TSX TODAY: 8 commodities you didn't know were scarce

Everyone knows we're running out of oil, but have you heard the latest about chocolate, helium, and tequila?

It’s no secret that the global population is consuming various resources at a rate faster than they can be produced, the most notable example being fossil fuels. Everyone knows that we’re rapidly depleting our stocks of petroleum and natural gas. But maple syrup? Helium? Water? Here, a look at eight commodities you didn’t know were scarce.

Maple Syrup: A Sticky Situation

You’ve been warned: The sweetest part of your Sunday brunch is in danger. Increasingly warmer temperatures have led to a decline in sugar maples’ sap production -- the very sap that is boiled to produce maple syrup. Production of maple syrup relies on below-freezing night temperatures, something that was especially rare during this year’s tropical Spring. Instead, many producers’ saw their syrup-tapping season shrink from the traditional month to a mere one or two weeks, severely limiting production. According to The Guardian, this drop in production was seen across the United States, from Maine to Wisconsin. Say goodbye to Mrs. Buttersworth -- your Eggo (K) waffles will have to learn to stand alone.

Helium: Up, Up, and Away

No helium means more than no balloons. From your iPhone’s (AAPL) shiny LCD screen to the magnets powering an MRI, helium is used in almost every high-tech industry. Helium's range of uses is incredibly broad, but it is most frequently used as a coolant due to its low boiling point. Unfortunately, there are only two places where helium can be found: in the atmosphere, and in the ground. Extracting the gas from the atmosphere is incredibly inefficient, meaning our sole source of helium comes from underground reserves, 80% of which are controlled by the United States. This would be great, except for the fact that in 1996, Congress signed a law saying we had to sell off all of our helium by 2015. As a result, the market price of helium dropped well below its worth, leading to our stores being used so rapidly that some predict we could run out of helium in as few as 100 years.

Water: Global Thirst

If you thought a bottle of Dasani (KO) was expensive now, think again. In the next century, worldwide shortages could cause a spike in the price of water, or “blue gold” as some are starting to call it, to rise above the price of oil. According to Reuters, water utilities across the country are already $330 billion in debt. While water covers more than 70% of the Earth’s surface, the majority of that is undrinkable seawater. Unfortunately, at this point in time desalination plants are incredibly costly, both in terms of money and energy. Even more unfortunately, the global supply of fresh, drinkable water is dwindling at an alarming rate. Cities and states are already getting their water from sources hundreds of miles away. Multinational companies along with entrepreneurial businesspeople are quietly investing in water stocks. Conflict over water supplies is occurring even now in Asia and the Middle East. Some political analysts are predicting that tensions over this crucial resource could be the spark for a third world war.

Chocolate: Supplies Melting

According to the director of the Nature Conservation Research Center, chocolate could become more expensive than caviar in the next 20 years. There are two reasons behind this. First, recent shifts in weather patterns, such as increased rainfall and higher temperature, have led to a decrease in cocoa supply. Additionally, the cocoa plant, which can only be grown within 10 degrees of the Equator, is highly susceptible to pests, and is incredibly time-consuming to cultivate. For all the back-breaking labor cocoa production requires, your average cocoa farmer can expect to earn a whopping $0.80 per day for his efforts. This means that for many, cocoa production simply isn’t worth it. In an attempt to sweeten the task, large companies such as Hershey (HSY) and Kraft (KFT) are pledging millions toward improving sustainable cocoa development.

Phosphorus: The Commodity You Didn’t Know You Cared About

Phosphorus is a naturally-occurring element that is most commonly used in fertilizer, such as that produced by The Mosaic Company (MOS). With the world’s ever-growing population, it is absolutely essential for maintaining global food production. As such, it’s a pretty important commodity. According to Scientific American, it also might start running out by the end of this century, though it's likely to become a troubled resource long before then. Dwindling supplies are further exacerbated by our obsession with biofuels, which consume significant amounts of phosphorus without contributing to food production. If we don’t find a fertilizer substitute soon, we could be facing a worldwide food shortage within the century.

