Prices of used fully electric cars (EVs) are falling in the UK, even though prices of used internal combustion engine (ICE) cars are rising. According to Auto Trader (see the first two articles below), in February 2023 the average price of used petrol cars rose by 3.3% compared with January and the price of used diesel cars rose by 1.4%. But the price of used EVs fell by 9.1%. This follows a fall of 2.1% in January.
But why are used EV prices falling? After all, the last few years has seen a drive to replace ICEs with EVs and hybrids, with many consumers preferring electric cars to petrol and diesel ones. What is more, vehicle excise duty is currently zero for EVs (and will be until 2025) and the sale of new ICEs will be banned from the end of the decade. The answer lies in demand and supply.
On the demand side, many existing and potential EV owners worry about the charging infrastructure. The number of EVs has grown more rapidly than the number of charging points. In 2020 there was one charging point per 16 cars; by 2022 this had worsened to one per 30 cars. Also the distribution of charging points is patchy and there is a lack of rapid and ultra-rapid chargers. Increasingly, people have to queue for access to a charger and this can substantially delay a journey and could mean missed appointments. There were many pictures in the media around Christmas of long queues for chargers at service stations and supermarkets. Poor charging infrastructure can be more of a problem for second-hand EVs, which tend to have a smaller range.
Also on the demand side is the price of fuel. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the rise in oil prices, the price of petrol and diesel soared. This increased the cost of running ICE vehicles and boosted the demand for EVs. But the war also drove up the price of natural gas and this price largely determines the wholesale price of electricity. With government subsidies for electricity, this constrained the rise in electricity prices. This made running an EV for a time comparatively cheaper. More recently, the price of oil has fallen and with it the price of petrol and diesel. But electricity prices are set to rise in April as government subsidies cease. The cost advantage of running an electric car is likely to disappear, or at least substantially decline.
Another substitute for second-hand EVs is new EVs. As the range of new EVs increases, then anyone thinking about buying an EV may be more tempted to buy a new one rather than a used one. Such demand has also been driven by Tesla’s decision to cut the UK prices of many of it models by between 10% and 13%.
The fall in demand for used EVs is compounded, at least in the short term, by speculation. People thinking of trading in their ICE or hybrid car for a fully electric one are likely to wait if they see prices falling. Why buy now if, by waiting, you could get the same model cheaper?
On the supply side, EV owners, faced with the infrastructure problems outlined above, are likely to sell their EV and buy an ICE or hybrid one instead. This increases the supply of used EVs. This is again compounded by speculation as people thinking of selling their EV do so as quickly as possible before price falls further.
In many other countries, there is much more rapid investment in charging infrastructure and/or subsidies for purchasing not only new but used EVs. This has prevented or limited the fall in price of used EVs.
- Auto Trader diagnoses used car sector’s ‘robust health’ after February value rise
AM-online, Tom Sharpe (20/2/23)
- Auto Trader: Used car prices UP AGAIN in February but EV prices continue to tumble
Car Dealer, James Baggott (20/2/23)
- Used electric car prices caught in vicious downward cycle as experts warn of trouble ahead
Car Dealer, James Baggott (13/2/23)
- Used EV market needs more support in Spring Budget, says Vehicle Remarketing Association
Car Dealer, Jack Williams (15/2/23)
- Middle classes cannot afford electric cars, warns Vauxhall owner
The Telegraph, Howard Mustoe (23/2/23)
- British drivers are hurtling towards the electric car cliff edge
The Telegraph on msn, Ben Marlow (23/2/23)
- Cars Drivers should be ‘cautious’ when buying a used EV before 2030 car ban – ‘still an issue!’
Express, Felix Reeves (12/2/23)
- Motorpoint revenues accelerate but dealership group issues profit warning as used electric car prices crash
This is Money, Camilla Canocchi (27/1/23)
- Tesla cuts prices by up to a fifth to boost demand
BBC News, Lucy Hooker (13/1/23)
- Draw a supply and demand diagram to illustrate what has been happening in the market for used EVs.
