nickel price

Nickel was said to be in a supply deficit last year of 209,000 metric tons, according to Bloomberg, and is projected to remain in deficit this year to the tune of 188,000 mt.

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The Philippines has just ordered the closure of 21 mines and the suspension of another six. The island chain is a source of around half of the country’s nickel output. After Indonesia’s 2014 export ban, the Philippines became the world’s largest exporter of nickel ore and the primary supplier to China’s massive nickel-pig iron industry, raw material for the alloying of stainless steel.

Stagnant Prices

Yet, while there has been an uptick in prices, nickel’s performance can hardly be said to have been stellar. Since the middle of the summer the London Metal Exchange‘s LMEX index of six key base metals is up almost 18% yet nickel has risen by only 1.2%.

Deficit or not, the market does not seem to be in short supply yet. Between Indonesia and the Philippines the two countries produced about 700,000 metric tons of nickel a year in 2014 and 2015, with about 170,000 mt of that coming from Indonesia due to the export ban.

Chinese buyers simply switched to the Philippines as supplies dried up from Indonesia and drew down on extensive stocks they had amassed in advance of the export ban. Just as the Philippines’ new firebrand environment and natural resources secretary, Regina Lopez, moved to close environmentally damaging open pit mines, Indonesia is increasing exports again. Investors have their eye on a probable surplus towards the end of the decade as both countries return to some level of consistent supply. This graph illustrates the rise of the Philippines and since the export ban the relative decline of Indonesian shipments.

Nickel production

Nickel from major producers in the last nine years. Source: U.S. Geological Survey.

Of course, it’s not clear at this stage how quickly mining companies will be able to implement stricter environmental conditions that are likely to be applied by the new administration of Philippines President Roderigo Duterte, but it would seem that the action is not unjustified with comments in the Financial Times describing the Philippines’ nickel supply chain as an environmental disaster. Read more

On Thursday, the Philippines ordered the closure of 21 mines, and seven others could be suspended. The country previously suspended nickel mines last year. The nickel mines recently ordered to shut down account for about 50% of the country’s annual output.

Nickel Prices Rebound

Nickel Rebounds on news of the Philippines’ shutdowns. Source: MetalMiner analysis of data.

Nickel rose sharply on the news. Over the last few weeks, nickel prices were struggling to make headway as investors feared that the easing of the Indonesian export ban would bring more ore supply into global markets.

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Now we have two factors, Indonesia’s easing of its export ban and the Philippines’ shutdowns, that could drive prices in opposite directions. However, as we explained recently, the mining shutdowns in the Philippines are likely to be a greater driver of prices.

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It’s been all quiet on the nickel front recently as the metal is essentially even as the Chinese Lunar New Year Holiday approaches.

According to a recent report from the Economic Calendar, nickel prices ended Tuesday slightly higher due to a lower U.S. dollar, which offset the slight decline nickel saw on Monday this week.

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Wrote Leia Toovey for Economic Calendar: “Chinese businesses and markets will close on Jan. 27 and factories will remain closed for at least a week. With business activity at a standstill, demand for base metals from its top consumer will remain muted while there will also be fewer speculators placing their bets. With Chinese buyers absent, nickel is likely to garner the majority of its price momentum from the US dollar.”

Nickel Miners to Boost Exports?

Our own Stuart Burns recently wrote that Indonesian nickel miners might soon be allowed to export up to 5.2 million tons fo low-grade nickel ore a year. Burns wrote:

“The intent seems now to be to allow nickel miners to export providing they dedicate at least 30% of their smelter capacity to processing low-grade ore, defined as below 1.7% nickel. They can then export any excess capacity they have. That said, this move means that up to 70% of Indonesia’s nickel production capacity could potentially be put on the market, which would be equivalent to around 14% of global capacity.”

How will nickel and base metals fare in 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:

Or at least if that wasn’t the intent, it’s likely how the smelters feel.

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In an about face on Indonesia’s 2014 export ban across a range of minerals, Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Ignasius Jonan said this week that local miners might be allowed to export up to 5.2 million tons of low-grade nickel ore a year, partially reversing the ban intended to force buyers to set up value-add refining facilities in Indonesia.