Rare Earth Elements: Scarce, but Not Rare

Don’t let the name fool you -- rare earth elements are far from rare. What makes them such a scarce commodity is not their lack of abundance, but rather their lack of concentrated deposits that make mining worthwhile. Among the list of rare earth elements are metals such as dysprosium and cerium. Not ringing a bell? These minerals are the magic behind your smartphone, television, and hybrid car. Alas, China controls more than 95% of the world’s production -- a monopoly they don’t plan on relinquishing any time soon. Fortunately, companies such as Quest Rare Minerals Ltd. (QRM) and Rare Elements Resources Ltd. (REE) are currently investing in the search for rare earth deposits throughout North America.

Tequila: A Lost Spirit

The push for ethanol may be behind the shortage of Mexico’s signature drink. Tequila is produced by extracting and fermenting fructose from the blue agave cactus -- a plant which takes eight to 12 years to reach maturity. What’s more, this variety of agave only grows in and around the Mexican state of Jalisco. But while popular brands such as Sauza (BEAM) were experiencing increasing demand, the ethanol boom made producing corn much more profitable for Mexican farmers -- leading many to destroy their agave crops. Ironically, some environmentalists are now saying that agave might make a more effective biofuel than corn-based ethanol...which would only further deplete the amount of cacti available for tequila production.

Resin: Brakes On

Global production output of nylon-12, a resin critical for vehicle production (used in fuel and brakeline coatings, quick connectors, and flexible hoses, among other things), was essentially cut in half after a March 31 explosion at German chemical plant Evonik Industries. The blast led to the loss of production of Cyclododecatriene, a key component of nylon-12 that was already in low supply. In response, TI Automotive -- which supplies parts to international companies such as Ford (F), Toyota (TM), and General Motors (GM) -- issued a letter stating that disruptions in vehicle production are likely.

TSX TODAY: Are There Any Great, New Mining Stocks Left?

Where are the hot and cold spots around the world for resource investors? The stampeding bull market in commodities has investors reaching for new ideas. Highly respected newsletter writer Lawrence Roulston of “Resource Opportunities” favors Canada, Alaska and China for investing in mining and energy companies.

StockInterview: Let’s get the cold spots out of the way so investors are forewarned about which countries to avoid.

Lawrence Roulston:
A lot of the (mining) companies that went overseas in decades back are recognizing the political difficulties with dealing in some jurisdictions. These include places like Indonesia, Columbia, and several of the African countries, such as Congo, Sudan and Eritrea. All of those places where there are great geological prospects, but are more and more risky to deal in. I think some of that mining is coming back closer to home, which is right here in Canada.

StockInterview: So Canada is on your “favorite countries” list?

Lawrence Roulston:
At the very top of the list would be Canada. As of right now, taking into account the geological potential, political situation, infrastructure and all the other issues, I would (highly) rate Canada and British Columbia. They have had decades of work. But for the last decade, there hasn’t been very much going on. The companies are just coming back and picking up with what’s been going on. Similarly, Ontario, Quebec – tremendous geological potential – and it’s been kind of ignored for a long time. Canada is now the most important place in the world for diamonds, representing 50 percent on exploration spending for diamonds.

StockInterview: Is there a specific mineral or metal that makes Canada especially appealing?

Lawrence Roulston:
It’s the whole gambit. Canada has always been one of the top metal producers, and it’s coming back to life. Of course, gold is at the top of the list, but also base metals and uranium. The Athabasca Basin in northern Saskatchewan is far and away the most important area to be looking at, geologically. It’s currently the biggest source of uranium and contains the highest grade deposit. There are other uranium prospective areas in Canada that are just emerging. The Thelon Basin in the Northwest Territories, north of the Athabasca Basin, is very similar, geologically, to the Athabasca Basin. It had some work done in the 1970s, and it’s been pretty much ignored until very recently. Going a little further north to Hornby Basin, it is a similar kind of situation. In Labrador, the central mineral belt is just emerging as a very important place to be looking for uranium.

