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This morning in metals, zinc and nickel dropped to their lowest prices in over a week, another country hints at retaliation vis-a-vis potential U.S. Section 232 tariffs and Chinese steel mills are looking to increase output before future cuts take hold.

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Nickel, Zinc Post Drops

Zinc and nickel prices posted their lowest prices in over a week as the Shanghai Futures Exchange opened back up for business on the heels of the Chinese New Year break, according to a Reuters report.

LME benchmark nickel fell 1.9% in official open outcry trading to $13,580 a ton, according to the report, while LME zinc fell 1.7% to $3,482 a ton.

Turkey Warns of Retaliation to 232 Tariffs

Turkey is the latest country to allude to retaliatory plans should the U.S. enact steel tariffs, according to Turkish news source Ahval.

According to the report, Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekçi that if there are complaints from Turkish producers regarding future 232-related steel tariffs, the country will look into retaliatory measures.

Chinese Steel Mills Look to Get Output Up Before Next Round of Cuts

According to a Reuters report, Chinese steel mills are looking forward to an increase in their output once government-mandated winter cuts end in March.

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The cuts, instituted from Beijing, aimed to bring down pollution in the country. According to the report, the country shut down half of all steel production in 28 cities this winter.

LME nickel prices hit $13,200 per ton last Wednesday, the highest level since June 2015 before investors took profits and the price fell back a touch to $12,870 per metric ton.

Prices were led higher by the ShFE, where stock have fallen to 48,920 tons from over 90,000 tons just a year ago — and consumers are worried about a supply squeeze, Reuters reports.

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The Philippines’ ongoing environmental campaign has perpetuated the closure of four key nickel mines in the Zimbales region, according to Wilfredo Moncano, the director or the Philippine mines and geosciences bureau. Moncano said “no extraction, no new mining activities, what’s only allowed is hauling up ores for their stockpiles,” according to Reuters.

The supply squeeze story has been exacerbated by news that Sumitomo Corporation has suspended output from its mine in Madagascar following a cyclone.  Not surprisingly, investment funds are at increased net long positions on the NME and SHFE, with LME positions doubling from early November. LME nickel stocks are still substantial at 368,292 tons, but are down from levels above 470,000 tons in June 2015; however, they’re at double the levels seen in May 2013.

Although nickel prices have pulled back on profit-taking, many are still betting the price could move higher as the market is in deficit. Any supply-side disruption is seen as an opportunity to squeeze supply in the face of continued robust demand.

Nickel supply, however, has picked up.

Current short-term issues accepted, according to Fast Markets, Indonesia had awarded quotas for the export of over 20 million tons of nickel ore after its export ban was relaxed early last year. Only a small portion of this, however, has been shipped. The bulk of 2017 quotas are still to be exported.

The incentive for both miners and authorities is to resolve the current environmental stumbling blocks. Exports are expected to pick up. There should also be nickel pig iron smelters being established in Indonesia in 2018, creating more plentiful NPI availability in the market.

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Under the circumstances, the recent $13,200 price spike may, if not prove to be a peak, at least come to be in the upper range of what will remain a volatile market until supply concerns ease.

The electric vehicles (EVs) market could increase by 3,400% by 2030 compared to 2015 EVs sales, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

More powerful, reliable and cost-competitive batteries have driven EV growth. Lithium-ion batteries have effectively replaced lead batteries.

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MetalMiner analyzed the usage of base metals in EVs and their price performance this year. The EV boom has driven investor sentiment for these base metals.

Base Metals’ Role in EVs

The infographic below breaks down car parts by type of base metal. Aluminum, nickel, copper and tin serve as the four main base metal “winners” in which the market could expect demand to grow.

Source: MetalMiner analysis of Business Insider data

Aluminum, Copper and Nickel

Of the exchange-traded metals, all three of these base metals commonly have high trading volumes. Copper, in particular, tends to have high trading volume as the market considers it an economic indicator (often referred to by the nickname “Dr. Copper”).

Both aluminum and copper appear in an uptrend, especially since the summer when prices started to rally.

Nickel prices have also seen high volatility due to electric battery demand. This makes sense — if investors consider a metal  “hot,” then volume and transactions may increase. Prices may change based on  this, as they did for nickel.

Source: MetalMiner analysis of FastMarkets

And What About Tin?

Contrary to the other three base metals, tin prices do not look bullish.

Tin plays an important role in EVs, as it is used for electronic solder and batteries. However, tin prices appear both stagnant and weak.

