nickel price

Our Stainless MMI inched up 2% in October. However, it was at the beginning of November when prices surged. Three-month London Metal Exchange nickel jumped above $11,000/mt, the highest level since August 2015. By the way, we predicted this move just a few weeks ago.

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Robust Chinese demand for nickel and other metals has broadly supported a price rebound from multiyear lows that were hit earlier this year. Not only nickel, but the whole metal complex is hitting new highs. When investors turn bullish in the metal sector, any bullish news can make the individual metal increase in price and, nickel is particularly enjoying a bull narrative.

Bullish Industry Fundamentals

First, Indonesia recently announced that the country will “almost definitely” keep in place a ban on nickel ore and bauxite exports. Just a few days ago, nickel investors were concerned that Indonesia was considering lifting the ban. Now that those fears have waned, investors seem willing to chase prices higher.

Stainless_Chart_November-2016_FNL

Second, The Philippines announced that it will prolong the ban on new mines, reviewing all environmental permits previously granted to nickel producers. The announcement dashes industry hopes that some restrictions may be lifted following the audit that was finished in August.

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The news come after a quarter of the country’s miners have been closed with another 20 of them under the risk of suspension.

Bullish Price Action

On top of the above, we are seeing a very constructive price action. After nickel jumped 25% from June to August prices rested in a narrow range for the next three months. Despite a strong dollar in October, investors were unwilling to sell nickel. Now that momentum for investing in the industrial metals complex is picking up again, we expect nickel prices to work higher into 2017.

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October was a big test for base metals. A month in which a rising dollar would normally bring metal prices down. But, it didn’t.

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This development just proved that bulls are still in control. This bull market, one that we called earlier this year, looks healthy enough to extend into 2017.

Industrial metals etf hits new highs despite a strong dollar. Source: MetalMiner analysis of stockcharts.com data

The industrial metals ETF hits new highs despite a strong dollar. Source: MetalMiner analysis of @stockcharts.com data.

Strong Demand

China makes up nearly half of the world’s demand for industrial metals. Chinese demand from infrastructure and construction projects has been robust this year and the release of new manufacturing PMI data confirmed that strong demand. The Caixin manufacturing PMI for October rose to 51.2, the highest reading since July 2014 and betting market expectations.

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The automotive industry is also looking strong. In September, Chinese automobile sales rose 27% from the same period last year. This is the seventh consecutive month in which auto sales have risen and the third consecutive month where growth was above 20%. The growth rate this year is substantially higher than last year. Read more

stainless-nickel-L1Nickel prices remained steady this week, trading in the range of their support and resistance levels, but the future could be an interesting one for the metal.

According to a recent report from the Economic Calendar, a tightening supply chain and increased demand could lend its support to future upside for nickel.

Want a short- and medium-term buying outlook for aluminum, copper, tin, lead, zinc, nickel and several forms of steel? Subscribe to our monthly buying outlook reports!

“There are signs that this year could be finally the turning point for nickel with many expecting the market to be in deficit and so starting the much needed rebalancing process,” Eduard Haegel, asset president of BHP’s Nickel West unit, said at a conference in Perth. “The welcome return to balance over the next few years should see further recovery in nickel prices.”

So far this year, nickel prices have climbed following the Philippines banning several miners due to questionable environmental practices. On the heels of Indonesia’s ban on nickel ore exports, there were concerns this shift in supply would be temporary but both nations have confirmed they will continue their efforts.

Nickel in Line for a Rally?

Our own Raul de Frutos wrote just this week that nickel’s fundamentals favor a move higher, as do their recent consolidation.

“At least both the price action and fundamentals seem to agree with (nickel’s move higher). Buyers should have a good plan in order to protect margins in case of a price increase,” de Frutos wrote.

How will nickel and base metals fare for the remainder of 2016 and into 2017? You can find a more in-depth copper price forecast and outlook in our brand new Monthly Metal Buying Outlook report. For a short- and long-term buying strategy with specific price thresholds:

Most base metals fell this month, pressured by a rising U.S. dollar. Meanwhile, Nickel prices traded almost flat. Why does this matter? This means that despite downward pressure in the metal complex this month, investors are not giving much ground on nickel.

