Our Stainless MMI held steady at 59 for the second consecutive month.
Nickel prices are hovering near the lows of 2009. That level is giving support to prices as traders remain hesitant on whether nickel prices can go below recession levels. While other base metals are still trading comfortably above recession lows, nickel could be the first industrial metal hitting that psychological level.
Another factor supporting prices this month is the speculation that Glencore Plc, the world’s fifth-largest producer of nickel, could cut nickel production following cuts to its copper and zinc output to reduce its heavy debt levels. Moreover, other industry shutdowns could follow given that 60% of the world’s nickel is estimated to be non-profitable at current price levels.
Can Prices Go Up?
Some analysts argue that Philippine ore won’t be sufficient to cover nickel pig-iron (NPI) producers’ capacity in China, tightening the nickel market. However, Indonesia is already working on producing more NPI, as the country is pushing to win more profit from its mineral sources. Chinese producer Tsingshan Group is set to triple its capacity to produce NPI in Indonesia as soon as May, having an installed capacity of 900,000 metric tons of NPI.
Even though nickel’s supply-demand dynamics may actually be tightening, the market is facing other problems:
High Stock Prices
A period of super-fast production growth has left record high inventories. Although LME stocks declined in October, they are still above 400,000 Tons, almost 5 times higher than in 2011. Such a huge overhang of metal is pressuring prices, removing any hopes of market deficit.
The slowdown in Chinese demand is keeping a lid on any price increase. Moreover, investors fear that the worse is yet to come. So far, demand woes are trampling supply woes, underscoring that significant price increases won’t likely happen until demand fears vanish.
Finally, rumors of an increase in US interest rates from the Federal Reserve are pushing the dollar higher. The dollar index is surging as foreign currencies tumble. This is another, and not less important, factor that will continue pressuring nickel prices.
What This Means For Metal Buyers
There is no point in making predictions. After this pause, nickel prices could go both ways but we wouldn’t discard the possibility of nickel falling below the lows of 2009. Buying only small quantities remains the dominant purchasing strategy but buyers should watch nickel’s support and resistance levels to be ready to change their strategy.
The Allegheny Ludlum 316 stainless surcharge fell 4% to $0.51 per pound. The price of Chinese primary nickel rose 2% over the month to $12,140 per metric ton. The three-month nickel price finished the month on the LME finished flat at $10,140 per metric ton. Chinese 304 stainless steel scrap closed the month at $1,195 per metric ton after rising 1%.