Investing in metals has its particularities, as prices are driven by distinct factors such as supply, demand, and macroeconomic and geopolitical issues. Demand for metals can respond to traditional market economics (consumption), or it can be driven by investors’ purchasing for portfolio diversification and insurance.
The energy transition as a driver of metals demand
The brown-to-green revolution requires substantial amounts of metals such as copper, lithium, nickel, cobalt and aluminum, which are good conductors of heat and electricity, and are ductile and malleable. The minerals are enabling the growth in solar and wind power, and in electric vehicles (EVs), as nations drop hydrocarbons. Under the International Energy Agency (IEA)’s Net-Zero by 2050 Roadmap, renewables may increase their share of power from 10% currently to 60% in three decades, exacerbating supply shortages for transition metals.
Copper is a core element in the electrification needed for the climate transition and the most widely used mineral in clean energy technologies. As the main material in wires, the red metal is integral to the expansion of electric networks. Its high conductive qualities also make copper omnipresent in renewables — from solar photovoltaic panels and batteries to thermal energy and wind turbines. Global copper demand is expected to increase by more than 50% between 2022 and 2040, driven by usage in green technologies1.
Lithium battery technology is essential to the roll-out of electric vehicles (EVs), renewable energy storage and mobile devices, with EVs being the main source of demand for the metal. However, lithium miners have been unable to scale supply as rapidly as needed. The IEA expects lithium shipments to grow 40 times between 2020 and 2040, the fastest increase among all transition metals2.
Due to their low correlation with equity and bond markets, precious metals are used by investors as a financial hedge and/or diversification asset. Demand for metals such as gold and silver tends to rise during periods of economic downturns and market volatility.
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2 IEA, “The Role of Critical Minerals in Clean Energy Transitions,” May 2021.