“Resource Depletion is the Biggest Investment Story of the Decade.”

Teaser picks from personal finance

By Travis Johnson, Stock Gumshoe, August 24, 2010

Yesterday I started working on the latest teaser from Elliott Gue for his Personal Finance newsletter — it was a little bit anticlimactic, since the water treatment stock he’s teasing is a tough one for most small US investors to buy … but the good news is, that was just one of several stocks he’s teasing to follow his theme that “resource depletion is the biggest investment story of the decade.”

And today is your lucky day! Your friendly neighborhood Stock Gumshoe is on board to identify the rest of them for you, no subscription necessary.

There are a bunch, so I’m going to keep my pontificating to a minimum and just try to ID the stocks for you … so let’s get started.

Here’s the broader pitch:

“5 Investments So Powerful They Could Create Life-Changing Wealth (as They Change the World).

“Clean water…land…high-yield, disease-resistant, vitamin-heavy seed…clean energy…fertilizer.

“Put them together in the right proportion and you can avert the world’s most potent disasters. And become rich in the process.

“In each of these categories I found you a handful of companies that will help change the course of history. These are the ones that can make you rich:”

So we already looked at the water one (that article from yesterday is here, if you’re having trouble keeping up with the group). Which one comes next?

“The Biotech Agriculture Revolution and the stock you could retire on …

“The biotech seed industry is taking off fast. Already, more than 75% of the world’s soybeans and a quarter of all cotton are grown from genetically modified (GM) seeds that control weeds and pests, and increase yields.

“But that kind of seed only covers 7% of the world’s farmland, so there’s still a huge amount of growth ahead.”

The stocks behind most of our GMO crops always inspire a good debate among investors — there are myriad issues, from the ethics of patented food crops to possible unknown health and environmental impact … but what we’re looking for is one of these stocks in particular. Which one?

“There are dozens of agricultural seed companies worldwide, but just as in pharmaceutical companies, your best investment is the one with the biggest blockbusters either in the market or in the pipeline.

“And for that, there’s one clear leader. They’re the single biggest innovator in agricultural biotechnology, with a number of blockbusters like corn that increases ethanol yield and canola plants that do their own weed control.

“Plus, because they spend an incredible $2.6 million on R&D each day, they have a deeper, richer pipeline than ever.

“All those products in their pipeline mean profits!

“Right now they’re developing the first soybean with insect protection built into the seed, and corn that arms its stalks against destructive corn borer moths.

“Their pipeline is giving us creative solutions to nutritional problems, too, like soybeans with high levels of heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids….

“One of the world’s leading financial publications declared them the ‘Company of the Year’ for 2010.

“I’m declaring them the best place for your long-term growth money right now.

“I’m not talking about over the next year. I’m talking about over your lifetime.

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“Get in before it takes off and this could be the stock you retire on.”

Well, it wasn’t 2010, it was 2009 — but I suppose the printed magazine actually came out in early 2010 … this is, you will probably not be surprised to hear, the ag tech giant Monsanto (MON).

I won’t go deep into Monsanto, we’ve discussed it briefly in the past and it’s the poster child for GMO seeds and by far the market leader, at least in the US, though there is certainly plenty of investor concern over whether they can keep the innovation and profits coming. That Forbes article in January provided a pretty good overview of the company an the challenges, though the stock is down substantially from that time period and way, way down from the heady days in mid-2008 when the shares were briefly near $150 (they’re at about $56 now, a mild recovery after going down for the first six months of this year). There was also a more recent article from the Motley Fool questioning the sustainability of Monsanto’s (growing but relatively paltry) dividend.

So that’s one, and it’s a large cap industry leader that still carries a blue chip valuation and seems to be roughly where analysts think it belongs (the average rating is roughly a “hold”), so there’s no end of opinion out there if you’d like to dig further into Monsanto. Let’s move on …

“The Other Energy Crisis

“30% profits in 24 months in my #1 uranium stock

“The world only has about 70 years’ supply of reactor-grade uranium left. But there are 50 new reactors under construction and 130 in planning stages worldwide, which will add an incredible 42% more nuclear power plants within the next decade to 15 years.

“That means our uranium supply will fall even faster.

“Every year mines produce only two-thirds of current needs, so power companies are outbidding each other in a frenzied effort to secure supplies.

“There’s one company in the catbird seat, though.

“It is the dominant player in an area of the world where the uranium ore is 100 times richer than anywhere else.

“That gives it some of the lowest extraction costs in the industry, so more goes in the pockets of shareholders.

“The company has long-term supply contracts, which means built-in protection against spot price volatility.

“Plus shareholders benefit from other profit centers like owning uranium processing and power generation plants.

“And to add a little rocket fuel to profits, they buy uranium low from other producers and sell high.

“No wonder the company just reported record earnings, with a whopping 120% jump in net earnings to $1.1 billion.

“Every $1 increase in the price of uranium adds around a dollar to the company’s net asset value.”