Source: MetalMiner analysis of FastMarkets

Tin’s price momentum has diverged from EV supply/demand fundamentals and the LME price.

EV batteries have evolved toward technologies that include more tin alloys. According to the International Tin Research Institute (ITRI), tin used for batteries increased by 95% in 2016 compared to 2010 data (14,400 tons). Tin mine output has increased in 2017 compared to last year’s data (18% in China, 26% in Indonesia and 7% in Myanmar).

However, the ITRI forecasts a 7,300-ton deficit in 2017. Tin stocks remain low, with only a slight increase in SHFE stocks.

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Current macro indicators support the bullish rally. However, tin prices still seem reluctant to react.

Have investors forgotten about tin?

Judging by the reception for aluminum, copper and nickel, perhaps 2018 will bring tin into the bull party.

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This morning in metals news, raw steel production in the U.S. jumped last week, Century Aluminum was down 10.8% on Monday and nickel prices are aided by steel on Tuesday.

U.S. Raw Steel Production Up 9.7%

Raw steel production was up 9.7% year-over-year for the week ending Nov. 18, according to weekly data from the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI).

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Domestic raw steel production was 1,745,000 net tons while the capability utilization rate was 74.9%. Production for the week ending Nov. 18 was up 0.3% from the previous week, when production was 1,739,000 net tons and the rate of capability utilization was 74.6%.

Century Aluminum Has a Down Monday

Shares of Century Aluminum closed 10.8% lower on Monday, according to an AP report on

The question is, why?

“Market pundits aren’t entirely certain what to make of this development, noting that aluminum stocks may simply have been shifting away from expensive LME warehouses to cheaper warehouses and other countries,” the report states.

Nickel Prices Get a Boost

Steel-dependent nickel got a boost Tuesday, when prices in the Shanghai and London markets saw a jump, Reuters reported.

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The most-traded nickel contract on the Shanghai Futures Exchange was up 1.3% at 94,710 yuan ($14,285) a ton by 0126 GMT, according to Reuters. Meanwhile, three-month LME nickel rose to $11,677 per ton.

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This morning in metals news, China is looking to the World Trade Organization (WTO) to make its case with respect to the ongoing aluminum foil dispute with the U.S., copper and nickel are up, and Kobe Steel executives are deciding whether or not to resign.

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China, the U.S. and the WTO

According to a Reuters report, China has asked the WTO report for consultations regarding the recent U.S. Department of Commerce antidumping decision on Chinese aluminum foil.

China’s Ministry of Commerce submitted the request for supplementary consultations under the WTO dispute resolution mechanism on Nov. 3, according to the report.

Copper, Nickel Rise With EV Optimism

Copper and nickel saw their fortunes rise on Monday, according to Reuters, backed by optimism regarding the electric vehicle market, pollution crackdown in China and global economic strength.

Nickel rose 10% last week to hits its highest price since June 2015.

Kobe Execs Consider Resignation

According to a Reuters report, Kobe Steel executives will decide whether or not to resign following the results of an independent probe into the firm.

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The firm also plans on releasing an internal report regarding the company’s quality data falsification scandal, which has seen the company’s share price plummet in recent weeks and significantly dented the firm’s credibility in the global market.

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This morning in metals news, Japanese carmakers tested the safety of Kobe Steel products, palladium outshines gold and the global nickel deficit widened in August.

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Kobe Steel Materials Pass Safety Checks

Toyota, Honda and Mazda gave Kobe Steel, Japan’s embattled third-largest steelmaker, a touch of good news Thursday by saying its products are safe, despite the recent data falsification scandal.

According to a report in The New York Times, the products fell short of advertised standards, but met with regulators’ standards (as well as those of the carmakers).

Palladium Continues Charmed Run

The palladium price recently eclipsed that of platinum for the first time since 2001 — and the metal’s rise has people taking notice.

The upward trend for palladium has even caught the eye of the gold industry, according to the Financial Times.

Our Stuart Burns covered palladium’s rise in his post earlier this morning.

Nickel Market Showed 6,700-Ton Deficit in August

The nickel market deficit deficit rose to 6,700 tons in August, according to data released by the International Nickel Study Institute.

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Global production was 176,800 tons, with demand at 183,500 tons.

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This morning in metals news, August was a huge month for aluminum, zinc, and nickel; copper hit a three-year high on Thursday; and a South Korean company announced it will produce lithium-ion batteries with a greater percentage of nickel than before.