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This price action seems very constructive and chances are that nickel is setting up for a new rally after this consolidation. On top of that, nickel’s fundamentals also favor a move higher:

Nickel prices holding well, setting up for an upside move. Source: MetalMiner analysis of fast markets.com data

Nickel prices are holding well, setting up for an upside move. Source: MetalMiner analysis of Fastmarkets.com data.

First, Indonesia recently announced that the country will “almost definitely” keep in place a ban on nickel ore and bauxite exports. Just a few days ago, nickel investors were concerned that Indonesia was considering lifting the ban. Now that those fears have waned, investors might be more inclined to chase prices higher.

Free Download: The October 2016 MMI Report

Second, The Philippines announced that it will prolong the ban on new mines, reviewing all environmental permits previously granted to nickel producers. The announcement dashes industry hopes that some restrictions may be lifted following the audit that finished in August. The news come after a quarter of the country’s miners have been closed with another 20 of them under the risk of suspension.

What This Means For Nickel Buyers

Nickel prices might be setting up for a move higher. At least both the price action and fundamentals seem to agree with that. Buyers should have a good plan in order to protect margins in case of a price increase.

Allegheny Technologies, Inc. shares tumbled 15% Tuesday after the Pittsburgh-based specialty metals producer reported a larger than expected third quarter loss and missed analyst revenue estimates as well.

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The company lost $530.8 million, or $4.95 per share, vs. a loss of $144.6 million, or $1.35 per share, in the year-ago quarter. Sales fell 7% to $770.5 million. Analysts had expected the company to report an adjusted loss of 10 cents per share and revenue of $822 million.

ATI also announced the permanent closing of the idled Midland stainless steel melt shop and finishing operation in Beaver County, Pa.

It also permanently closed its Bagdad plant in Gilpin, Pa., whichemployed about 225 people. It produced grain-oriented electrical steel prior to the start of the six-month lockout of union workers in August 2015. Midland employed around 250 workers.

“The decision helps provide clarity to some of the people who had hoped that there would be a restart,” ATI spokesman Dan Greenfield said.

In December, the company announced it was mothballing both facilities with the possibility that they would reopen if market conditions for those products improved.

Free Download: The October 2016 MMI Report

Richard Harshman, ATI’s chief executive officer, said that has not happened. He announced the move as part of the company’s third-quarter earnings statement.

Our Stainless MMI rose 4% in September. The complexity and uncertainty of the supply equation is giving support to nickel prices, so far, this year.

Philippines To Close More Mines

Philippine nickel production is down 24% for the first seven months of this year. The Philippines had already suspended eight nickel mines in previous months and more suspensions were expected. On September 27th, the government announced that 20 more of its mines would be suspended for environmental violations.

Stainless_Chart_October-2016_FNL

The suspended mines and those at risk represent nearly 60% of output in the Philippines, the world’s largest producer of nickel ore and top supplier to top buyer China. China’s imports of nickel ore and concentrates from the Philippines fell 21.3% in the first eight months of year to 17.99 million metric tons.The uncertainty surrounding Philippines’s output is the bullish side of nickel’s story.

Indonesia in Play

Meanwhile, it looks like Indonesian production is now in recovery mode. Indonesian supply rose 30% in the first seven months this year. Ferronickel is an intermediate stage product between ore and refined metal, and Indonesian exports of ferronickel to China have surged this year.

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At the same time as refined nickel production in Indonesia is rising, as the popualce wanted, Indonesia is also considering whether to resume raw nickel ore exports. The decision is expected within weeks. Nickel smelters now fear the rule changes as they could weaken nickel prices, especially those companies that make semi-finished and refined metal.

Price Outlook

It’s worth noting that while nickel has performed strongly this year, it’s still well below the levels five years ago when the metal peaked near $29,000/mt. It seems that prices have room on the outside but more tightness is needed in nickel markets.

