Rare Earth Mineral Prices Fall By 41% As Mining Companies and Buyers Find Alternatives

BLOOMBERG — “Rare-earth prices are set to extend their decline from records this year as buyers including Toyota Motor Corp. and General Electric Co. scale back using the materials in their cars and windmills.

Prices for cerium and lanthanum, the most abundant rare- earth elements, will drop by 50 percent in 12 months, Christopher Ecclestone, an analyst at Hallgarten & Co. in New York, has forecast. Neodymium and praseodymium, metals used in permanent rare-earth magnets, may fall as much as 15 percent, he said.

Makers of electric cars, wind turbines and oil-refining catalysts have sought to reduce use of the metals after China, which supplies more than 90 percent of the market, said in July 2010 that it would cut exports and clamp down on the industry. That boosted prices, encouraging mining companies to develop new prospects and buyers to find alternatives.

“If you think you can keep raising the prices for those materials and still keep your customers, you’re crazy,” Jack Lifton, co-founder of Technology Metals Research, said in a telephone interview. “The principal customer for rare-earth metals is a global automotive industry using rare-earth permanent magnets. That industry will engineer this stuff out.”

The Bloomberg Rare Earth Mineral Resources Index dropped 41 percent in the last three months (see chart above).”

MP: This is a good example of how the price system transmits valuable information about the relative scarcity of natural resources, how market participants respond immediately and effectively to price changes that signal increased resource scarcity, and how those natural, automatic responses effectively solve the problem of the increased scarcity. In the case of rare-earth elements, the higher prices encouraged producers to: a) find more of the existing materials and b) find alternative materials, and encouraged consumers to: a) find alternatives and b) “engineer the stuff out” of production.

About Mark J. Perry 262 Articles

Affiliation: University of Michigan

Dr. Mark J. Perry is a professor of economics and finance in the School of Management at the Flint campus of the University of Michigan.

He holds two graduate degrees in economics (M.A. and Ph.D.) from George Mason University in Washington, D.C. and an MBA degree in finance from the Curtis L. Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota.

Since 1997, Professor Perry has been a member of the Board of Scholars for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a nonpartisan research and public policy institute in Michigan.

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