So … hoodat? This is yet another large cap industry leader, Cameco (CCJ)

And it’s hard to argue against Cameco if you’re just looking for exposure to increasing uranium prices — they’ve had their troubles in the past, mostly with actual physical challenges in their mines (flooding, etc), but they are certainly the biggest “pure play” company for uranium, and unlike most of the uranium juniors they’re profitable and producing in a mining-friendly place. Uranium has become a real boom and bust commodity, so this will probably continue to be a pretty big swinger as those prices continue to move, but if you think uranium is going higher Cameco would certainly be one of the first places to look for profits.

Cameco did make about a billion dollars last year (with a market cap of about ten billion, so a trailing PE ratio of near ten), but analysts think we’re in a bit of an earnings dip after the boom in 2008 that trickled into 2009. The forward PE is about 20 for this year, but analysts do see 2011 bringing earnings growth, and heady growth over the next five years, and the company has beaten analyst estimates for the past two quarters.

But we’re moving on … next!

“Up-and-Coming Commodity Taking the World by Storm
“22% profits over 6 months and 400% or more longer term

“Investing in this commodity isn’t about shrinking supply. It’s about vastly increasing demand.

“It’s a common ingredient in food, soap, cosmetics and machine lubricants.

“In fact, you’ll find it in one in ten food products in your grocery store. And that’s where exploding demand starts.

“Sales of packaged foods in China and India are growing so fast that they’ll double by 2014 as incomes rise and people trade up from their simple diets.

“Plus the West is discovering this oil is healthier than many oils we use that are heavy in hydrogenated fats….

“… output can’t keep up.

“Malaysia is the world’s largest producer, but severe weather and government setbacks are causing severe shortages.

“On top of that, environmentalists are protesting the slashing of tropical forests to make room to grow more, which tightens supply even more.

“Analysts specializing in this commodity’s price patterns forecast prices will push up 22% higher in the next few months. And there’s no reason to think it will stop there.”

OK, so the commodity is palm oil … I can at least tell you that much, and it was the “flavor of the month” for investors when biofuels were all the rage. Don’t hear about the Malaysian palm oil plantations as much anymore, but I’m sure they’re still churning away … so which palm oil stock is Gue recommending? We get a few more clues:

“They just bought majority share of a Cargill-owned competitor, which will increase output by about 40%.

“The company has fast-rising production and profit growth, declining sales cost and buyers who are leaving competitors and flocking to this company because of their high-profile environmental practices.

“They’re also among the first in their market to earn a certification award for sustainable practices.

“That’s translating to more and bigger contracts with high-visibility food makers like the U.K.’s giant United Biscuits, and the Italian maker of Nutella and Tic Tacs. Others are following suit, no doubt mindful of the protests and boycotts now common against non-environmental manufacturers.

“So whether the company went green for principle or profit, it was a brilliant move that is paying off in both kinds of green!”

OK, so which stock are we dealing with? Well, it sounds like this is probably NOT the industry leader, for a change (that would be Wilmar, a growing global agribusiness that’s focused on palm oil — trades mostly in Singapore at F34) … the clues aren’t exactly overwhelmingly precise, but I think this must be New Britain Palm Oil Ltd (NBPO in London, NBPOL on the pink sheets — it hardly trades at all on the pinks, so be careful).

New Britain Palm Oil is a subsidiary of Kulim (Malaysia) Berhad, a wide-ranging Malaysian conglomerate, this subsidiary is publicly traded and easier to buy than the parent (since Kulim trades almost solely in Malaysia) and operates palm oil plantations and processing facilities in Papua New Guinea. And though they’re certainly not the only “certified” producer, they are certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil as a sustainable and ethical producer, which probably does help with Western customers, at least (I don’t know this business at all, in case you’re wondering). And yes, two of their customers are National Biscuits and Ferrero (which makes Nutella and Tic Tacs, among many other confections) — they also have a brand new refinery in Liverpool, which I suppose must also be a boon for European customers. Finally, to close in on all those clues, they did recently buy CTP, another big plantation owner in Papua New Guinea, and CTP was formerly controlled by Cargill — they say this increases their plantation acreage by “almost 50%” … so it seems reasonable that production would increase roughly in line with that, though I didn’t specifically see an “almost 40%” number.

They’re releasing their interim results in a couple days, though I have no idea whether that will move the shares… and yes, as a reminder, this one is relatively small (just over a billion in market cap), controlled by a conglomerate, and extremely lightly traded outside of London (and pretty light in London, too). The shares are up about 20% in the last month, and according to Bloomberg it trades at a trailing PE of just under 10 and carries a dividend yield of about 1%.

I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling a little sleepy after all this. Maybe too big a lunch. But the Gumshoe’s work is never done!

“The Next Big Resource Boom
“114% profits in 24 months — just for starters!

“It’s being called the “oil of the 21st century” and “the essential element of the 21st century.”

“And right now it’s the hottest commodity on the planet for investors.”