- How has the price elasticity of (a) demand and (b) supply affected the amount by which used EV prices have fallen?
- Identify substitutes and complements for used electric vehicles. How relevant is the cross-price elasticity of demand for these complements and substitutes in determining price changes of used EVs?
- Draw a diagram to illustrate the effect of speculation on used EV prices.
- What is likely to happen to used EV prices in the months ahead? Explain.
- How are externalities in car usage relevant to government action to influence the market for EVs? What should determine the size of this intervention?
- Devise a short survey for people thinking of buying an EV to determine the factors that are likely to affect their decision to buy one and, if so, whether to buy a new or used one.
Imagine a situation where you are thinking of buying a good and so you go to an e-commerce marketplace such as Amazon, eBay, Etsy or Onbuy. How confident are you about the quality of the different brands/makes that are listed for sale on these digital platforms? How do you choose which product to buy? Is the decision strongly influenced by customer reviews and rating?
When a customer is choosing what to buy it raises an interesting question: to what extent can the true quality of the different goods/services be observed at the time of purchase? Although perfect observability is highly unlikely, the level of consumer information about a product’s true quality will vary between different types of transaction.
For example, when consumers can physically inspect and test/try a product in a shop, it can help them to make more accurate judgements about its quality and condition. This poses a problem for online sellers of high-quality versions of a good. Without the ability to inspect the item physically, consumers may be unsure about its characteristics. They may worry that the online description provided by the seller deliberately misrepresents the true quality of the item.
Consumers may have other concerns about the general reliability of online sellers. For example, in comparison to buying the product from a physical store, consumers may worry that:
- They will have to wait longer to receive the good. In many cases, when consumers purchase a product from a high-street store, they can walk away with the item and start using it straight away. When purchasing on line, they may end up waiting weeks or even longer before the product is finally delivered.
- It will be more difficult to return the product and get a refund.
- They are more likely to come across fraudulent sellers who have set-up a fake website.
This greater level of uncertainty about the true characteristics of the product and the general reliability of the seller will have a negative impact on consumers’ willingness to pay for all goods. This impact is likely to be particularly strong for high-quality versions of a product. If consumers’ willingness to pay falls below the reservation price of many sellers of high-quality goods, then the market could suffer from adverse selection and market failure.
Are there any within-market arrangements that could help deal with this issue? One possibility is for sellers to signal the quality of their products by posting consumer ratings and reviews. If consumers see that a product has many positive ratings, then this will increase their confidence in the quality of the product and so increase their willingness to pay. This could then reduce both levels of asymmetric information and the chances of adverse selection occurring in the market,
There is survey evidence that many people do read consumer reviews when choosing products on line and are heavily influenced by the ratings.
The problem of fake reviews
However, when consumers look at these reviews can they be sure that they reflect consumers’ honest opinions and/or actual experience of using the good or service? Firms may have an incentive to manipulate and post fake reviews. For example, they could:
- Deliberately fail to display negative reviews on their website while claiming that all reviews are published.
- Use internet bots to post thousands of automated reviews.
- Take positive reviews from competitors’ websites and post them on their own website.
- Pay some customers and/or employees to write and post 5-star reviews on their own website.
- Pay some customers and/or employees to write and post 1-star reviews on their competitors’ websites.
- Set up a website that they claim is independent and use it to provide positive endorsements of their own products.
If the benefits of this type of behaviour outweigh the costs, then we would expect to see fake reviews posted on websites. If their use becomes widespread, then the value of posting genuine reviews will fall. The market may then settle into what economists call a ‘pooling equilibrium’.
What evidence do we have on the posting of fake reviews? Given their nature, it is difficult to collect reliable data and there are large variations in the reported figures. One recent study found evidence of fake reviews being purchased and posted for approximately 1500 products on Amazon.
Can consumers screen reviews and identify those that are more likely to be fake? The following are some tell-tale signs.
