Our Stainless MMI lost 3 points in March, essentially losing what it gained in February.
Industrial metals continued their rally during the first quarter but nickel didn’t fare as well. Prices are still significantly higher than they were one year ago, but investors are now finding little reason to be any more bullish than bearish due to a complex supply narrative.
On March 13, The Philippines’ president Rodrigo Duterte, threatened to stop all mining in the country. Despite the potential for more closures, investors doubted that Duterte would enforce such strict regulations. Duterte still supports Department of the Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Regina Lopez; the Philippines’ mining industry hoped for the Commission on Appointments (CA) to reject Lopez as the Environment secretary in March.
However, lawmakers decided to postpone confirming or rejecting Lopez as the head of the department. Further confirmation hearings are expected to take place in May.
This will be an important thing to watch over the next weeks. A rejection would give miners a key win in the battle against environmentalists, potentially adding pressure to nickel prices.
According to an Indonesian Mining Ministry official, the ministry has issued export recommendations for state-controlled miner PT Aneka Tambang (Antam) to allow the company export 2.7 million metric tons of nickel ore over the next 12 months. The recommendation has yet to be officially issued by the mining ministry. Antam said in February that it had stockpiles of an estimated 5 million wet metric tons of low-grade nickel ore that was ready to ship.
Indonesia was the world’s top nickel ore exporter before it imposed a ban on unprocessed nickel ore exports in 2014. This year, prices have felt downward pressure on reports that Indonesia’s partial lift of the export ban, announced in January, may result in higher volumes of ore hitting the market. Also in March, Hong Kong-listed China Hanking Holdings announced its intention to restart a low-grade nickel mine it closed in 2014. The restart is at a relatively small scale, but it rises concerns of further supply hitting the market.
What This Means For Metal Buyers
Nickel prices are struggling to make headway this year. Nickel’s supply narrative is rather complex and it’s exposed to significant changes depending on what policy makers in Indonesia and The Philippines do next. On the other hand, stainless buyers should continue to monitor their price risk exposure. Investors’ sentiment on industrial metals remains bullish and that could still trigger unexpected prices swings on the upside.
Exact Stainless MMI and Nickel Prices, Trends
The Allegheny Ludlum 316 stainless surcharge rose 4% to $0.76 per pound. The 304 stainless surcharges inched up 1% to finish at $0.60 per pound. The price of Chinese primary nickel fell 8% over the month to $12,031 per metric ton. The three-month nickel price on the LME fell 9% in March and finished at $10,000/mt.