David Einhorn: Short Iron Ore (Great Investors Best Ideas Conference) ~ market folly

Thursday, November 1, 2012

David Einhorn: Short Iron Ore (Great Investors Best Ideas Conference)

We're posting up notes from the Great Investors' Best Ideas Investment Symposium in Dallas and next up is David Einhorn of Greenlight Capital.  Einhorn made a presentation entitled 'If you give a miner a dollar..." and said to short dirt.  And by dirt, what he means is to short iron ore.

While Einhorn said that everyone "should have gold miners in their portfolio," it became clear he was less sanguine about other types of miners.

Iron Ore Supply/Demand

Einhorn started his presentation with the supply/demand dynamics of iron ore, noting that the infrastructure to get ore out of the ground is not cheap.  He pointed out that it's cheaper for China to import ore from Australia than to dig it out of their own ground.  Einhorn put up a chart showing iron ore prices from 1981-2011, peaking in the most recent year.

He went on to say that, if you give miners dollars, they dig holes.  Higher prices attracted new supply and new players.  It takes years to bring new supply online and he points out that there's a massive amount of supply about to hit the market.

He points out the Chinese investment binge as the driver of demand and notes that "something that's unsustainable persists... until it doesn't."

Einhorn then shifted to steel and noted that 2010 was the last year where steel saw double-digit demand growth.  Supply now exceeds demand and they're in the midst of expansion.  Big projects from 2010/2011 are coming online and the cost of stopping development is too high.
Einhorn argues that you can't contain the near-term situation since it's so expensive to halt projects.  He feels that ore prices will head below 100/ton and could get as low as 80/ton.  He even said that by 2014 it could go as low as the 60's.  He opined that the iron ore situation could soon reflect the same situations that took place in polysilicon and LEDs.

Losers Singled Out By Einhorn

While Einhorn did not explicitly come out and say he was short any of these names, he put up a list of companies that will lose in this scenario:

Iron Ore Miners (huge projects that will come online into declining markets): Vale (VALE), BHP Billiton (BHP), Rio Tinto (RIO), Fortescue (FMG), Cliffs (CLF)

Equipment Makers (already have seen growth into infrastructure build): Caterpillar (CAT), Joy Global (JOY)

Integrated Steel Companies: US Steel (X), Arcelor Mittal (MT).

Einhorn pointed out that X and MT have had an advantage because they own their ore supplies while their competition purchases ore in the markets.  However, he says this competitive advantage erodes as the price of ore falls.  The price of steel is also falling.  These integrated steel companies are also facing competition from irrational Chinese steel mills that are willing to operate at a loss.

Last week we also highlighted that Tiger Management's Julian Robertson said to avoid steel stocks as well.

Einhorn argues that the equities of the above companies reflect resumption of Chinese demand but that seems dubious.  He feels like companies are investing a lot at the top.  For more from this hedgie, also check out Einhorn's presentation on 3 ideas from the Value Investing Congress.

For the rest of the GIBI presentations, head to notes from the Great Investors' Best Ideas conference.

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