- Products that receive a large number of very positive reviews over a short period (i.e. a few days). There are then long periods before the product receives another large number of positive reviews.
- A high percentage of 5-star reviews. Two, three and four start reviews are more likely to be genuine.
- Reviews that specifically mention a rival firm’s products.
- Reviewers who have given very high ratings to large number of different products over a short period of time.
- Reviews that include photos/videos.
Competition authorities around the world have been investigating the issue and the Competition and Markets Authority has announced plans to introduce new laws that make the purchasing and posting of fake reviews illegal.
- Outline different types of asymmetric information and explain the difference between adverse selection and moral hazard.
- Using a diagram, explain the impact of uncertainty over the quality of a good on consumers’ willingness to pay.
- Will consumers always face greater uncertainty over quality when purchasing goods on line rather than visiting the high street? Discuss your answer making reference to some specific examples.
- Using diagrams, explain how a market for high-quality versions of a good might collapse if there is asymmetric information. Using price elasticity of supply, explain the circumstances when the market is more likely to collapse.
- Discuss some of the benefits and costs for a firm of purchasing and posting fake reviews.
International wholesale gas prices have soared in recent months. This followed a cold winter in 2021/22 across Europe, the bounceback in demand as economies opened up after COVID and, more recently, pressure on supplies since the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the resulting restricted gas supplies from Russia. The price of gas traded on the UK wholesale market is shown in Chart 1 (click here for a PowerPoint). Analysts are forecasting that the wholesale price of gas will continue to rise for some time. The higher price of gas has had a knock-on effect on wholesale electricity prices, as gas-fired power stations are a major source of electricity generation and electricity prices.
In the UK, domestic fuel prices were capped by the regulator, Ofgem. The cap reflected wholesale prices and was designed to allow electricity suppliers to make reasonable but not excessive profits. The cap was adjusted every six months, but this was been reduced to three months to reflect the rapidly changing situation. Prices are capped for both gas and electricity for both the standing charge and the rate per kilowatt hour (kWh). This is illustrated in Chart 2 (click here for a PowerPoint).
The effects of the cap were then projected in terms of a total annual bill for a typical household consuming 12 000 kWh of gas and 2900 kWh of electricity. Chart 3 shows the typical fuel bill for the last four price caps and, prior to the mini-Budget of 23 September, the projected price caps for the first and second quarters of 2023 based on forecasts at the time of wholesale prices (click here for a PowerPoint). As you can see, wholesale gas and electricity prices account for an increasing proportion of the total bill. The remaining elements in cost consist of profits (1.9% assumed), VAT (5%), operating costs, grid connection costs and green levies (around £153). The chart shows that, without government support for prices, the price cap would have risen by 80.6% in October 2022 and was projected to rise by a further 51% in January 2023 and by another 23% in March 2023. If this were to have been the case, then prices would have risen by 481% between the summer of 2021 and March 2023.
This was leading to dire warnings of extreme fuel poverty, with huge consequences for people’s health and welfare, which would put extra demands on an already stretched health service. Many small businesses would not be able to survive the extra fuel costs, which would lead to bankruptcies and increased unemployment.
Future wholesale gas prices
Energy market analysts expect wholesale gas prices to remain high throughout 2023, with little likelihood that gas supplies from Russia will increase. Some European countries, such as Germany, have been buying large amounts of gas to fill storage facilities before winter and before prices rise further. This has added to demand.
The UK, however, has only limited storage facilities. Although it is not an importer of gas from Russia and so, in one sense, storage facilities are less important at the current time, wholesale gas prices reflect international demand and supply and thus gas prices in the UK will be directly affected by an overall global shortage of supply.
What would have been the response to the projected rise in gas prices? Eventually demand would fall as substitute fuels are used for electricity generation. But demand is highly inelastic. People cannot readily switch to alternative sources of heating. Most central heating is gas fired. People may reduce consumption of energy by turning down their heating or turning it off altogether, but such reductions are likely to be a much smaller percentage than the rise in price. Thus, despite some use of other fuels and despite people cutting their energy usage, people would still end up spending much more on energy.
