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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

uranium spot price drops

It appears that the spot price of uranium is now down to $78. This has been driving down the prices of uranium stocks even more. What's more, there's substantial amounts of uranium going onto the spot market at these prices and it doesn't appear to be driven by speculators/hedge funds.

According to trade reports, physical offers have been put up for February and March 2008 in all three holding areas - the US, Europe and Canada - with prices below $80/lb in two of the areas. According to market players, one of the sellers has entered the market with "hundreds of tons" of material (each 100 tons equates to more than 220,000 pounds of uranium oxide).

It is said that there are no speculative funds or hedge funds on the Tullet Prebon screen at this time. According to one dealer, "it looks like the spot price may test the $75/lb level again before potentially rebounding toward the end of this quarter".
This article notes that Australia and Kazakhstan have increased production and will continue to increase production (no surprise there).

Last week, the supply for immediate delivery was 2.1 million pounds while demand was 500,000 pounds, according to TradeTech LLC.

Speculation that Russia will this week sign an agreement to start uranium shipments to the U.S. from 2011 pushed further the prices down.
This is interesting as Russia had said it wouldn't continue the long term deal they had. No doubt this new agreement would have much better terms for Russia.

So by my calculations Australia mined an additional 3 million pounds more of uranium in 2007. Kazakhstan plans to produce an additional 6 million pounds in 2008.

U3O8.biz has a commentary about the spot price drop.

Tradetech reported just one transaction, blaming political uncertainty and global market fears. The indicator points to this week's announced delay in the signing of a proposed amendment to the Russian Suspension Agreement as a harbinger of supply troubles, but the hold-up has yet to boost demand, which remains discretionary.
So the [proposed amendment to the] Russian agreement is actually delayed?


My take on all this is that none of this stuff affects the overall supply/demand picture. If you look at the world's uranium production table, 2006 was down from 2005 by 6 million pounds. It's not surprising if 2007 was up.

So Australia boosted production to 10,145 metric tons (22.4 million pounds) during 2007? 2005 production in Australia was 24.7 million pounds. They still haven't gotten back to where they were. But the most important long-term issue is still the huge gap between production and consumption even when you look at the estimated 2007 production on the chart.

The production increases these articles are talking about are needed just to keep up with the increases in demand (not only are there are lot of reactors planned and being built, but reactors in the US for instance have quietly been increasing their output without building new reactors). A whole lot more production is needed to close the gap between supply and demand.

I continue to own Strathmore Minerals and Fission Energy and I see them doing all the right things.

UPDATE Sat Feb 2, 2008:
Paladin's quarterly update press release has some interesting industry items in it.
2007 was a significant year for the world nuclear power industry. Four new reactors were connected to grids in India, China, Romania and the United States of America. Construction commenced on a further 10 power-generation plants, bringing the number of reactors under construction to 34. In addition, another 93 units are on order or planned and a further 222 new units are proposed - 64 more than at the end of 2006.
Both India and China have announced ambitious plans for new nuclear power capacity, however their predicted massive energy consumption growth suggests these initial plans mark only the beginning of a major conversion to nuclear power over the next 50 years.
which has been pretty clear for a while.

None of this is new, it's just good to see it from another source. Every time a new reactor goes online it requires nearly a million pounds of U3O8 for the initial core. Obviously at least one of those reactors is not really new since no new reactors have been built in the US for decades. I think they mean Unit One of the Browns's Ferry reactors in Alabama that went back online in May/June 2007 after being offline since 1985 (see here). I would guess that they probably needed new uranium to start it back up, but I could be wrong about that.

This tidbit of info is an example of what the demand chart for uranium over the past few decades shows:
Unit One can generate 1,155 MW of electricity, and TVA plan an uprate to 1280 MWe for this and the other two reactors.
Utilities have been quietly increasing the power generation of nuclear reactors without actually building new reactors.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

AeroCentury Corp (ACY)

I just happened to see a stock price for AeroCentury (ACY, sec) and it immediately added an interesting perspective to the current view of things.

