SMALL CAP IDEAS: How will commodities prices perform in 2023?

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A large part of the answer to that question lies in the decisions that will be made by US Federal Reserve and the Chinese state authorities.

But to the extent that the market can tell us what’s likely to happen, two trends are clear.

First, battery metals will continue to remain in vogue. And second, fiat currencies are going to continue to decline in value.

The pound is likely to suffer more than most, which means that for UK investors, adding gold to that battery metals portfolio could well be a smart move

In the case of battery metals that means lithium, copper, vanadium, cobalt, nickel and tin are likely to remain popular, and able to attract in speculative capital.

In the case of currencies, the pound is likely to suffer more than most. Which means that for UK investors, adding gold to that battery metals portfolio could well be a smart move.

What’s more, you don’t have to look as far afield as you might imagine.

Inside the UK, a small, local battery metals sector is developing, and learning as it goes how to be independent of traditional capital markets.

Thus, we have Cornish Lithium and Cornish Tin both financed through crowdfunding, and likely to continue to be so until really big development capital is needed.

Among the listed companies, British Lithium, Strategic Minerals (0.3p), Tungsten West (13.5p) and Cornish Metals (17p) all add to the panoply of local UK miners that is gradually building a presence in the south west of the country – still a shadow of what the old mining industry there looked like in the glory days, but nevertheless a harbinger of what’s to come – a renaissance in UK mining in the making.

And in Scotland, privately-held Aberdeen Minerals is on the hunt for copper, cobalt and nickel.

All told, the progress that nascent new sector makes in 2023 will be one of the most interesting for UK investors to keep an eye on, especially since, in a post-Brexit green-oriented world, they are likely to attract more government support.

There is, to be sure, a notable anti-mining lobby in the British Isles, and we see it every year at the Mines & Money conference in Islington. In recent decades, they’ve not had that much to protest.

But it’s worth noting that the UK has just given the formal go-ahead for its first new coal mine in a decade or two – thanks President Putin – and that at the same time the UK has no formal Ministry of Mines, as most other countries do.

This government, whatever its true instincts, has to live with the results of the Brexit referendum. The UK economy is already underperforming all of its G7 peers, and looks set to continue to do so. Is this a result of Brexit? – the debate rumbles on, but it sure would be a lot easier for the government if it could stimulate a lot of indigenous economic activity and pull itself out of the economic mire.

A home-grown mining industry, especially one created in support of green energy technologies would be just the ticket. And those green credentials do go some way towards heading off the mining protestors at the pass. One coal mine in the north is one thing. Several lithium mines in the south-west is another.

But how much money will investors be able to allocate to mining?

Although the pound looks likely to continue to perform poorly against the dollar and the Euro, money is already moving out of crypto, post-FTX, and looking for a home.

Whether it wants a speculative home, like the UK battery metals mining industry, or a safer haven, like gold, remains an open question.

The UK has its own small-time gold mining scene, with Scotgold (60p) and Galantas (31p) leading the pack among the listed juniors, and Conroy Gold (14.3p) straddling the border in Ireland.

Internationally, gold is likely to remain a favourite, as fiat currencies remain the punchbags of Central Bankers, and voters and citizens grow leery of watching their paper wealth frittered away.

But you know what they say in the green and ESG spaces – ‘think globally, act locally.’

For 2023, that might well mean that smart speculative money remains close at hand, invested in UK battery metals, while the more cautious pound rests safely in the oldest and most trusted commodity of them all – gold.

We shall see.