Our Stainless MMI inched lower in January but it’s already working higher in February as nickel prices rebound.
That Other Ban
In mid-January, Indonesia issued significant new mining rules that will relax its ban on exports of raw nickel ore.
The revisions to the earlier regulation will allow miners to only export low-grade ore (defined as metal content of 1.7% or less) as long as they express a commitment to build their own smelters within five years and are able to supply domestic smelters with enough low-grade ore to meet at least 30% of the country’s input capacity.
This distinction between low-grade and high-grade ore (1.7% or more metal content) is important. Lower-grade ore increases the cost base for Chinese nickel pig-iron. In addition, NPI and ferronickel are more energy intensive than the higher grade refined nickel. Therefore, the greater use of lower grade nickel leads to more pollution, an issue that China is currently tackling.
According to Indonesia’s mining minister, Indonesia produces 17 million metric tons of nickel ore per year, of which 10 mmt is low-grade. The country’s nickel smelting capacity is currently 16 mmt and may reach 18 mmt this year.
As its mining minister puts it, Indonesia may export up to 5.2 mmt of nickel ore a year under the country’s new rules. This is less than 9% of what the country used to export prior to the ban. Although this is important information to take into account, Indonesia’s easing will not flood the global market as many feared.
More Shutdowns In The Philippines
On February second, the Philippines ordered the closure of 21 mines, and seven others could be suspended. The nickel mines recently ordered to shut down account for about 50% of the country’s annual output. Prices rose sharply on the news as the mining shutdowns in the Philippines seem likely to be a to greater driver of price movements than the easing of Indonesia’s export ban.
What This Means For Metal Buyers
If we narrow our view to the supply/demand fundamentals of the nickel industry, the picture looks bullish, but rather complex. However, we need to widen our view to the whole industrial metals spectrum, and that picture looks quite bullish. Industrial metals continue to rise on robust demand and shrinking supply. The bullish sentiment across the metal complex, combined with more nickel mine closures should support prices in the mid-term.