Over the longer term, new sources of supply of gas, including liquified natural gas (LNG), may increase supply. And switching to green energy sources for electricity generation, may bring the price of electricity back down and lead to some substitution been gas and electricity in the home and businesses. Also improved home insulation and the installation of heat pumps and solar panels in homes, especially in new builds, may reduce the demand for gas. But these changes take time. Chart 4 illustrates the situation (click here for a PowerPoint).
Both demand and supply are relatively inelastic. The initial demand and supply curves are D1 and S1. Equilibrium price is P1 (point a). There is now a fall in supply. Supply shifts to S2. With an inelastic demand, there is a large rise in price to P2 (point b).
Over two or three years, there is a modest fall in demand (as described above) to D2 and a modest rise in supply to S3. Price falls back somewhat to P3 (point c). Over a longer period of time, these shifts would be greater and the price would fall further.
Possible policy responses
What could the government do to alleviate the problem? Consensus was that the new Conservative Prime Minister, Liz Truss, and her Chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, would have to take radical measures if many households were to avoid severe hardship and debt. One proposal was to reduce VAT on domestic energy from 5% to zero and to cut green levies. Although this would help, it would make only a relatively small dent in people’s rising bills.
Another proposal was to give people cash payments to help with their bills. The more generous and widespread these payments, the more costly they would be.
One solution here would be to impose larger windfall taxes on oil and gas producers (as opposed to retailers). Their profits have soared as oil and gas prices have soared. Such a move is generally resisted by those on the right of politics, arguing that it could discourage investment in energy production. Those on the centre and left of politics argue that the profits are the result of global factors and not because of wise business decisions by the energy producers. A windfall tax would only take away these excess profits.
The EU has agreed a tax on fossil fuel companies’ surplus profits made either this year or next. It is also introducing a levy on the excess revenues that other low-cost power producers make from higher electricity prices.
Another proposal was to freeze retail energy prices at the current or some other level. This would make it impossible for energy suppliers to cover their costs and so they would have to be subsidised. This again would be very expensive and would require substantially increased borrowing at a time when interest rates are rising, or increased taxation at a time when people’s finances are already squeezed by higher inflation. An alternative would be to cap the price North Sea producers receive. As around half of the UK’s gas consumption is from the North Sea, this would help considerably if it could be achieved, but it might be difficult to do so given that the gas is sold onto international markets.
One proposal that was gaining support from energy producers and suppliers is for the government to set up a ‘deficit fund’. Energy suppliers (retailers) would freeze energy prices for two years and take out state-backed loans from banks. These would then be paid back over time by prices being capped sufficiently high to cover costs (which, hopefully, by then would be lower) plus repayments.
Another policy response would be to decouple electricity prices from the wholesale price of gas. This is being urgently considered in the EU, and Ofgem is also consulting on such a measure. This could make wholesale electricity prices reflect the costs of the different means of generation, including wind, solar and nuclear, and would see a fall in wholesale electricity prices. At the moment, generators using these methods are making large profits.
The government’s response
On September 23, the government held a mini-Budget. One of its key elements was a capping of the unit price of energy for both households and firms. The government called this the Energy Price Guarantee. For example, those households on a variable dual-fuel, direct-debit tariff would pay no more than 34.0p/kWh for electricity and 10.3p/kWh for gas. Standing charges are capped at 46p per day for electricity and 28p per day for gas. These rates will apply for 2 years from 1/10/22 and should give an average annual household bill of £2500.
Although the government has widely referred to the ‘£2500 cap’, it is the unit price that is capped, not the annual bill. It is still the case that the more you consume, the more you will pay. As you can see from Chart 3, the average £2500 still represents an average increase per annum of just over £500 per household and is almost double the cap of £1277 a year ago. It will thus still put considerable strain on many household finances.
For businesses, prices will be capped for 6 months from 1 October at 21.1p per kWh for electricity and 7.5p per KWh for gas – considerably lower than for domestic consumers.
