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Update Thompson Creek Metals (TC)

posted on March 10, 2011 at 12:38 pm
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It clearly hasn’t been enough.

On February 24 Thompson Creek Metals (TC) reported fourth quarter and full year results that showed record production in 2010 of molybdenum, and an increase in revenue for the fourth quarter of 48%. Net income adjusted to exclude the accounting loss from outstanding stock warrants (incurred when the company switched to U.S.-style GAAP accounting in 2010) increased in the quarter by 43%.

Thompson Creek shares closed at $13.58 that day and it’s been pretty much downhill ever since. On March 9 the shares closed at $12.28.

Two problems, one short-term and one long term, I think explain that trajectory.

In the short-term it’s all about oil. Thompson Creek mines molybdenum (primarily, although the company acquired a copper and gold mining company last year.) Molybdenum is used to produce steel alloys that are used in the aerospace and automobile industries among others. With oil prices surging the assumption is that demand for cars and planes will fall with demand for these steel alloys and molybdenum following the same downward path.

We’ve got recent experience with what happens to the price of molybdenum when the economy slumps and demand for autos and planes falls. Molybdenum prices averaged $15.67 a pound in 2010 That’s quite a recovery from the $11.28 a pound of 2009. The fear now is that the crisis in Libya will turn into a crisis in Saudi Arabia serious enough to send oil prices to a level that sinks the global economy again. If you think that’s likely—and a significant number of traders do—then you don’t want to own molybdenum or Thompson Creek Metals.

In my opinion the current high price of oil is closer to a retreat than to $150 or $200 a barrel. I do expect the Libyan civil war to drag on—keeping oil prices high and investors on edge. But I do expect those prices to retreat below $100 a barrel when the fighting is over.

In other words I’m inclined to tough this one out with Thompson Creek shares because the rebound is likely to be very quick once the fighting ends and it’s just about impossible to predict when the fighting will cease.

The long-term problem is actually more worrisome—although I believe the company is taking the right steps to fix it.

Thompson Creek is going to start to see a drop in production from its flagship Thompson Creek Mine in 2012. According to company presentations, molybdenum production will go from an actual 32.6 million pounds in 2010 to a projected 30 to 33 million pounds in 2011 to a projected 26 to 28 million pounds in 2012. The entire drop off is attributable to the Thompson Creek Mine where the company projects production to go from 24 million pounds in 2010 to a projected 15 to 16 million pounds in 2012.

At the same time costs at Thompson Creek will climb from $5.81 a pound in 2010 to a projected $6 to $7 a pound in 2011 to a projected $8.50 to $98 a pound in 2012.

That kind of cost increase isn’t usual when a mine has to move more dirt to recover the same amount of ore. But it certainly takes some of the gloss off the projected increase in the price of molybdenum over that period. The projected increase in the price of molybdenum to $21.75 a pound, for example, from the $15.67 of 2010 isn’t pure gravy that drops straight to the bottom line. Instead it’s a necessity to make up for rising costs and falling production.

It’s not that the company hasn’t been doing anything about the problem or that it doesn’t have a plan. It’s that the plan has a hole in 2012.

In 2013 the Mount Milligan copper-gold project is expected to go into production with annual revenue projected at $320 million to $720 million in years one through six. (Thompson Creek Metals’ total 2010 revenue was $595 million.)

The company is in the midst of developing a 760-million-pound molybdenum resource at Mt. Emmons in Colorado and is doing feasibility studies for the copper-silver-molybdenum Berg project in British Columbia.

None of this—or the acquisitions the company is now scouting in Latin America—will completely fill the 2012 hole.

A recovery in molybdenum prices after a resolution of the Libyan crisis would do good things for the stock. But after that you’re still looking at a company with a hole in its production profile.

If you don’t own this, I’d wait until we’re closer to 2012 and the fear has had a chance to ripen. If you do own it, either decide to be patient until the company’s mines come in, or decide to sell on any post-Libya bounce. I certainly wouldn’t be looking at current weakness as an opportunity load up the truck.

As of March 10, I’m cutting my target price for Thompson Creek Metals to $16 a share by September 2011 from the previous $18.

Full disclosure: I don’t own shares of any of the companies mentioned in this post in my personal portfolio. The mutual fund I manage, Jubak Global Equity Fund, may or may not now own positions in any stock mentioned in this post. The fund did own shares of Thompson Creek Metals as of the end of January. For a full list of the stocks in the fund as of the end of January see the fund’s portfolio at http://jubakfund.com/about-the-fund/holdings/

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  • southof8 on 10 March 2011

    Man, it’s been quiet out there!! Is everyone bunkered down with their computers figuring out what to toss out of their portfolios? That is one uuuuuuuuuuuggggggggggggllllllllyyyyyyyyy market!

  • chapmame on 10 March 2011

    I was just looking to start a position so thanks for the timely update. Any chance we can get an update on CEDC?

  • pappism on 10 March 2011

    ya, great timing Jim. I was also looking to buy positions in this stock earlier in the week.

    I was looking to use this as hedge against my current short positions on silver. It’s about to cross under 200 sma, I think I will look to buy at 10.75 if it finds supports at those levels. very helpful information on the molybdenum market. I happen to think MENA crisis will past and there will be a serious correction to silver (my shorts) and gold. It looks like if MENA does past and economy improves TC could swing upward even against the 2012 forces you mentioned.

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