynas issue. It expects the Atomic Energy Licensing Board decision to be sent to the government in early February and a ruling made in no more than a couple of weeks after that. This pre-operating licence would allow Lynas to draw down on its $125 million debt facility, ship the concentrate from the Mt Weld mine in Australia to Malaysia, and then move into production and begin producing a cash flow.

Foster expects that if Lynas complies with the temporary licence, then a permanent operating licence would be issued within two years. But any further delays will be expensive: a three-month delay would leave Lynas with a $115 million deficit (over and above existing financial resources), a six-month delay a $150 million deficit and a nine month delay needing an extra $180 million. Lynas could, the note says, cope with these by a range of options, including getting pre-payment for offtake or raising additional capital with a limited dilution to existing shareholders.

Foster says it believes pre-approval will come quickly and this will trigger a significant re-rating of the stock to trade closer to the consensus price target of about $2 a share.

Item #2: Rare earth prices have been falling and will continue to do so, right? Not a view shared in Japan apparently. As RareMetalBlog has argued, the somewhat bizarre decision by the Chinese, in their 2012 export quotas, to allow all REE producers to have 15 per cent of the quotas for heavy rare earths will see a shortage of the heavies this year. LREE producers won’t be able to use all or any of the HREE allocation, while HREE producers have their quotas weighted 85 per cent to the lights, most of which they can’t use either.

Prices have certainly fallen for Japanese customers: cerium prices are down 49 per cent on their July level having shed $49/kg, while neodymium is now costing $220/kg, down 52 per cent since mid-2011.

But one Japanese trading house is being quoted in the Tokyo business press as believing the skewing of the export quotas, along with some miners (which have yet to get quotas) failing to pass the environmental reviews, will mean falling cerium and neodymium production from northern China. There is also a concern in Japanese business circles that the small HREE quotas for heavy producers in Guangdong and Jiangxi provinces will also force up the cost of dysprosium this year.

Item #3: Manila’s most read financial daily, Business Times, reports that the Philippines Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) has approached the China Geological Survey for help in getting REE exploration under way in the country this year. It has asked the Chinese to send a team to Manila next month to discuss co-operation – and, of course, the Chinese coming up with the money for the program.

Not too much is known about the potential for REE discoveries in the Philippines. But the country is highly prospective and over the years massive discoveries of various metals have been made. On the downside, the Philippines’ record in dealing with foreign miners is not good, and many projects have been plagued with opposition from environmental groups, not to mention violence.

Last October the daily Manila Bulletin first reported the new interest in REE, saying the MGB had earmarked 20 million pesos ($US457,000) to kick-start work on rare earths. The agency was quoted saying the islands of Palawan and Mindanao were likely to be the first areas targeted in the hunt.