StockInterview: Do you have any favorite companies, which you are following and which have good prospects?

Lawrence Roulston:
NovaGold Resources (TSX: NG; Amex: NG), for example, with the Galore Creek. It’s a billion ton deposit with enormous metal content. (Editor’s Note: Galore Creek has been called one of the largest and highest grade undeveloped porphyry-related gold-silver-copper deposits in North America.)

StockInterview: What is another of your favorite areas, which has gone largely undetected during this bull market?

Lawrence Roulston:
Nevada would be at the top of the list of anywhere in the world to be working and Alaska right behind it. There is huge potential in Alaska. Mining companies have only scratched the surface of exploration up there. Two of the largest metal deposits in the world are in Alaska. These are both discoveries going back decades, but work over the last couple of years has brought them to the point where they’re now recognized as among the largest metal deposits in the world: Donlin Creek, a 25-plus million ounce gold deposit, and the Pebble deposit, held by Northern Dynasty (TSX: NDM). The Pebble deposit is significantly larger than, and of comparable grade to, Ivanhoe’s (NYSE: IVN) Oyu Tolgoi (copper-gold) deposit in Mongolia. (Editor’s Note: The Donlin Creek project is a joint venture between NovaGold and Barrick Gold.)

StockInterview: Anywhere else in the world where you can find a great, but still “new” resource investment opportunity, in light of how hard the commodities bull has been stampeding the past few years?

Lawrence Roulston:
Often the better value to be had, or the better opportunity, is in being a little bit out of step with the crowd. One of the areas offering some outstanding opportunities is China.
China has done a tremendous amount of geological work, over the last few decades, but all from the perspective of finding, and then quickly developing, small deposits. There has been very little effort devoted to taking a bigger picture type look at China. The companies that have been able to take a kind of bigger picture look at China have begun to develop what I think are going to be some pretty spectacular results over time.

StockInterview: Isn’t it tough, though, doing business in China?

Lawrence Roulston:
There is still a perception out there that China is a difficult place to do business. Most people from the west walk into China cold and try to do a deal. It would be impossible for them. But, for western companies that are able to team up with groups that are well established within China – so that they’re able to find their way through the system over there – then there are outstanding opportunities. There are mountains of geological information – all in Chinese, of course. You’ve got to be able to work within that system and get the information, know how to put the deals together.

StockInterview: What do you mean by “knowing how to put the deals together?”

Lawrence Roulston:
If I was to go over to China and try to do a deal to get access to a coalbed methane property, I wouldn’t have a clue about how to begin. On the other hand, I could walk into the Petroleum Club in Calgary, and meet a half dozen guys and talk to them. I could build on my leads, and probably in a day be talking about a deal. When you go into China, unless you have somebody on your team that can get into the system and deal with the people, because of language issues, cultural issues and just having access to the information and knowing what sort of terms that they might be looking for… It’s a different culture from every perspective, and not the least of which is a different way of doing business.

StockInterview: In your April issue, you recommended one company, which overcame those hurdles, meets your criteria and already has a coalbed methane deal in China.

Lawrence Roulston:
Pacific Asia China Energy (TSX: PCE) established connections in China. They can draw on their contacts and their network. They can get into see the right people, where they can actually talk seriously about doing deals, and have an enormous leg up over somebody that walked in cold and tried to establish and build contacts and put a deal together. I think it is an absolutely outstanding opportunity that they’ve seized on.

StockInterview: There are many coalbed methane opportunities in Alberta. Why look to China?