OK, OK, I’m awake! If it’s the “hottest commodity on the planet” I’ll keep my eyes open for a few minutes more. So what is this?

“Automakers are racing to develop the car of the future, and hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) are in the lead.

“HEVs run on powerful battery packs, and the power source in them is either nickel or lithium. Lithium holds three times the energy as nickel, and so carmakers are scrambling to make the switch and then lock in scarce supplies.

“This is the second lithium boom. You might remember the first.

“Lithium is a key element in portable computer batteries, so when laptops overtook PCs, and BlackBerries and iPods became everyday staples, lithium prices skyrocketed.

“Demand for lithium from battery makers is increasing 35% a year.”

After seeing Gue’s (somewhat boring, but probably wise) penchant for large cap stocks and industry leaders, I think you can probably guess where this is heading … but let’s dot the “i” for you:

“You could double your money in 18 months if you get in now, at the start of this Second Lithium Boom.

“There are only a few ways you can invest, though. Most mining companies are privately held, and of the publicly traded ones, most are small and undercapitalized.

“But I found a company that’s in the sweet spot of the lithium boom.

“Its incredible 26% profit margin puts the company in the top 10% of all international stocks traded in the U.S.

“That’s because their extraction and production technology keeps costs to an estimated $1,260 per ton, which may sound high till you learn it turns around and sells its lithium at up to $12,000 per ton!

“The company’s 2009 earnings were their second highest on record. Credit Suisse predicts 10.3% annual growth through 2020, and Byron Capital Markets calls for a 40% increase through 2014.

“What’s more, lithium isn’t their only profit center. They extract and sell every speck of usable substance from their holdings, including potassium nitrate, boric acid and iodine.

“In fact, the company – remarkably – is better known as a potassium-based fertilizer maker, which means the recent boom in fertilizer stocks adds a booster rocket under the dawning lithium boom.”

So yes, your suspicion was correct — he’s talking here about SQM (SQM), formerly known as Sociedad Quimica y Minera, the big Chilean chemical and fertilizer firm.

We’ve certainly seen this one teased before, and lithium is one of the more hyped investment themes around these days — this is, in line with the rest of Gue’s picks here, the world’s leader in lithium production from the high deserts in Chile. The other big producer there, in what must be the biggest and most cost-efficient lithium resource zone in the world, is Rockwood Holdings — which was heavily teased in the “battle for the third element” ads, and the other significant lithium company you’re likely to see mentioned, at least for US investors, is FMC Corp. (FMC).

Interestingly, there’s also a somewhat more diversified lithium play that’s caught hold with small investors: there’s now, believe it or not, a lithium ETF — it’s called the Global X Lithium ETF (ticker LIT), and it basically holds half producers/half consumers, so by far the largest holdings are those three big lithium producers, with a few juniors thrown in … but then the other half of the portfolio are the battery makers that buy the lithium. You can see their holdings here, the ETF just started trading a few weeks ago so we don’t know much about how it will behave yet, but it’s very small and could easily be pretty bouncy. The expense ratio is .75%, not too bad for a small sector ETF, and so far it is trading right in line with the net asset value most of the time. Do note that huge lithium demand and a spike in prices would probably be good for the producers in that portfolio and bad for the battery makers, if we assume they’d get squeezed on margins (there’s a lot more competition in batteries than there is in lithium production), so I wouldn’t assume that the ETF would mirror the lithium price, but it should benefit from the continuing trend toward more and larger lithium batteries, particularly for electric cars.

So there you have it — if Elliott Gue is right in seeing resource depletion as the next great fortune-making trend for investors, these look to be the ideas that he likes the most (or at least, that will get your attention so you’ll subscribe). It’s hard to argue with the stock ideas if you like the basic investment thesis, since he’s mostly talking about big, strong companies that are leaders in their sector — the kind of stocks we probably should be buying, rather than the little lottery-ticket junior miners and gee-whiz next-idea tech stocks that are much more likely to make the greed centers in our brains send out little “drool!” signals.

What do you think? Interested in palm oil, lithium, uranium or franken-seeds? Let us know if these are the picks you’d buy with a comment below.



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August 24, 2010 2:01 pm

Read anyting by the late Julian Simon. There will not be significant resource depletion.
Who was the chicken little who wrote Population Bomb? Riots, famine never happened and resources are cheaper now than then.

August 24, 2010 2:59 pm

I've been studying cycles lately. There tends to be a 54 year economic cycle, which I believe bottomed about 2006 for commodities such as grains (Wheat, Corn, Soybeans) and should continue up for the next 23 years. There also seems to be a 9 year cycle that may have topped about 2.5 years ago.; if so it may not bottom until the fall of 2012.

I was in my mid 30's at the top of the last cycle top in 1979+ and as I looked back at the old charts, the grains made a quick dash for the high in a relatively short time (after at least 2 false starts the decade before), then were quite volatile during the 1980's. As a result they were relatively hard to trade on a longer-term basis–good for short-term trades, if a person can guess the right side to be on. ..

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