AeroCentury is a tiny company that I followed from early 2001 to roughly 2004 or so. They bought very small turboprop airplanes opportunistically and then leased them out to small airlines around the world. I liked the business model and I believed it was a great niche, although there was always the long term threat from regional jets. The company was run by people with enormous amounts of experience in the industry and lots of patience. It was vaguely similar to other companies I've looked at such as EPLN, CFRI, LVWD. They typically sold their aircraft for significantly more than the carrying value on the books. However, I was particularly afraid of the regional jet threat.

At the time they were somewhat profitable (and sometimes not, if I recall), but they were slowly building the business. Looking at the latest 10-Q, the balance sheet is still very leveraged. Most of the assets are the aircraft and engines. Net margins are now a healthy 15%. Maintenance costs have dropped for some reason, resulting in the good margins. Cash flow from operations for 9 months is great; they used it plus some additional borrowing to purchase more aircraft.
Operating lease revenue was approximately $2,128,000 and $1,304,000 higher in the nine months and three months ended September 30, 2007, respectively, versus the same periods in 2006, primarily because of increased operating lease revenue from aircraft purchased in the fourth quarter of 2006 and first nine months of 2007 and lease modifications which involved rent increases for several of the Company’s aircraft.
and also this:
The Company’s maintenance expense is dependent on the aggregate maintenance claims submitted by lessees and expenses incurred in connection with off-lease aircraft. As a result of lower total lessee claims and less expense incurred for off-lease aircraft in 2007, the Company incurred approximately $2,305,000 and $494,000 less in maintenance expense in the nine months and three months ended September 30, 2007, respectively, as compared to the same periods in 2006.
So the maintenance decrease is not some kind of structural improvement in the business. Ok, fine.

Now I haven't looked in detail at this company in the last few years, but it's been long enough, and the results are different enough, and the stock price has increased enough to make an observation. I did buy and sell this stock a couple of times: Mar 2001 and May 2002 for a bit under $5. I didn't make any money off of it and I basically gave up on it. The stock dropped below $2.50 in mid 2004. At that point, I moved on.

So where is the stock now? It's been around $20 ($18.25 now), which is about a 23% annual return from when/where I was buying it, and I don't even want to think of how big the annual return is from it's 2004 prices. I wonder how many of the stocks I've given up on, such as EPLN and LVWD will follow this same sort of trajectory? How about stocks I currently own?

I believe the important thing is that large gains are worth waiting for.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Fission Energy (FIS, FSSIF) finds uranium in Australia??

There's a news report that Fission Energy, the spinoff from Strathmore Minerals has discovered some half-pound-per-ton uranium ore at shallow depth in South Australia. It's not that this is a big find, what surprises me is that they even had any claims down under?!?! I thought it was only in Canada and Peru.

Looking at a PDF about a Fission Energy IPO shows that this is apparently a different company. FIS/FSSIF never had an IPO, it was a spinoff from Strathmore. This particular Fission Energy has 40 uranium exploration licenses in Australia. They aren't very far along with anything, it seems.

UPDATE Tues Jan 15, 2008:
StockInterview comes back to life with an article on the spot price of uranium. However, I find the interesting part is the chart at the bottom of the article showing changes in the long term price.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Conforce International (CFRI) interview

Here are my notes from the Conforce International (combined links) interview with Marino Kulas today.

CFRI consists of two distinct operating divisions.

1) The container terminal depot with capacity of 5,000 containers in Toronto. Customers include Mediterranean Shipping, China Shipping, Maesk, and others.

2) Conforce Container Corp is in development of EKO-FLOR for containers and trailers.

I'll leave out stuff that's already been covered.

What are the trends lately?

The industry has downgraded the life expectancy and performance of container floors due to deteriorating quality. CFRI has seen this first-hand at the terminal depot. They've seen first-hand containers which have the floors fail on the very first voyage. "This is something that would have been an extreme rarity ten years ago." Tropical hardwood deforestation has been another big trend. Mr Kulas read some reports that show that the apitong wood species used in container floors is rapidly disappearing and that the country(ies) that supply apitong would exhaust their supplies by 2010.

Another ongoing trend is toward lower container weight for larger cargo capacity. EKO-FLOR has a 10% to 20% weight advantage.