Lawrence Roulston:
One of the things that makes China interesting is the entry cost to get into a coalbed methane (CBM) play in China is fairly modest. For example, to go to Alberta, or anywhere in the United States, and get access to the exploration rights, or exploitation rights, is enormously expensive. In China, they walked in and, for a fairly modest up-front commitment, obtained a control position in a CBM prospect.

StockInterview: How does Pacific Asia China Energy’s coalbed methane property in Guizhou, China rate against other coalbed methane plays?

Lawrence Roulston:
I think it’s an outstanding opportunity. Chinese government agencies have done an enormous amount of work at delineating the coal. To be able to step into that amount of data as a starting point to build up their CBM resource? The bottom line is that they’re not out there looking for coal. They know exactly where the material is, and they’re able to quickly start defining the issues like recoverability. They’re drilling in order to establish the basic physical parameters of the flow rates and the content within the coal. I think the companies which are able to effectively exploit the CBM technology in China are going to be the pioneers in that area.

StockInterview: To Americans, any business in China might appear to be “pioneering,” since most of still think of China as a third world country.

Lawrence Roulston:
I’ve been to China many times and I’ve been to parts of China where most people, as tourists, would never get anywhere near, because I go there to look at mineral exploration projects and mining projects. I’ve been to every corner of the country as well as the major cities. What I see happening everywhere I go is a pace of development that I’ve never seen anywhere else in my life, anywhere in the world. That is, 1.3 billion people are going from a basically rural farm-based economy to a modern industrial economy at a pace that has just never before been conceived.

StockInterview: How do you quantify that?

Lawrence Roulston:
This is a number that most people won’t get, and you won’t get until you’ve been over there and have seen it. There are 300 million people in China that are already well into the middle class. By middle class, I am comparing (the Chinese middle class) to the same absolute standards as we would apply in Canada or the United States in terms of dollars in your bank account, value of your house and your car, and everything else. There are 300 million people that have already achieved that status, which is more than the people at that status in North America. There are another 1 billion people who are busting their butts to get to that level.

StockInterview: But isn’t the rest of the world’s rural population just as industrious and ambitious?

Lawrence Roulston:
I’ve been in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America. If you go into any of those areas and you walk into the small towns, a lot of people are sitting around drinking coffee, crying the blues and complaining about how terrible life is. Go into a similar area in China, and the people are out working in the fields. In the middle of winter, they’re fixing up their fences, the dams and terraces, and clearing rocks, removing trees and stuff like that. It’s a high level of industry I’ve never seen in any other part of the world. So it goes from that ground level right up to the entrepreneurs, and the guys who are building the high rise condominium complexes in Shanghai.

StockInterview: How long will it take before American investors realize the impact China has on the global economy?

Lawrence Roulston:
It’s going to happen in a gradual way. I think those that keep their heads buried in the sand are going to get left behind as the world pulls ahead. I would suggest any investor in any company ask the question of the company: “Is that company involved in some way in China?” There are a lot of North American companies that have a very significant presence in China in terms of doing business over there, of getting established, of selling products or manufacturing products in China.

StockInterview: Why is China so important with regards to this commodities bull market, and are there still opportunities for investors?

Lawrence Roulston:
There is a lot of geological potential, and there is the perception that it’s difficult. Therefore, there isn’t yet a big crowd of people over there chasing after deals. The flip side of it is that China and its neighbors in southeast Asia, representing 3 billion people, are going through the modern industrialization process. That is going to continue to create a massive demand for metals for, I believe, a decade or probably even a couple of decades into the future.

StockInterview: And most likely, the U.S. investor is going to be left behind or the last one into the pond?

Lawrence Roulston:
The bottom line is that Americans tend to be more inward focused. The other evening I was having dinner with an oil man from Texas who had spent a lot of time in China. He had seen China first hand and was very bullish. I asked him, “How many of your countrymen do you think really get it about China?” And he responded, “Oh, about five.” Then he said, “Congress doesn’t get it, investors don’t get it and the man in the street doesn’t get it.” Americans just don’t understand what’s happening over there yet.

