Tuesday 20 December 2011

Uranium stocks looking ugly post-Fukushima as short-interest rises

12 Dec 2011

Uranium markets are still on the ropes, even nine months after the terrible natural disaster that caused a partial meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan. Market sentiment has turned even more negative, as short-interest in uranium mining equities has increased substantially as of late, according to Data Explorers.

The nuclear power industry has been under fire after the Japanese disaster, with uranium markets taking much of the hit. The Global X Uranium ETF (URA), which acts as a proxy for the sector, is down more than 58% this year to $8.56, while spot uranium prices have tumbled from highs near $75 per pound to around $52, according to TradeTech and the Ux Consulting Company, which prepare the two most widespread uranium price indices.

Investors violently shorted uranium miners via the URA after the accident, with demand to borrow URA shares surging 10% since March. Short-covering in August, which happened to coincide with a global sell-off in equity markets, brought the short-interest to a nearly insignificant level, Data Explorers explained. But investor sentiment remains skewed against uranium miners. Short-interest has moved from the URA to individual stocks. Looking at the top 10 holdings of URA, "average short-interest has increased 25% over a three month period to 6% of total shares", wrote analysts at Data Explorers.

Uranium Energy Corp, and USEC have been among the most heavily shorted stocks in the group. Short-interest in USEC peaked in July at 26% of shares outstanding, falling to 16% by December, as the stock fell to yearly lows. USEC is down 79% this year despite "the highest level of institutional ownership of funds who lend" at about a third of market cap, said the Data Explorers. "Short interest and long flow in Uranium Energy Corp, has reduced at a rate of 5%", explained the analysts, even though it still stands high at 15% of shares outstanding.

Moving on to Cameco, the world's largest uranium producer, short interest appears low at 3%. But given a $7.1 billion market cap and a marked 40% increase in borrowing demand for its shares over the last three months, it appears that negative sentiment is on the rise. Short interest in Cameco stood at 3% of shares outstanding as the share price continues to bounce along the bottom of its yearly range.

Within the uranium industry, some are trying to convince themselves of a bullish long-term trend for prices. TradeTech notes that despite a 9% drop in uranium demand between now and 2025 (given the German and Swiss plans to phase out nuclear power and Italy's plans to abandon nuclear power, among other delays), a potential supply/demand gap could provide support for prices, "While the Fukushima crisis is clearly a setback for nuclear, the industry shouldn't lose sight of the fact that the overall trend in demand is moving upward, due in large part to projected nuclear power growth in China and other nations around the world", said TradeTech president Treva Klingbiel. The outlook in the short-term, though, remains very bleak.