What gives CFRI a competitive edge?

They've been in the industry for 30 years with an excellent reputation. 300,000 shipping containers repaired. They know containers well. They work on a day-to-day basis with the target customers to "feel the pulse".

They've finished making the core material and are ready to go from design/development to production readiness in only 90 days. The material lends itself to other applications that have been identified. Lots of suggestions from the design/development team [which are probably useless].

What are the new products?

Other applications replacing tropical hardwoods where higher performance is required [I noticed ATC works with both trailers and body builder gyms... UPDATE: charhorse says it's actually truck bodies not this type, I'm very silly]. CFRI has selected two applications to focus on. 1) flooring product for shipbuilding industry in mega yachts and cruise ships. They'll be exhibiting in a cruise yacht convention in Miami in March 2008. 2) Military containers. While they are working on flooring for military containers, this application is not a floor, but Mr Kulas can't eloborate any further.

How did the EKO-FLOR exhibit at the Intermodal show go?

The prior year's Intermodal show was the introduction of EKO-FLOR. This year, they went to the Amsterdam show to explain that they're ready to start filling orders. "As a result, we picked up new orders in our discussions with various segments of the industry." No details yet due to client confidentiality. Mr Kulas is very confident it will translate into ongoing business.

How about the field trials?

The VP of product development, Joe DeRose, and director of operations [someone] Kulas will be in China next week in advance preparations to fill trial orders as the product moves into circulation.

How about the press release about trailer testing?

Joe DeRose was in the Netherlands to witness the test firsthand and since he's in the office right now, he will answer the question (it sounded like he was there totally by coincidence). Mr DeRose: The most demanding loading requirement for a trailer or container floor is loaded fork lift traffic. The trailer industry uses ISO 1496 test standard to evaluate the resistance of flooring to fork lift traffic: specifies what kind of wheel, type of rubber, width, and weight. At ATC (a distributor of wood flooring to the trailer industry), they conducted a simulated test based on ISO parameters starting with the standard forklift to apply an ISO standard load. The employees were surprised that EKO-FLOR showed no signs of damage whatsoever because the other competitive composite products had been offered for this test, all of them collapsed under the load. After this, the ATC employees brought out their largest fork lift truck which would apply a load much greater. EKO-FLOR showed no sign of damage. A side-by-side test showed that wood and plywood both collapsed under the same load. "The employees were very excited." ATC is now going to conduct the same test at some of their same customers. CFRI believes ATC will be an excellent partner to develop the European trailer market.

Kulas then talked about the importance of the container industry, 90% of the things around us spent time in a shipping container. There is a void which is building momentum with respect to container floors. There was an article in World Cargo News in 2003 saying that whoever comes up with an eco friendly floor that can match the technical criteria for plywood should do extremely well in the container flooring market.

UPDATE Sat Jan 12, 2007:
In a comment to the previous post, "fryingpan" wrote the following. It's worth adding here to make it more visible.
Bruce, first time Conforce reveals that it is an extruded product. That explains some delay for modification and changes. Extrusion tooling with very specific profiles requires time. Tool shops doing this work usually have a backlog, the there are test runs for samples...which requires time. Changing extrusion machines over for samples with a special formula plastic takes time. The lead up to holidays probably made it difficult to get machine time. Now, except for the Chinese New Year, machine time should not be a problem. 6 weeks shipping time will probably be why initial revenue is pushed to 2nd qrtr. your thoughts?
I totally missed that it was extrusion. My thoughts are that this is good information and that I have no experience or knowledge about the method of manufacturing. Thanks!

I did manage to smuggle a secret photo of what I think might be the actual extrusion machine to be used in China.

a fancy prescription I take seems to
reverse Alzheimer's in a matter of minutes.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Conforce International (CFRI) ATC Evaluation

CFRI (combined links) announced results of testing by an independent company during a trial order by ATC Houthandel which started back in May 2007. NOTE: This is for the trailer market, not the container market. Back in May, they had said:
Conforce estimates that the ATC EKO-FLOR trailer business could generate annual revenues in excess of 5.5 million USD.
I consider this new announcement to be significant good news. I suspect they might not be completely done with all the testing, if I read correctly between the lines. But here's the key info:
...EKO-FLOR®, has passed the internal testing and evaluation conducted by ATC Houthandel in The Netherlands.

