nickel

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

Tin prices are up as shipments have fallen off and the Philippines is, once again, considering a raw ore export ban in a bid to bolster local processing.

Tin Shipments Fall, Prices Rise

Falling shipments from top tin exporter Indonesia and predictions that a surge in mining in Myanmar is tapering off has led to a scramble for the metal, sending inventories to the lowest level in over seven-and-a-half years.

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This provides a potential for further price gains for the metal mainly used to make solder for the electronics industry, already the second-best performer among industrial metals this year.

Filipino Lawmaker Revives Ore Ban

A Filipino lawmaker has revived a proposal to ban exports of unprocessed minerals to spur domestic processing, in a move that may tighten global nickel supply and make it an even tougher business environment for miners in the world’s top producer.

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The Philippines has vast but largely untapped mineral resources, limiting the contribution of mining to its economy to less than 1%. The sector is now facing a tough regime under the government of firebrand President Rodrigo Duterte who has suspended some miners causing environmental destruction.

We rarely see such positive growth in metal prices as we did in the August MMI Price Trends Report.

MM-IndX_TRENDS_Chart_August2016_FNL-TOPVALUE100

All the metals we track were up save for Aluminum, which fell only 1.3%, and renewables and rare earths, which held flat. The Stainless Steel MMI increased 9% amid uncertainty about Chinese nickel ore supply after mining crackdowns in top supplier, the Philippines.

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Meanwhile, the most bullish of bull runs continued for our Global Precious MMI which added a 7.2% increase to its jump last month to knock on the door of the top 10% of the IndX. The platinum group metals had strong increases along with gold and silver this month.

Wall Street Bull

“Hey metal buyers, remember me?” Wall Street bull courtesy of iStock.

Palladium, particularly, made higher highs and stumbled to lower lows in classic bull market fashion.

So buy quickly before prices increase more, right? Wrong. Our Raw Steels MMI posted a healthy 4% increase, but it’s still heavily dependent on China’s stimulus programs to keep demand up in the largest global consumer of steel products. If there is a pullback in stimulus, prices could fall dramatically. The same is true for copper.

Unlike diamonds, bullish trends in commodities and industrial metals don’t last forever. Continue to make informed buying decisions in this thriving market — watch China’s stimulus program and the strength of the U.S. dollar post- Brexit — and remember that today’s price strength might be tomorrow’s carpet getting pulled out from under your feet.

Vale SA is looking to sell part of its future iron ore output for Chinese cash today and the Philippines’ nickel mining crackdown has claimed its seventh victim.

Vale Brings in Chinese Investors

Brazil’s Vale SA is considering raising as much as $10 billion from the sale of up to 3% of future iron ore output to undisclosed Chinese companies, two sources with direct knowledge of the matter said.

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Under terms of the deal, Vale, the world’s biggest iron ore producer, would receive streaming financing from the companies.

Philippines’ Crackdown Claims 7th Nickel Miner

The Philippine government has suspended the operations of a seventh nickel miner, Claver Mineral Development Corp., a minister said on Thursday, deepening an environmental crackdown that has caused jitters in global nickel markets.

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The Philippines is the biggest supplier of nickel ore to top market China and the suspension of some mines and the risk of more closures sent global nickel prices to an 11-month high of $10,900 a metric ton on July 21.

Nickel price investment trading arrow going up rising strong indDespite nickel prices going on a hot streak — having climbed 40% since bottoming out at the beginning of the year — many nickel miners are seeing diminishing returns on their production.

According to a recent report from the Financial Post, Sherritt International Corp., a Canadian nickel miner, announced recently that more than half of global output is losing money with the percentage of underwater production even higher when capital spending and other costs are factored in.

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“This rally in the last few weeks is perhaps more robust than some false starts we’ve had over the last year,” David Pathe, chief executive at Sherritt, told the Financial Post. “But it’s got a ways to go before we think we’re at a long-term nickel price that’s sustainable.”

