Companies to watch as EV market expands
The electric vehicle revolution is coming faster than even some of the most bullish analysts expected. In late July, even the CEO of Royal Dutch Shell, one of the largest oil and gas companies in the world, said that he would buy an electric vehicle, acknowledging that the transition from the internal-combustion engine to the electric battery was inevitable. He also said that oil prices could remain “lower forever,” and that the oil market would see peak oil demand within the next decade and a half. Companies to watch during the electric vehicle (EV) market boom include Alcoa Corporation, General Motors Company, FMC Corporation, Teck Resources Limited, and Albemarle Corporation, says Charles Kennedy, an analyst for OilPrice.com.
According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), a leading clean energy analyst, the EV revolution will hit the car market even harder and faster than was thought as recently as last year. EVs are projected to be cheaper than conventional gasoline or diesel vehicles by 2025-2029, and not just over the course of the lifetime of the vehicles, but on an upfront basis. In other words, the price tag at the dealership for an EV will be lower than that of a traditional vehicle in the very near future. As a result, EVs are expected to make up more than half of the auto market by 2040.
This switch has the potential to be disruptive and can present financial difficulty for oil companies, automakers that don't make the switch, and metals that are only used in today's market. The winners will be the EV makers, battery makers, lithium miners, and producers of other metals that will be part of the new clean energy economy.
Here are five companies to watch that will benefit from the unfolding EV revolution:
Alcoa’s name is synonymous with aluminum. The company is claimed to have the world’s largest mining portfolio of bauxite, the key element used to produce aluminum. It also has a large refining and smelting system. The light weight of aluminum will be important as EV manufacturers try to extend the range of their vehicles, hoping to squeeze out even greater miles on a single charge. Displacing steel in vehicles had led to additional demand by 1.6 million metric tons of aluminum between 2013 and 2016, or 2.7% of global production, according to Michael Widmer, Head of Metals Market Research at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. With the EV revolution coming quickly, the demand for aluminum will rise significantly.
2. Southern Lithium Corp.
While the other companies on this list are largely household names, Southern Lithium is less well known. The company has assets on part of the biggest “lithium volcano” in the world. In northern Argentina, this lithium volcano is home to abundant sources of lithium in salt flats, inside what is known as the Lithium Triangle at the crossroads of Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile, from which two-thirds of the global lithium supply comes.
On the north side of the volcano, ADY Resources (part of the Enirgi Group) is sitting on probable reserves with an estimated value of $5 billion. Until now, the south side has been undeveloped, and Southern Lithium, only 11 km (6.8 mi) south of ADY, is starting to drill. The geology looks similar, and Southern Lithium is hoping to prove up the reserves, at which point the company's value could skyrocket.
One obvious potential winner of the EV revolution is Tesla, and while that is a viable possibility, GM offers investors more security while also giving them exposure to electric vehicles. GM recently rolled out its Bolt, a fully electric mass market vehicle that is competing with Tesla's Model 3 at the roughly $35,000 price point. GM has initially struggled with the Bolt amid rising inventories and tepid sales, but the automaker says that the Bolt will finally be going nationwide this month.
The legacy carmaker will still have a tough time competing with the flashier Tesla, and its share price is down a bit recently, as Tesla has made news with the first deliveries of its Model 3. Still, one should not dismiss GM, which has more electric and electric-hybrid models in the works and is in it for the long haul.
Another lithium producer is FMC, which has seen strong revenue growth for its lithium business. FMC owns lithium-producing assets in Argentina, like Southern Lithium, but it also owns some lithium processing facilities, giving it the advantage of vertical integration.
FMC's lithium unit saw revenue growth of 17% in the second quarter, benefitting from higher prices. The company expects to take in $340 to $360 million in lithium revenues this year, up 30% from 2016.
The flip side is that FMC is a giant, with its hand in other non-lithium related industries such as agriculture. It offers safety, but a little less exposure to the upside of the lithium boom.
5. U.S. Cobalt
In addition to lithium, cobalt is used in batteries, so it too is seeing soaring demand as the EV revolution starts to take off. Cobalt prices are skyrocketing, with prices up 70% on the year, which comes on top of the 37% increase in 2016, according to Bloomberg.
Cobalt allows lithium-ion batteries to extend their range, and by 2020, roughly three-quarters of all lithium-ion batteries are expected to contain cobalt. The cobalt market is already in a supply/demand mismatch, exacerbated by a bout of hoarding in expectation of higher prices.
About 60% of the global cobalt supply comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a supply chain rife with reports of human rights violations. That makes it vulnerable to international pressure and regulation.
Fortunately, U.S. Cobalt is developing cobalt reserves in the Idaho Cobalt Belt, in the northwest U.S. The company sees signs that the area could have up to 10 million tons of cobalt, worth somewhere around $1 billion. To top it off, the cobalt is pure, rather than coming as a byproduct of copper and nickel production, as is often the case. U.S. cobalt should be perfectly positioned to supply some of the raw materials for the EV revolution.
One honorable mention is Teck Resources. Zinc has not been good to Teck lately, but that looks set to change in the medium term as supply continues to dwindle and as news that the world's top producer of the metal—Glencore—is not planning to bring shuttered mines back online. Supply will remain tight. However, Teck's Q1 earnings and revenue fell short of expectations because of weaknesses at its zinc unit, sending its shares down about 6% in late April. In particular, the production at its Red Dog mine has dropped 23% due to lower grades of zinc.
Albemarle Corp. is another lithium giant. The company owns brine deposits in the U.S. and Chile, as well as a 49% stake in the huge Greenbushes mine in Australia. The firm hopes to double production by 2019 to hit 1.34 million tons. Albemarle is currently the only lithium producer in the U.S.