For over 30 years, ATC has been providing trailer flooring to The Netherlands, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, Germany, Austria, Belgium, France, Finland, Norway, and the Czech Republic. The establishment of EKO-FLOR for the European trailer market was advanced in 2007 through the Company's joint cooperation with ATC. In October of 2007, ATC exhibited a sample of EKO-FLOR at The European Road Transport Show (TERTS) held in Amsterdam. The product received positive feedback from ATC customers who expressed interest in a viable, non-wood based flooring system that could withstand the required ISO 1496 forklift or rolling loads. ATC stated that in the past, it had tested several alternative wood-based and composite flooring products, however, none had been able to support the load requirements.
And here's the money quote:
"Both Conforce and ATC are delighted that EKO-FLOR was the first product to meet ATC's internal requirements. As a result of our successful evaluation, we are confident that we will be able to realize significant revenues in 2008 through our on-going relationship with ATC."
Of course the stock went down 5.66% on low volume.

I continue to own the stock.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

minus 35 percent

Well, last year I had a positive 74 percent return. After the best year ever, I suppose it's not surprising to have my worst year ever: a negative 35%. The net result is a positive 13% return for the last two years combined, which lags the market. According to wikipedia, the S&P 500 return for 2006 was 15.8% and 2007 was 3.53% for a total gain of about 20% for the two years [(1.158 * 1.0353) - 1].

For my own results, the story for both years is actually fairly simple. The 74% gain in 2006 was mostly due to CXTI and Strathmore Minerals. I dumped CXTI at the start of 2007, but then bought back in only to sell it not much later at a serious loss and the management has essentially walked away: the company has apparently ceased to exist. Holding stock in a company which ends up doing that is a mistake regardless of whether you make money or lose money. Overall, I made money on CXTI, but I consider it dumb luck. Meanwhile, CFRI has dropped by over 50%. Strathmore Minerals fell 11%. And the investment in NICK has dropped by 20%.

CEDA: significant realized gain for the year. However, I sold part of the stock for almost a 50% loss early in 2007. Big mistake. Overall, I had a 35% gain. It would've been way better if I hadn't bailed early in 2007 and if I had waited before selling the last of it. This really should have been a 3-bagger. The year was so bad that this is actually in the "good news" section. Sigh.

CVU: small realized gain for the year but overall I'm at a small loss (I dumped some in a prior year at a loss). The average selling price was about the same as the current price. Like CEDA, this one really isn't such "good news".

SDTH: small realized gain and since re-investing late 2007, the stock is up around 97%. The downside (and it seems like everything in 2007 had a downside) is that this is a fairly small investment. I don't even list it on the sidebar.

BKBO: small realized gain for the year. The stock has dropped about 30% since then. I don't get a warm-fuzzy feeling from having invested in this one.

CXTI: nearly half the massive CXTI gains I had in 2006 were wiped out by re-investing in it. This stock was a total mistake in hindsight, despite making money overall on it.

CFRI: I'm currently down 52% on this one. I started buying at 54 to 66 cents. Bought more at 43, 35, 34, and 20 cents. It now sits at 22 cents. I expect significant dilution if they get any serious orders, but it would still be a major net win.

NICK: Down 20%.

EPLN: very small realized loss for the year.

Strathmore / Fission Energy: This has dropped 10% since the end of 2006. It's my biggest investment and I do have an unrealized 44% gain on the stock. But the stock has dropped 50% since mid-2007.

The chart below shows the damage.


The story for 2007 is that the tangible measures of my investment performance were downright terrible, and even if you take into account the huge gain I had in 2006, that merely raises it to mediocre at best.

That being said, when I look at Strathmore, Fission Energy, CFRI, NICK, CVU, and SDTH, I'm actually quite happy with how the business results are playing out: pretty much everything across the board is being set up for success. It appears this way even though I'm probably looking through pessimistic colored glasses (whatever the opposite of rose is).

Note that until the actual results show good performance, you can safely ignore that second paragraph.

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