TSX TODAY: Constant Access with Stock Trading Online

In a world built on capital, we humans are forever vying for that next big money-maker. It seems that everybody forever desires more cash. Some strive for a senior education; others compete for that big promotion. No worry what the method, we all find a way of increasing our income. Investing is a customary form of making an added buck. With the obsession of the stock market in gorged affect, many of us chance on that up-and-coming business, or upright product that has the latent to fuel in value. We know that shares can sky-rocket in appraise if purchased at the right time. A blessing to many investment junkies is stock trading online. The stock market is now at your fingertips.

If you've never played the stock market, it may be time to inhibit it out. Many people make millions in selling and selling. Haven't you heard about the UPS shares? Those people got rich. It's amazing where a little chance can take you. With stock trading online somebody can have constant access to the market. Hop on your computer and inhibit out the websites that can help you with this process. It doesn't worry if you're looking to squander a little or invest a lot, there is something just waiting for you. The great thing about the Internet is the information. You can find an abundance of trading tips and truth about the stock market for free. This way when you commence stock trading online, you won't be in the dark.

We hope that the first part of this article as brought you a lot of much needed information on the subject at hand.

A few living back, my best friend hopped on the stock market bandwagon, and purchased some shares. When he began this little venture, he purchased on the recommendation of a partner who had been trading for years. After selling a number of shares at 10 bucks a pop, he was keen to go. It wasn't long before the shares had amplified to 60 bucks a pop. He took the innocent road and sold immediately. I think that this was a astute decision. He made the currency and puzzled nothing. With stock trading online, shrewd when to fold is key. Just like with gambling, you have to know when to currency out. Make some money, but don't get greedy. Before you know it, the shares have dropped below your purchase price. Stock trading online is a amazing way to veer a profit and make that added cash. Before you skip online and flinch investing, inhibit out some websites for figures and pointers on the contest of stock trading. A better understanding of the affair will pay off in the end.

TSX TODAY: Competition Between Online Brokers Reduces Commissions

There's much to learn about the online brokerage industry. Unfortunately, many investors learn this the hard way.

With so many options available, choosing the right broker is as crucial as making the right investment.

For years, investors were accustomed to paying $9.95 or higher per trade based on their account equity or trade activity. However, those days have come to an end.

When evaluating brokers, keep these factors in mind:

* How fast can the broker execute my trade?

* What type of technology does the broker use?

* What level of customer service does the broker provide?

* How much will the broker charge me per trade?

The competitive nature of the new online trading industry has led to lower commission rates for all investors. While well-known brokers such as Ameritrade or ETrade are still charging around $10 per trade, smaller firms can charge less than $3.

Investors willing to look beyond the industry leaders also may find that smaller brokers, such as RushTrade, have more to offer in other areas, including customer service, order routing and trading technology.

RushTrade has made a name for itself as a leader among online brokers when it comes to fast, reliable trading and customer service. With the increase in competition among online brokers, RushTrade has structured its commissions to attract every type of investor.

What is S&P/TSX Composite Index?

S&P/TSX Composite Index

The TSX stock exchange defines an index as a statistical measure of the state of the stock market, based on the performance of certain stocks. The performance of the index is typically viewed as a broad indicator of the direction of the economy. Originally known as the TSE 300 the composite index was created in 1977, with a base level of 1000 as of 1975. Through the years the index consisted of a sample of 300 companies, though the companies that comprised the index varied from year to year. Stocks were dropped when they no longer met exchange requirements for size and liquidity.

Effective May 1st, 2002 the index has been managed by Standard & Poor's Corp. of New York. The name was changed from the TSE 300 to the S&P/TSX Composite Index. Along with the S&P branding came new rules. Tougher criteria for meeting size and liquidity standards were imposed and there is now no fixed number of companies in the index. Since May 2002 the number of companies has dropped from 300 to 212 as of November of 2003.

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