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Indonesia relaxing the 2014 export ban could add pressure to nickel prices. On the other hand, prices might continue to get a boost while The Philippines keeps on punishing mines that don’t meet environmental standards.

Stainless Markets

The Department of Commerce found that Chinese stainless steel sheet and strip producers illegally dumped — sold at less than fair value — their products in the U.S, assigning a preliminarily dumping margin of 64-77%.

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A lighted underground tunnel in a nickel mine

A lighted underground tunnel in a nickel mine.

Nickel price news from the Philippines as the top nickel producer now has three-quarters of its mines reeling from an audit with 20 mines facing suspension and 10 already in suspension, according to a recent report from Bloomberg.

The mines under fire account for 56% of nickel production by value last year, Leo Jasareno, environment undersecretary, told reporters this week, according to Bloomberg.

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“They have to get their act together,” Gina Lopez, environment secretary told the news source. “We cannot allow any mining company to operate and make millions while the people is suffering. That’s against the law.”

Meanwhile, nickel climbed as much as 2% this week on the London Metal Exchange, its peak since Aug. 12.

“The impact, or the potential impact, warrants a premium,” Daniel Hynes, senior commodities strategist at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd., told the news source, regarding the Philippine mines audit.

Crackdown Boosts Nickel-Ore Prices

In addition to the boost in nickel prices, the Philippine mine shutdowns also highlight worries of how to secure dependable sources of key industrial ores used to make metals, notably in Asia.

“I have no beef against mining, but I am vehemently against what is happening,” Lopez said at a news conference, according to The Wall Street Journal. “There are mining companies that have passed…it can be done.”

How will nickel and base metals fare for the remainder of 2016 and into 2017? You can find a more in-depth copper price forecast and outlook in our brand new Monthly Metal Buying Outlook report. For a short- and long-term buying strategy with specific price thresholds:

 

After gaining sharply in June and July, our Stainless MMI retraced last month. Nickel’s rally cooled down in August after a pick up in Indonesian ferronickel supply rekindled previous fears of a global supply shortage.

Philippines Supply Declines

In June and July, nickel rallied as the Philippines reviewed all existing mines in order to close those that had adverse impacts on the environment.

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At least eight nickel mines have been shut down so far this year, cutting around 10% of the country’s capacity.

Stainless_Chart_September-2016_FNL

The Philippines is by far the largest nickel ore supplier to China since Indonesia imposed an export ban for unprocessed material back in 2014. Recent numbers are already showing this decline in production. For the first seven months, China imported 13.84 million metric tons from the Philippines, down 27% from the same period last year.

The current disruptions in the Philippines have no doubt tightened the market for nickel ore triggering a price rally this year. However, in August investors questioned whether this shortage in China’s nickel-pig iron industry will actually translate into a shortage of nickel in the global market.

Indonesian Refined Nickel Supply Picks Up

While supply of nickel ore to China is declining due to current disruptions in the Philippines, supply of refined nickel to China is rising as Indonesia ramps up production.

China’s imports of ferronickel from Indonesia came at a five-times higher-rate than the amount taken in the same month a year earlier. For the first seven months, China’s imports of ferronickel from Indonesia surged more than four-fold to 390,700 mt. Comparing apples to apples, the nickel content of the year to date of ferronickel exports equals about 4 million mt of nickel, slightly less than the 4.13 mmt loss in the Philippines so far this year.

For this reason, we hear some analysts saying that China isn’t importing less nickel, it is just changing the form in which it imports the metal. And, as prices retrace, it’s no wonder that this reminds us to what happened just two years ago when nickel prices soared to then fall precipitously.

Is This Time Different?

Back 2014, nickel prices surged as Indonesia prohibited ore exports. However, prices sold-off later on as miners in the Philippines moved into the trade. This time, it’s the other way around. Environmental restrictions are shrinking supply in the Philippines while Indonesia is making up for that loss.

