Fears of China’s stranglehold over the rare earth metals market may be overblown as more countries have quickly developed their own mining projects. Consequently, the rare-earth-related exchange traded fund could continue to languish under lower global prices.
The Market Vectors Rare Earth/Strategic Metals ETF (NYSEArca: REMX), which tracks the performance of companies that mine, refine and manufacture rare or strategic metals, has declined 21.6% year-to-date.
According to former Pentagon advisor Eugene Gholz, China’s control over the rare earth metals market has been greatly diminished after Beijing restricted exports and other states began producing their own rare earths, reports Brad Plumer for Vox.
In 2010, China extracted 97% of the world’s rare earth metals, which are used in many advanced technologies, such as smartphones and wind turbines, among others. Over the same year, China cut back exports as part of a political dispute with Japan, pushing up prices on rare earths and raising concern over supply.
Gholz argues that three factors are contributing to the fall in rare earth prices. For starters, other countries began developing their own supplies. The rare appellation is somewhat of a misnomer as many countries, including Brazil, India, the U.S. and South Africa, have all been major producers in the past. As prices increased, companies like Molycorp (NYSE: MCP) reopened facilities. Consequently, China’s market share has plunged to 70% from 97%.
REMX has a 4.6% weight in Molycorp. The ETF’s top country weights include China 23.0%, U.S. 18.3%, Australia 12.1%, Japan 9.3% and Canada 7.5%.
Additionally, while rare earth metal prices jumped, countries have tried to wean themselves off the metals. For instance, Japanese companies greatly diminished their reliance on rare earths by increasing efficiency on what little materials they had on hand and recycling used products.