VANCOUVER (miningweekly.com) – Canadian uranium major Cameco is settling into a more relaxed pace of business as it rides out the uranium price doldrums, with two of its best assets languishing on care and maintenance.
President and CEO Tim Gitzel noted on Friday that “unprecedented noise in the political economy” are yet to translate into higher uranium prices and increased contracting by the world’s nuclear power utilities.
The Saskatoon, Saskatchewan-based miner, which operates the world’s largest and highest-grade uranium mines in the province’s prolific Athabasca Basin, said the market was “at a standstill” in the first quarter ended March 31, as utilities digested changing market dynamics. Market prices and contracted volumes remained low in the quarter.
“Today the market remains quiet. There are a lot of moving pieces, and utilities continue to evaluate the implications of what is perhaps best described as unprecedented noise in the political economy,” Gitzel said in a statement. “As 2018 unfolds we will continue to evaluate the market signals; however, we remain resolved in our efforts to focus on what we can control and deliver long-term value to our shareholders.”
Cameco noted that long-term contracting volumes amounted to more than ten-million pounds in the quarter, compared with 28-million pounds in the same period of 2017. Volumes continue to be less than the quantities consumed, and remain largely discretionary owing to currently high inventory levels, it pointed out.
The average reported long-term price at the end of the quarter was $29/lb, down $2/lb from the December quarter.
Global uranium spot sales amounted to about 13.5-million pounds, compared with ten-million pounds in the first quarter of 2017. At the end of the quarter, the average reported spot price was $21.05/lb, down $2.70/lb from the previous quarter, the company reported.
Cameco said the McArthur River/Key Lake suspension will remove 18-million pounds of uranium from the market in 2018.
First-quarter production fell 64% to 2.4-million pounds of uranium oxide, but a 16% year-on-year bump in uranium sales to 6.6-million pounds, and a 25% higher average realised price for the first quarter helped push headline profit back into the black at C$23-million, or C$0.06 a share, compared with a loss of C$29-million, or C$0.07 a share a year earlier.
Adjusted earnings, which is seen by some as a more meaningful way to compare results from period to period. This result comfortably beat average Bay Street forecasts for a loss of $0.01 a share.
Revenue in the period improved 12% year-on-year to C$439-million.
Cameco slightly increased its uranium production guidance for the year to 9.2-million pounds of yellowcake, up from 9.1-million previously, owing to higher-than-expected production during the curtailment of existing wellfields at the US in situ recovery operations.
Unit costs of production were higher in the period as a result of the short-term shuttering of the McArthur River and Key Lake operations and the change in reporting for the restructured JV Inkai, in Kazakhstan.
Cameco expects to receive judgment in its ongoing dispute with the Canada Revenue Agency within the next 12 months, after concluding the trial for the 2003, 2005 and 2006 tax years in September. The CRA sees about C$7.4-billion in foreign earnings between 2003 and 2015 as taxable under Canadian jurisdiction, which could result in a potential C$2.2-billion tax charge. It said it has now also received notice of reassessment from the CRA for the 2012 tax year.
The company’s TSX-listed equity has gained 13.87% since the start of the year, adding a further 2.08% on Friday to close at C$13.22 apiece.