The government will pay subsidies to the retail energy companies to allow them to make sufficient, but not excess, profit. These subsidies are estimated to cost around £150 billion. This will be funded by borrowing, not by tax increases, with the government ruling out a windfall tax on North Sea oil and gas extracting companies. Indeed, the mini-Budget contained a number of tax reductions, including scrapping the 45% top rate of income tax, cutting the basic rate of income tax from 20% to 19% and scrapping the planned rise in corporation tax from 19% to 25%.
- Why are the demand and supply of gas relatively inelastic with respect to price?
- Why are the long-run elasticities of demand and supply of gas likely to be greater than the short-run elasticities?
- Find out how wholesale electricity prices are determined. Is there a case for reforming the system and, if so, how?
- Identify ways in which people could be protected from rising energy bills.
- Assess these different methods in terms of (a) targeting help to those most in need; (b) economic efficiency.
Global oil prices (Brent crude) reached $128 per barrel on 9 March, a level not seen for 10 years and surpassed only in the run up to the financial crisis in 2008. Oil prices are determined by global demand and supply, and the current surge in prices is no exception.
A rise in demand and/or a fall in supply will lead to a rise in the price. Given that both demand and supply are relatively price inelastic, such shifts can cause large rises in oil prices. Similarly, a fall in demand or rise in supply can lead to a large fall in oil prices.
These changes are then amplified by speculation. Traders try to get ahead of price changes. If people anticipate that oil prices will rise, they will buy now, or make a contract to buy more in the future at prices quoted today by buying on the oil futures market. This then pushes up both spot (current) prices and futures prices. If demand or supply conditions change, speculation will amplify the reaction to such a change.
What has happened since 2019?
In 2019, oil was typically trading at around $60 to $70 per barrel. It then fell dramatically in early 2020 as the onset of COVID-19 led to a collapse in demand, for both transport and industry. The price fell below $20 in late April (see charts: click here for a PowerPoint).
Oil prices then rose rapidly as demand recovered somewhat but supply chains, especially shipping, were suffering disruptions. By mid-2021, oil was once more trading at around $60 to $70 per barrel. But then demand grew more strongly as economic recovery from COVID accelerated. But supply could not grow so quickly. By January 2022, Brent crude had risen above $80 per barrel.
Then worries began to grow about Russian intentions over Ukraine as Russia embarked on large-scale military exercises close to the border with Ukraine. People increasingly disbelieved Russia’s declarations that it had no intention to invade. Russia is the world’s second biggest producer of oil and people feared that deliberate disruptions to supply by Russia or other countries banning imports of Russian oil would cause supply shortages. Speculation thus drove up the oil price. By 23 February, the day before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Brent crude had risen to $95.
With the Russian invasion, moves were made by the EU the USA and other countries to ban or limit the purchase of Russian oil. This increased the demand for non-Russian oil.
On 8 March, the USA announced that it was banning the import of Russian oil with immediate effect. The same day, the UK announced that it would phase out the import of Russian oil and oil products by the end of 2022.
The EU is much more dependent on Russian oil imports, which account for around 27% of EU oil consumption and 2/3 of extra-EU oil imports. Nevertheless, it announced that it would accelerate the move away from Russian oil and gas and towards green alternatives. By 8 March, Brent crude had risen to $128 per barrel.
The question was then whether other sources of supply would help to fill the gap. Initially it seemed that OPEC+ (excluding Russia) would not increase production beyond the quotas previously agreed by the cartel to meet recovery in world demand. But then, on 9 March, the UAE Ambassador to Washington announced that the county favoured production increases and would encourage other OPEC members to follow suit. With the announcement, the oil price fell by 11% to £111. But the next day, it rose again somewhat as the UAE seemed to backtrack, but then fell back slightly as OPEC said there was no shortage of oil.
This is obviously an unfolding story with the suffering of the Ukrainian people at its heart. But the concepts of supply and demand and their price elasticity and the role of speculation are central to understanding what will happen to oil prices in the coming months with all the consequences for poverty and economic hardship.
