US Nickel and Zinc Imports Headed in Opposite Directions

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MetalMiner welcomes guest contributor Chelsea Craven of Zepol Corporation, a Minneapolis-based trade intelligence company. 

US Nickel Imports: Mounting

From the cell phone you carry, to the car you drive in to, heck, the coins kicking around your home, nickel can be found in more places than you would think. When cities construct more buildings and power plants, the importance of nickel rises along with them.

This may explain why the demand for unwrought nickel alloy has been booming recently in the United States. As the economy returns to pre-recession levels, more nickel is required to get the jobs done.

In terms of imports, nickel has certainly shown an impressive increase.

Graph courtesy of Zepol Corp.

So far this year, nickel imports have risen nearly 40 percent compared with last year. About 65 percent of nickel imported into the United States comes from Australia, the United Kingdom, and Germany. Other prominent producers include South Korea and Russia.

Do booming nickel imports mean our economy will follow suit and show a “boom” as well? We’ll continue to dream for now.

US Zinc Imports: Sinking

Zinc, like nickel, has a plethora of uses in materials from brass to automotive parts to electrical equipment. Unlike nickel, however, demand for zinc imports into the United States has dropped significantly in recent months.

Imports of unwrought zinc alloys amounted to nearly $10 million in March of this year and the next month amounted to just $1.5 million, as seen in the graph below.

Graph courtesy of Zepol Corp.

The majority of zinc alloys bound for the United States originate in Canada and Mexico. The bulk of the decrease seen in the graph is due to less zinc coming from Canada, while Mexico has actually increased production in recent months.

While zinc alloy has decreased this year, non-alloyed zinc has seen an increase in U.S. imports. More importers are turning towards non-alloyed zinc as the preferred form for importation.

Nickel Prices, Zinc Prices Up and Down

The price is right for imports of nickel alloys, not so much for zinc alloys. The price per kilogram of air and vessel imports of nickel was $24.64 in 2011. Calculating this figure for 2012, we get $22.74 — that’s an 8 percent drop. For zinc alloys, the price per kilogram was $3.09 in 2011 and has risen to $6.18 so far for 2012 — almost double the cost in one year. [Note: The following HTS Codes were used for this analysis: 7502.20 (Nickel Alloys) and 7901.20 (Zinc Alloys).]

The recent pricing trends follow suit with US demand for the metals; how long can this trend continue?

Ed. note: any/all viewpoints in this article regarding nickel/zinc market movement do not necessarily reflect those of the MetalMiner editorial staff.

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