Cameco CEO sees uranium supply crunch and M&A

Wed Mar 11, 2009 5:09pm EDT
 

By Cameron French - Analysis

TORONTO (Reuters) - A uranium supply crunch could be around the corner due to industry-wide cuts to development projects, rising demand, and uncertainty about Russia's plans for its decommissioned nuclear arsenal, the CEO of top uranium producer Cameco Corp (CCO.TO: Quote) said on Wednesday.

Speaking at the Reuters Global Mining and Steel Summit in New York, Cameco Chief Executive Jerry Grandey also said the company planned to take advantage of low valuations among uranium miners to make acquisitions, and said deals worth more than $2 billion were a possibility.

"We know that if we're going to do a big deal in the M&A sphere we will have to go back and market it to our shareholders, we're perfectly happy to do that," he said, adding that by "big deal" he meant something worth $1 billion to $2 billion or a little more.

Such a deal would position the company to take advantage of what Grandey expects to be a situation where uranium will be in high demand because of cuts among miners left underfunded due to tight credit conditions.

"I think the financial crisis is clearly impacting the ability of every supplier to raise capital," he said.

"When you see project cancellations, you see expansion derail, you see some projects that will just go slower. That is just simply taking away future supply and sowing the seeds of the next spike in the uranium price."

Spot uranium prices have been among the most volatile in the resource sector over the past decade, rising from a low of $7 a pound in 2000 to a high of $136 a pound in 2007. Prices have since come down, and were at $43.50 on Wednesday.

Despite the recent decline, Grandey said the industry's mined output still lags consumption that has risen due to the resurgence of nuclear power as a non-greenhouse gas producing alternative to fossil fuel generation.

He said global mined output is 115 million pounds a year, compared with consumption of about 180 million pounds that he expects to grow at between 2 and 3 percent per year.

RUSSIAN NUKES

The shortfall has been made up by stockpiles, as well as annual sales of about 24 million pounds of uranium from decommissioned Russian nuclear weapons, which Cameco manages along with two partners under a 1999 commercial agreement.

That deal expires in 2013, and Grandey said questions linger about how much uranium Russia may sell past that date, and how much may have degraded past the point where it can be sold. He said many expect Russian sales could fall by half.

"Somewhere between 24 and 12 million pounds of supply will drop out after 2013," he said.

Also factoring into the picture is the future of Cameco's Cigar Lake mine, which Cameco had initially expected to come to production by 2007, but has been continuously delayed following a flood in 2006.

Cameco had hoped to bring the mine -- which had been expected to produce 18 million pounds a year -- to production by 2011. The company recently dropped that target, and Grandey said he didn't want to speculate when it might be up and running.

However, he said he was confident the high-grade mine would come to production at some point.

"We are absolutely dedicated to moving this project along," he said.

(Additional reporting by Carole Vaporean, Scott DiSavino, Michael Erman, and Patrick Fitzgibbons; Editing by David Gregorio)

 
<p>President and CEO of Cameco Jerry Grandey speaks to reporters after the annual general meeting in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, May 16, 2007. REUTERS/Dave Stobbe</p>