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While prices fell in August, we need to be reminded that prices don’t move in a straight line and that, so far, the decline seems like normal after nickel gained over 30% in June and July. Also, there are two other factors that make us think that the decline won’t be as severe as back in 2014:

  • Back in 2014, nickel prices rose independently while the rest of the industrial metal complex was falling. This time, it’s not only nickel but we also see many industrial metals rising. The bullish sentiment on base metals this year should help limit nickel’s fall.
  • It’s barely been a month since the Philippines started to shut down mines and volumes may be squeezed further after the shutdowns accounting for about 15% of output. Recently, the Philippines’ mining minister said that there will absolutely be more suspensions following the eight already suspended.

For these reasons, we wouldn’t turn bearish on nickel just yet…

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3M LME Nickel. Source: MetalMiner analysis of fastmarkets data

Three-month LME Nickel. Source: MetalMiner analysis of Fastmarkets.com data.

After a two-month rally in June and July, nickel prices are retracing in August. What caused nickel to rally and what is causing prices to fall in August?

Philippines Supply Down

In June and July, nickel rallied as the Philippines reviewed all existing mines in order to close those that had adverse impacts on the environment. At least eight nickel mines have been shut down so far this year, cutting around 10% of the country’s capacity.

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The Philippines is by far the largest nickel ore supplier to China since Indonesia imposed an export ban for unprocessed material back in 2014. Lower production is already showing up in the export numbers. For the first seven months, China imported 13.84 million metric tons from the Philippines, down 27% from the same period last year.

The current disruptions in the Philippines have no doubt tightened the market for nickel ore triggering a price rally this year. However, will this shortage in China’s nickel-pig iron industry translate into a shortage of nickel in the global market?

Indonesian Refined Nickel Supply Up

While supply of nickel ore to China is declining, supply of refined nickel to China is rising. For the first seven months, China’s imports of ferronickel from Indonesia have surged more than four-fold to 390,700 mt. Comparing apples to apples, the nickel content of the year to date ferronickel exports equal to about 4 million mt of nickel, slightly less than the 4.13 mmt loss in the Philippines so far this year.

For this reason, we hear some analysts saying that China isn’t importing less nickel, it is just changing the form in which it imports the metal.

What’s Different From 2014?

Nickel prices surged back in 2014 to later come down. Source: MetalMiner analysis of fastmarkets data

Nickel prices surged back in 2014 to later come down. Source: MetalMiner analysis of fastmarkets.com data.

Back 2014, nickel prices surged as Indonesia prohibited ore exports. However, prices sold-off later on as miners in the Philippines moved into the trade. This time, it’s the other way around. Environmental restrictions are shrinking supply in the Philippines while Indonesia is making up for that loss.

Free Download: The August 2016 MMI Report

While prices have fallen in August, so far the decline seems like a normal price retracement after nickel gained over 30% in June and July. Also, there are two other factors that make us think that the decline won’t be as severe as it was in 2014:

  • Back in 2014, nickel prices rose independently while the rest of the industrial metal complex was falling. This time, it’s not only nickel but we also see many industrial metals rising, which bodes well for rising nickel prices.
  • It’s barely been a month since the Philippines started to shut down mines and volumes may be squeezed further after the shutdowns accounting for about 15% of output.

What This Means For Metal Buyers

The supply and demand balance for the coming months will depend on how many more mines the Philippines shut down versus how much more ferronickel/refined nickel Indonesia continues to supply. So far, we believe it’s to early to call for the end of nickel’s bull run.

Nickel symbol handheld in front of the periodic tableNickel futures traded down Tuesday this week due in part to a burgeoning overseas trend and subdued demand.

The London Metal Exchange was the source of this weakening trend with sluggish demand attributed to alloy makers in the domestic spot market, according to a report from The Economic Times.

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Nickel wasn’t alone in its LME downward trend as most industrial metals retreated on the heels of commentary from the Federal Reserve, which fueled speculation that U.S. borrowing costs will rise in the coming year. Read more