Beaten-up uranium stocks have been reflecting a vicious combination of slower economic growth and a shift in attitude toward nuclear energy following the Fukushima crisis in Japan in March. The world economy is still in the dumps -- but Japan's new leader signalled that he does not intend to keep the country's nuclear plants idled for long, a development that could be good for uranium producers.
The concern that has been festering among investors since March is that the Japanese crisis will turn off other regions of the world from nuclear power. Japan has been living almost nuclear-free since March, and doing fairly well with the absence of power. However, the country's new leader, Yoshihiko Noda, apparently isn't convinced that a freeze on nuclear energy is the way to go. According to The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Noda is determined to restart idled nuclear reactors by next summer, with fewer than a dozen of the country's 54 reactors currently operating.
"We must bring them back up as best as we can, because if we have a power shortage, it will drag down Japan's overall economy," Mr. Noda told the Journal. When asked whether this summer's success in living without reactors meant that the country can cope next year without restarting idled plants, he responded: "That's absolutely impossible."
On Tuesday, uranium stocks didn't respond to these remarks, with Cameco Corp. down 2.1 per cent, Denison Mines Corp. down 0.7 per cent and Uranium One Inc. unchanged (full disclosure: I own shares in Cameco). There are a couple of reasons why the news failed to lift sentiment. For one, Japan represents a relatively small slice of the world's market for uranium, and a shift there toward nuclear energy might not inspire other countries to make similar moves.
Already, Germany has sworn off nuclear power by 2020, while Switzerland and Italy recently cancelled plans to build new reactors.
Perhaps more importantly, this is a Japanese prime minister we're talking about here, and Japanese leaders tend to come and go with a furious pace. As the Journal article noted, Mr. Noda will be the fourth Japanese prime minster that U.S. President Barack Obama has met since taking leadership in January 2009. If the revolving door continues at a similar pace, Mr. Noda won't even be leading Japan next summer.