Prior to the recent surge, nickel prices had been a victim to lagging demand, rising inventories and supply from the Philippines in recent years. The recent increase in nickel prices has been partially attributed to speculation that new environmental regulations from the Philippine government will spur mine closures yet only a few small mines have actually been shut down so far, the Financial Post stated.

Nickel Imports Rise

According to a recent piece from our own Raul de Frutos, nickel, along with zinc, have benefited from higher demand coming from China.

de Frutos stated: “In the case of nickel, the supply shortage comes as the new mining minister in the Philippines, Regina Lopez, said that there would be a ban on fresh mining exploration in the country for a month while all existing mines are being reviewed. At present, the Philippines is the top supplier of nickel ore to China and these new developments have sparked concerns about ore supply to China.”

You can find a more in-depth nickel price forecast and outlook in our brand new Monthly Metal Buying Outlook report. Check it out to receive short- and long-term buying strategies with specific price thresholds.

 

Alcoa, Inc., recently opened a state-of-the-art, 3D printing metal powder production facility in its Pittsburgh area Alcoa Technology Center.

Free Download: The July 2016 MMI Report

The lightweight metals center will produce proprietary titanium, nickel and aluminum powders optimized for 3D printed aerospace parts. Alcoa has invested in a range of technologies to further develop additive manufacturing processes, product design and qualification.

Alcoa Technology Center

The Alcoa Technology Center near Pittsburgh has been expanded to accommodate new research into 3D printing technology. Source: Alcoa

“Alcoa is forging a leadership path in additive manufacturing with a sharp focus on the critical input material—metal powders,” said Alcoa Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Klaus Kleinfeld. “We are combining our expertise in metallurgy, manufacturing, design and product qualification to push beyond the possibilities of today’s 3D printing technologies for aerospace and other growth markets.”

Arconic Will Inherit 3D Printing Research

The facility will form part of the spin-off, value-added metals company Arconic following separation from Alcoa’s traditional commodity business in the second half of 2016. The plant is part of a $60 million investment in 3D printing materials and processes that builds on the Alcoa’ 3D printing capabilities in California, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Texas. Read more

Before anyone with shares in nickel mines goes out and orders their new Maserati, a word or two of caution is in order.

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Yes, by some accounts nickel swung into deficit this year after five years of surpluses as global demand rose by some 4% and supply has been constrained by a lack of new investment, Indonesia’s export ban on nickel ore exports and, more recently, a fall in exports from challenger Chinese supplier, the Philippines where low prices have reduced output.

Investors Are Cashing In

The euphoria among investors is not simply due to a change in outlook. Nickel prices have surged this year by some 13% according to the Financial Times with the latest boost coming from the Philippines’ new environmentalist mining minister Gina Lopez, who has announced plans to audit domestic mines for compliance with environmental standards, the expectation is up to 70% could fail resulting in them potentially having their licenses revoked. Two have already lost their licenses. Read more

Our Stainless MMI rose to 55 points in July thanks to a recovery in nickel prices. Nickel finally climbed to five-digit territory in July, trading near $10,000 per metric ton on the London Metal Exchange, its highest level in eight months.

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A factor supporting nickel prices this year is expectations of lower nickel pig-iron ore exports from the Philippines. Ore producers in the Philippines warned earlier this year that they would cut production due to low prices. So far, Chinese imports of Philippine ore fell by 27% in the first five months of the year.

Stainless_Chart_July-2016_FNL

But price momentum picked up last month following recent news that the Philippine government would review all mining operations in the country. The new President-elect, Rodrigo Duterte, ran on an anti-mining platform and could impose an Indonesian-style raw ore ban, which could potentially disrupt supplies for Chinese buyers.

New Philippine Government

In addition, the new mining minister, Regina Lopez — a committed environmentalist — provided the latest trigger for a rally after saying that there would be a ban on fresh mining exploration in the country for a month while all existing mines are being reviewed.

The expectation is that mines could potentially have their licenses revoked. At the beginning of July, the Philippines already ordered the suspension of operations at two nickel ore mines for environmental violations and the government halted the issuance of exploration permits as a nationwide crackdown led by the mining minister begins.

