China’s growing stranglehold on the production of commodities and metals like coal, iron ore, tungsten, antimony and tin give the Chinese government more control over foreign businesses than we might like to admit. And yet, it’s China’s control over heavy rare earth materials that really makes me nervous.
Consider this: China currently produces 99 percent of the world’s rare earths supply. It seems Beijing has realized it can exploit that control, too, by cracking down on illegal rare earths mining within the country and limiting exports abroad. On Tuesday, China’s commerce ministry announced its export quotas for rare earth metals will drop by 35 percent during the first six months of 2011.
Why does that matter? Because heavy rare earths are vital in the production or operation of high-tech goodies like iPhones, Blackberries, wind turbines and nuclear power plants.
Shares in rare earth stocks rocketed up on the news. Want to get in on the action? Here’s a short list of rare earths stocks:
- Molycorp, Inc. (NYSE:MCP); +394 percent YTD
- Rare Element Resources Ltd. (CVE:RES); +263 percent YTD
- Neo Material Technologies Inc. (TSE:NEM); +68 percent YTD
- Lynas Corporation Limited (ASX:LYC); +255 percent YTD
- Medallion Resources Ltd. (CVE:MDL); +157 percent YTD
- Ultra Uranium Corp. (CVE:ULU); +54 percent YTD
- Fieldex Exploration Inc. (CVE:FLX); -15 percent YTD
Not interested in picking individual rare earths stocks? There’s at least one rare earths ETF that will help you diversify in the sector: the Market Vectors Rare Earth/Strategic Metals ETF (NYSE:REMX). The relatively new ETF launched in October and has risen 22 percent since then with a big chunk of the gains coming on Tuesday’s export news out of China. The ETF was up 7 percent yesterday.