Terbium Oxide Leads Rare Earths Price Index to Break August 2015 Record

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Here’s What Happened

  • Our Rare Earths MMI, tracking 14 rare earth metal and mineral prices, ticked up to 21 for the June 1 reading, a whopping 10.5% increase from May.
  • We write “whopping” mainly because the Rare Earths MMI has held below the value threshold of 20 since August 2015 — a full 22 months ago. As we wrote last month, that’s when the stock market had its worst month in 5 years.
  • Rare earths prices on the whole, however, seem to be recovering from their 2016 lows. Terbium oxide, for example, rose 11.8% from May to June. Europium oxide, for its part, spiked up 16.7% in the same period.
  • Meanwhile, the dysprosium oxide price has fallen off slightly month-on-month.

What’s Going On in the Background?

  • “The REE mining process is intensive and requires highly toxic processing, which reduces competitiveness,” according to this article. “Because of lighter restrictions on mining and—especially—processing, China remains the world’s top supplier of rare earths.” But a considerable knock-on effect on rare earths prices could be the environmental pollution curbs that China has been (at least publicly) committing itself to as a developing economy. The environmental pressure has likely filtered down to the rare earths processing industry, constricting output enough to squeeze prices upward.
  • Outside China, these exact environmental worries have hamstrung any viable production models (or at the very least, profitable ones) — and Exhibit A is the Molycorp/Mountain Pass debacle. The Mountain Pass mine in California, which used to the the Western Hemisphere’s best bet to unburden its markets from reliance on Chinese REEs, is now being buffeted about by investors battling for the scraps.

What Metal Buyers Should Look Out For

  • While we’re by no means at a market top for the rare earths sector, keep a close eye on “hot” REEs such as dysprosium, as we mentioned last month. New ventures that are getting folks’ attention, such as this one in Australia, are creating a lot of bullish narratives. As we mentioned before, however, in the short term, dysprosium does not look as strong as some of the other constituent metals and minerals, dropping in price between May 1 to June 1.

Key Price Movers and Shakers

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