Nickel’s Bullish Backers

This bullish price action also follows a broad recovery in the whole metal complex this year, which gives more credibility to nickel’s bulls. Our historical analysis shows that a metal has far greater upside potential when the overall commodities market is in bullish mode, while its chances of going down increase in a falling commodities market. While we continue to see bullish sentiment in commodity markets, investors will continue to react in a bullish manner on news like potential supply cuts in the Philippines.

On the other hand, not everything is bullish about nickel. Most analysts call for a deficit this year due to stainless mills having to rely more on refined nickel. This deficit would follow a five-year period of surplus but estimates are for a deficit of less than 100,000 mt this year. That is not a big number considering that LME and Shanghai Futures Exchange inventories currently account for around 500,000 mt combined, at least five times more than the expected deficit.

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This week, we saw nickel prices reach an eight-month high as metals suddenly became a sexy pick for investors again. Gold hit a two-year high as worried stockholders abandoned markets and looked for safe havens after the tempest created by Brexit.

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This week was more about markets shaking out from the initial shock of the U.K. actually voting to leave the European Union. U.K. politicians tried to stress stability, assuring India’s Tata Steel that the nation is still offering a lucrative equity stake and pension relief deal to keep the company’s sprawling Port Talbot, South Wales, steelworks open. Of course, Tata’s not buying it. At least not yet, as the whole steel deal making landscape has shifted in Europe. Could be that Tata just realized it has all of the leverage right now and U.K. politicians will have to sweeten the pot to keep Port Talbot’s doors open.

Are gold prices really going to keep rising? Source: Adobe Stock/Nikonomad.

Gold is up as investors look to shield their money from volatile stock markets.  Source: Adobe Stock/Nikonomad.

But things aren’t all unicorns and rainbows back in the E.U., either. Regulators in Germany are investigating the novel idea of a buyers’ price fixing cartel. You heard that right. Not a conspiracy of sellers to fix prices — like when Apple and several publishers colluded to set e-book prices and we all got Amazon credits for it — but one by German automakers and original equipment manufacturers such as BMW, Volkswagen, Robert Bosch, ZF Friedrichshafen and Daimler to somehow fix prices of the steel that they buy to create the cars they sell.

The fact that the buyers don’t have the power to set prices like sellers do did not deter the Federal Cartel Office, also known as the Bundeskartellamt, an independent “higher federal authority” established to protect competition in Germany.

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MetalMiner Executive Editor and Co-Founder Lisa Reisman pointed out that it’s highly unlikely that all six companies decided that they would collude to extract steel price concessions from Germany’s largest steelmaker ThyssenKrupp AG, leaving ThyssenKrupp without a home for all of that hot-dipped galvanized steel it’s trying to sell to automakers. In that scenario, where would Germany’s automakers go for all of their steel? China? The U.S.? Good luck with your investigation, Bundeskartellamt.

Nickel prices finally climbed to five-digit territory on Monday.

Free Download: The June 2016 MMI Report

Nickel on the London Metal Exchange finally broke above resistance levels that limited any price surge for the past eight consecutive months.

3M LME Nickel hits 8-month high. Source:fastmarkets.com

3-month LME Nickel hits an eight-month high. Source: Fastmarkets.com

This bullish price action follows a broad recovery in the whole metal complex this year, which gives more credibility to nickel’s bulls.

Industrial Metals ETF hits 11-month high. Source: stockcharts.com

The Industrial Metals ETF hits an 11-month high. Source: Stockcharts.com

Our historical analysis shows that a metal has far greater upside potential when the overall commodities market is in bullish mode, while its chances of going down increase in a falling commodities market. Although nickel’s fundamentals don’t look that bullish, the metal is definitely getting a boost as more investors jump into the industrial metal complex. In the chart above we see how base metals are on the rise since January.

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Another factor helping nickel prices are expectations of lower nickel pig-iron exports from  the Philippines. Ore producers in the Philippines warned earlier this year that they would cut production due to low prices. So far, Chinese imports of Philippine ore fell by 27% in the first five months of the year. Read more