- Use a demand and supply diagram to illustrate what has happened to oil prices over the past two years. How has the size of the effects been dependent on the price elasticity of demand for oil and the price elasticity of supply of oil?
- Use a demand and supply diagram to show what has been happening to the price of natural gas over the past two years. Are the determinants similar to those in the oil market? How do they differ (if at all)?
- What policy options are open to governments to deal with soaring energy prices?
- What are the distributional consequences of the rise in energy prices? (see the blog: Rise in the cost of living.)
- Under what circumstances are oil prices over the next six months likely (a) fall; (b) continue rising?
The transition towards clean energy in combination with a shortfall in supply has seen the price of raw uranium, also known as ‘yellowcake’, rise almost 60 per cent in recent weeks. It is now trading at over $50 a pound – a nine-year high. The market has been described as being at a ‘tipping point’. Given the recent boom in the market, the current conditions could tip the balance towards an era of rising uranium prices.
What is uranium?
Uranium is a heavy metal which has been used as a source of concentrated energy for over 60 years. Uranium ore can be mined from underground, milled, and then sold. It is then used in a nuclear reactor for electricity generation. About 10% of the world’s electricity is generated from uranium in nuclear reactors. There are some 445 nuclear reactors operating in 32 countries. It is the most energy-dense and efficient fuel source we have, with just ten uranium pellets able to power the average household for an entire year.
In March 2011, Japan’s most powerful earthquake on record triggered a tsunami, which then caused a meltdown at a nuclear power plant in Fukushima. It forced residents from their homes as radiation leaked from the plant. Since the Fukushima accident, uranium prices had been on a downtrend trend – enough to force several miners to suspend or scale back operations.
However, there has been a 42 per cent increase in the price of the metal in the first nine months of 2021 alone.
Demand for uranium
Since launching in July, a new investment trust, run by Canadian asset manager Sprott, has snapped up about 6m pounds of physical uranium, worth about $240m. This aggressive buying has helped push prices of uranium to more than $40 per pound, up from $30 at the start of the year. In the first part of September alone, prices surged by around 40%, outperforming all other major commodities. In just a few weeks, millions of pounds of supply were scooped up by the Sprott Physical Uranium Trust. This puts pressure on utilities that need to secure supplies of the commodity for electricity generation.
This increased demand is occurring at precisely the same time as countries and companies around the world are committing to net-zero carbon targets. As a result, nuclear power companies are now facing competition for supplies of uranium from financial investors, who are betting on sharply higher prices and demand for the radioactive material used to fuel reactors. This boost in demand is said to be due to uranium being used as a low-carbon energy source, despite the radioactive waste problem that comes with it. Investors are betting that nuclear power will be a key part of the move away from fossil fuels.
Production from world uranium mines has in recent years supplied 90% of the requirements of power utilities for uranium, with the current global mine supply expected to be about 125m pounds for 2021. In addition, there are secondary sources such as commercial and military stockpiles. However, according to the World Nuclear Association, demand for uranium is expected to climb from about 162m pounds this year to 206m pounds in 2030, and to 292m pounds by 2040. This is largely driven by increased power generation in China. China is planning a big increase in its nuclear power capacity over the next decade as the country seeks to cut its emissions.
Supply of uranium
Although uranium is relatively abundant in the Earth’s crust, not all uranium deposits are economically recoverable. While some countries have uranium resources that can be mined profitably when prices are low, others do not. Kazakhstan is the largest producer of uranium and in 2019 produced more uranium than the second, third, and fourth-largest producers combined.
The big issue is that supply to the market is falling significantly. For deliveries that would start in 2022, Kazakh producer, Kazatomprom, is now discussing the possibility of supplying the metal directly to Sprott. However, it also warned of the risk that its mines would not reach their output target for 2021, and it said earlier this year that it would keep its production at reduced levels through 2023. In addition to this, the recent surge in buying is also reducing the inventories that accumulated after the Fukushima accident.