The export ban has been relatively successful. Export volumes, of course, plummeted from about 60 million metric tons before the 2014 ban was enforced but new refineries have been set up and refined volumes of value-add material have increased. Read more

An Indonesian Finance Ministry official said the government may not be done tinkering with export tax rules involving raw ore just yet. The island nation’s Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry partially lifted a ban on raw ore exports late last week.

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“We want the export duties to push domestic processing. That’s the principle,” Suahasil Nazara, head of the Fiscal Policy Office at the Finance Ministry, told reporters, adding that the taxes were “not just for increasing state revenues. There’s a high possibility we will continue with a scheme that has layers, depending on completion of smelters.”

Outokumpu Adds to North American Stainless Rebar Line

Outokumpu recently unveiled a new stainless rebar offering for the North American market at the World of Concrete trade show in Las Vegas.

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Following an expansion of its stainless rebar capabilities at its facilities in Richburg, S.C., Outokumpu will now sell stainless rebar in coil, cut-to-length or in bent shapes. The Richburg facility has capabilities to cover a full range of rebar dimensions between sizes #3 and #8 (from .375 inches to 1 inch) and lengths up to 60 feet, and will offer short lead times for customers in North America.

Indonesia issued significant new mining rules last Thursday that will relax its ban on exports of nickel ore. Over the weekend, I went to check analysts’ opinions on this new development. Not surprisingly, almost everyone thinks this is bearish news for nickel prices.

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I am often a contrarian and this time, of course, I have a different opinion. I think the outcome of this revision is bullish for prices. What’s more, I think this is a great opportunity to buy nickel since prices might trade above today’s levels for the rest of the year.

Indonesian Nickel Ban

Before we get to analyze the price impact of the new rules, let’s quickly review what the ban was about in the first place:

Indonesia imposed an export ban for unprocessed material — essentially raw ore — back in 2014. “A year before the ban kicked in, Indonesia exported around 60 million [metric] tons of nickel ore,” according to Reuters. Nickel ore contains an average of 1 to 3.5% of nickel. Indonesia banned exports to encourage downstream investment as this would eventually be better for the country, as it would generate more revenue as the material is processed domestically and it would build a local processing industry. Read more

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.

MetalMiner Price Benchmarking: Current and Historical Prices for the Metals You Buy

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.

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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.

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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.

MetalMiner Price Benchmarking: Current and Historical Prices for the Metals You Buy

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 prices could find support soon

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

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.

Copper prices exploded in November. After this stellar rally it was normal to expect some selling pressure. However, if the bulls are still in control, they should come back to support prices soon. If prices start to rebound from these levels, copper buyers will find a good opportunity to buy some volume.


Zinc prices pullback near support levels

Zinc prices pullback near support levels. Source: MetalMiner analysis of data.

According to the International Lead and Zinc Supply Group, the global market for refined zinc metal was in deficit by 277,000 metric tons from January to October 2016 with total reported inventories falling by 53,000 mt over the same period. The Group anticipates that global usage in 2016 will exceed production by 349,000 mt and expects the market to remain in a deficit of 280,000 mt next year.

During this year’s rally, zinc buyers had several opportunities to buy forward. Buyers now need to pay close attention to the recent price pull back. If you see a rebound in prices near that support level, that would be a good time to buy some volume.


Lead prices pullback near support levels

Lead prices pullback near support levels. Source: MetalMiner analysis of data.

Zinc’s cousin, lead, is also retracing near an area where we should see investors coming in to support prices. If this year’s bull market is set to continue, which for now we continue to expect it to do so, lead buyers will find a good opportunity to time their purchases if prices rebound at these levels.


Nickel prices pull back near support levels

Nickel prices pull back near support levels. Source: MetalMiner analysis of data.

The Philippines’ output of nickel ore fell 16% in the third quarter from a year earlier, as a result of several mine suspensions due to environmental violations. The country has already stopped work at 10 of its 41 mines, eight of which are nickel mines. 20 More mines, 14 of which mine nickel, could see their licenses suspended.

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In December prices are retracing, but if this uptrend is to continue investors will likely find these levels attractive to buy nickel, lifting prices.

What This Means For Metal Buyers

Once you identify you are in a bull market, buying in the dips is usually a good strategy to satisify some of your metal requirements. As metal prices pull back in December, metal buyers might find good opportunities to time purchases if momentum turns upwards again.

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