nickel price

Indonesia introduced new rules last week that will allow exports of nickel ore and bauxite and concentrates of other minerals under certain conditions in a sweeping policy shift by the key global supplier, Reuters reported.

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A ban on unprocessed ore exports was imposed in 2014 to, the thinking went, encourage investment in mills and smelters in the islands. The government of Southeast Asia’s biggest economy has faced a hefty budget deficit since and missed its 2016 revenue target by $17.6 billion.

The resumption of shipments may have been drafted to help stop the gap.

The new regulations, which took effect on Wednesday, sent nickel prices tumbling more than 5% to a four-month low of $9,660 a metric ton before they recovered.

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The rules include broad changes to permit extensions, which may now be applied for up to five years in advance of expiration, as well as new divestment requirements.

Our Stainless MMI fell by two points in December after a mixed performance.

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On the one side, surcharges for 304 and 316 stainless steel rose by 34% and 25% respectively, as the chrome portion of the benchmark jumped month-on-month. The mill-announced price increase, combined with higher surcharges, marks the largest month-on-month increase seen in recent history.

On the other hand, nickel prices retraced in December on profit-taking across the industrial metals complex. Nickel prices are now at attractive levels wherein we could see investors pushing prices back up. That will depend on upcoming news that will either boost them or send prices lower. One thing is for sure: volatility is guaranteed in the weeks ahead.

Will Indonesia Relax its Export Ban?

Indonesia banned raw ore exports in 2014 to stop mineral wealth disappearing overseas. The country was the top supplier of nickel ore to China for use in (nickel pig-iron) stainless steel before the export ban. Indonesia hoped that the band would encourage smelter investment, but investments haven’t exactly progressed as quickly as expected.

In recent months, rumors are that the Indonesian government is relaxing its export ban. In October, Luhut Pandjaitan, Indonesia’s then-acting mining minister, said that Indonesia was reviewing its mining rules and that the country could could give companies up to five more years to build smelters, and reopen exports of nickel ore banned since 2014. However, soon after he was quoted saying Indonesia would “almost definitely” keep in place a ban on nickel ore and bauxite exports. Which is it?

Many smelters were hoping that they could temporarily export ore to raise funds for downstream investment. Nobody knows what Indonesian’s final decision will be, but the consensus in the market now seems to be shifting towards Indonesia permitting some exports. This fear might explain why nickel prices haven’t really picked up like metals such as zinc or tin.

Others think that there won’t be any relaxation of exports of nickel ore and bauxite. Investors have already spent billions of dollars on smelters in Indonesia. Easing the ban would risk risk flooding the overseas market and undermining prices. Those investors wouldn’t be very happy about that, as it would contradict promises by the nation’s president.

I personally think it would be an unwise move to ease the ban but any outcome is still possible. Stainless buyers need to keep in mind that a relaxation of the ban could put downward pressure on nickel prices while Indonesia keeping the ban in place would have the opposite effect.

Filipino supply

When Indonesia introduced the ban in 2014, the Philippines ramped up production to fill the gap, but the country’s mining industry is now facing a raft of closures for environmental reasons. The Philippines and the still relatively new Duterte administration have already halted the operation of 10 mines and another 20 face suspension.

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Before the month ends, the country is expected to determine which of these 20 mines will be suspended. Last month, Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Regina Lopez was confident that more mines will be suspended.

What This Means For Metal Buyers

Nickel prices fell in December but remember that the overall sentiment in the metals complex is still bullish. If Indonesia keeps its export ban in place and The Philippines suspend more mines, investors will significantly lift prices from current levels.

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Nickel prices edged up higher to end the year in the futures market following speculators widening their positions.

According to a report from the Economic Times, the spot nickel market is seeing a trend of increased demand from alloy makers and other industries that consume the metal. This has covered up short positions from speculators ahead of monthly figures, influencing nickel futures.

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!

A report from Economic Calendar last week found nickel prices hovering near year-long highs. Closing this year on a positive note can be attributed to a tightening supply chain for the metal.

Writes Donald Levit for the news source: “While the supply side adjustments was the major price driver, an improvement in demand also contributed to the rally. While nickel has soared, continued potential for further supply cutbacks have continued to push the metal higher, and last week news of a potential, major shutdown added even more upside impetus to nickel’s rally.”

Nickel Mine Suspensions Also in Play

The Economic Calendar report also announced the closure of the second-largest nickel miner in the Philippines, pending an appeal. This suspension (as it stands) would have a significant impact on the supply and demand balance for today’s nickel market.

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:

I get it, you are thinking of what you are going to get your family for Christmas. However, Santa is bringing you good opportunities to buy some metals. Don’t miss them.

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Base metals entered a bull market earlier this year. The real driver of this bull market has been the stronger-than-expected Chinese demand. Markets underestimated Beijing’s determination not to disappoint on its growth numbers. Thanks to the country’s increase in infrastructure spending, industrial metal prices are getting a tailwind.

The metals rally particularly extended in November. However, prices don’t just move in a straight line. If they move up quickly, buyers are tempted to take their profits until markets digest those gains. This is normal price action and why we normally see prices moving in a zig-zag. In the second half of December, there’s already been some profit taking and as prices pull back, buyers can find good opportunities to time some purchases. Let’s take a few examples:

Copper

Copper prices could find support soon

Copper prices could find support soon. Source: MetalMiner analysis of Fastmartkets.com.

Almost no analyst was bullish on copper prior to this rally, but it seems that the market now sees the possibility of a market deficit next year as almost no supply is due to come on-stream while demand seems robust. Read more

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.

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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.

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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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