The supply of uranium is set to fall 15 per cent by 2025 and by 50 per cent by 2030. This is mainly due to a lack of investment in new mines. The lack of new uranium mines will mean the price has to move higher. Namibian mines, accounting for 8 per cent of world supply, are approaching the end of their lives. Cameco of Canada, another important source, has shut one large pit because of uneconomic prices. According to BMO Capital, a mine supply deficit since 2019 will continue.
Supply has also been affected by the pandemic. The boom in demand has coincided with historically low prices and pandemic-driven mine disruptions, prompting uranium producers to buy from the spot market to fulfil long-term contracts with consumers. Some of the largest mining operations in Canada and Kazakhstan had to suspend production temporarily due to a shortage of workers.
Adding to the security of supply concerns is the role of commercial and state-owned entities in the uranium market. Uranium is a highly trade-dependent commodity with international trade policies highlighting the disconnect between where uranium is produced and where it is consumed. About 80% of primary production comes from countries that consume little-to-no uranium, and nearly 90% of uranium consumption occurs in countries that have little-to-no primary production. As a result, government-driven trade policies can be particularly disruptive for the uranium market. It is argued that the risk to uranium supply may create a renewed focus on ensuring availability of long-term supply to fuel nuclear reactors.
The role of financial players
Financial players have been accelerating the recent recovery in the price of uranium, with large-scale speculative buying and withholding of supply. But it can be argued that this would not have occurred if there were not a fundamental and substantial shortage.
If investors keep buying uranium, analysts expect utility companies will come under pressure to replace long-term supply agreements before they expire. At the moment, long-term contracts cover 98 per cent of the uranium needed by US utility companies. But that figure drops to 84 per cent next year, and 55 per cent by 2025, according to uranium investment company, Yellow Cake.
As annual supply declines, demand for uranium from producers and financial players increases, and with trade policy potentially restricting access to some markets, it is believed the pounds available in the spot market will not be adequate to satisfy the growing backlog of long-term demand. As a result, companies expect there will be increased competition to secure uranium under long-term contracts on terms that will ensure the availability of reliable primary supply to meet growing demand.
What will the future look like?
Many countries are turning their attention to nuclear power in order to become net-zero economies. Even in Japan, nuclear generation has slowly been returning. It is argued that nuclear power is needed to some degree for the country to achieve its pollution-curbing goals. However, not all nations are re-embracing nuclear. Germany, for example, is set to shut its last reactor next year.
The concern is whether the recent gains in investor demand is enough to underpin the market. It can be argued that even before the recent price rally started, demand for uranium from the investment sector was already growing. However, observers of the market have suggested that just as quickly as uranium skyrocketed, prices may now be hitting the brakes. Producer stocks that got swept up in the frenzy seem to have peaked. In addition, the world’s top uranium miner Kazatomprom has warned that the recent price action was being fuelled by financial investors rather than the utilities that use the radioactive metal as fuel in their reactors. On the other hand, it is argued that this pickup in the spot market will be the catalyst to push more utilities to get involved in term contracting.
Despite the impact of the pandemic on global energy demand, it is now growing again. Gas and other energy shortages are being seen and the price of gas has been rising rapidly. This rise in energy prices plus a focus on carbon-free generation is likely to continue driving demand for nuclear power and hence for uranium. In addition, producers have warned of supply shortages in the long term as investors scoop up physical inventory and new mines are not starting quickly enough. Thus nuclear’s growing role in the clean energy transition, in addition to a supply shortfall, could turn the tide for the uranium industry.
- Using the uranium market as an example, describe the relationship between an increase in demand and the market price.
- Explain whether the supply of uranium would be price elastic or inelastic in (a) the short run; (b) the long run.
- What is the role of speculation in determining the recent movements in the price of uranium and likely future price movements?
- Given your answers to the above questions, draw supply and demand diagrams to illustrate (a) the recent increase in the market price of uranium; (b) the likely price of uranium in five years from now.