There may not be enough tech metals worldwide to meet soaring demand. In most cases, mobile phones and solar panels are produced with lithium or indium. Other essential metals for tech-related industries include cobalt and lanthanum; the list is perplexing. The problem is that most of these resources do not trade freely in liquid markets. Rather, they are controlled narrowly by government or commercial interests. Even China—a dominant player in this corner of the commodities business—has resorted to deep-sea mining to meet demand. Does that mean investors should jump at the next neodymium deal? There is merit to diversification. Tech-metal opportunities are red-hot at this time, but tech manufacturers are looking hard at production alternatives. And supply metrics can change abruptly. Consider that aluminum was more valuable than gold throughout the 1800s. Then prices collapsed, as supply soared, when aluminum foil came into common use. ■
Our Vantage Point: Tech-metal deals should be viewed as high-risk opportunities. Apparently-generous returns could evaporate quickly, as advances in manufacturing up-end demand.
Learn more at the Financial Times
Note: We use the term “tech metals” generally. It includes so-called rare-earth metals, such as neodymium, as well as those metals that are by-products of base-metal production, such as cobalt.
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Image: Lithium does not occur freely in nature, but is commonly extracted from brine. Shown here is Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia. Credit: Cristiborda at Can Stock Photo Inc.