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An Anything But Dreary Month

August is typically a quiet month for many, as people take vacations before the end of the summer.

It was not a quiet month for metals, though.

In August, aluminum, zinc and nickel all posted significant price increases (10%, 12% and 15%, respectively).

Copper Hits Three-Year High

Copper kept rolling Thursday, hitting a peak not seen since 2014.

The metal thus closes a strong August  — during which its price rose 7.5% — on a record note.

From Cobalt to Nickel

As automakers look to meet growing demand for electric vehicles, some battery makers are turning to more nickel and less cobalt in the construction of lithium-ion batteries.

For South Korean company SK Innovation, that means using more nickel. The company announced Thursday that it has begun commercial production of batteries using an increased portion of nickel (as opposed to the expensive, and scarce, cobalt).

“The batteries will help extend a driving range of electric vehicles up to 500 kms, and we will also develop new batteries by 2020 that can provide a range of more than 700 kms,” Lee Jon-ha, principal researcher of the company’s battery R&D center, said in a statement quoted by Reuters.

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An interesting report by Reuters explores the vagaries of supply from Indonesia and the Philippines, the world’s two largest nickel producers — and, unfortunately for the nickel price, it would seem two of the least reliable suppliers.

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Source: Reuters

By far and away the most volatile supplier has been the Philippines.

Former Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources Regina Lopez’s mining crusade and resulting export ban last year had a cataclysmic effect on output from which the country has not recovered, despite her replacement in May by Roy Cimatu, Reuters reports.

The latest assessment by the International Nickel Study Group (INSG) notes the country’s nickel production fell by 15% to 101,000 metric tons in the first five months of this year. Shipments of nickel ore to China have also been flowing at a reduced pace. Chinese imports from the Philippines slid by 6% over the first half of the year, according to Reuters.

Indonesia’s supply constraint, on the other hand, was driven by a policy to achieve greater value add in-country, started by a 2014 export ban on unprocessed ore which has only recently seen a partial rollback, as progress has been made in setting up nickel pig iron plants in the country. There are now multiple nickel “smelters” producing nickel pig iron or equivalent intermediate product in Indonesia, Reuters reports, quoting INSG estimates that mined production has surged 89% to 122,000 tons in the January-May period.

Meanwhile, the market has been responding to these political proclamations and about-turns with dramatic changes in short and long positions.

Reuters quotes LME Commitment of Traders figures to support price movements and investor position taking. The 18% nickel price rally over the last month to $10,445, a five-month high, followed investors flocking back to the market driving net long positions to 32,363 lots, compared with a net short of 887 lots on May 15. The return to the market seems to have been on the back of the nickel price’s fall to a year’s low of $8,680 and the widespread belief — supported by the closure of half of Indonesia’s processing plants — that refining becomes uneconomic below a nickel price of $9,000 per metric ton.

If $9,000 is the price floor based on current technology, what is the upside, stainless consumers will be asking?

In part, that depends on the potential for constraints to supply.

Demand remains solid. Reuters states Chinese imports of Indonesian “ferronickel” (nickel pig iron) broke through the 100,000-ton barrier in May and stayed there in June, while cumulative imports in those two months were 270,000 tons (bulk weight), exceeding total imports in 2015.

Demand, therefore, remains solid, but so too does supply. Netted between them, the two countries produced 223,000 tons of nickel in the first half of this year, up from 184,000 tons in the  same  period of 2016, according to the INSG. China’s imports of nickel raw materials, ore and concentrates, were also up in the first half of this year by 4% (not counting the separate flow of Indonesian ferronickel).

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Providing Cimatu continues with his conciliatory approach to miners, the market is likely to conclude exports are going to continue. The market has a floor at $9,000 per ton, but according to Reuters it could also be capped by rising supply as both countries ease restrictions and supply remains adequate.

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This morning in metals news, some think copper’s hot 2017 could run out of steam, copper stabilized after hitting a two-year peak recently and Asian battery makers are looking to use more nickel instead of cobalt.

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Copper Outlook for Second Half of 2017

It’s not unreasonable to wonder whether or not copper can continue its robust run throughout the remainder of the calendar year.

The metal recently hit its two-year peak. Some, however, think the metal is due to fall off its current pace.

According to a report in Barron’s, there are numerous red flags indicating copper could reverse course — with a particular focus on China.

“Analysts believe regulatory tightening will soon weigh on growth, cooling demand for copper and other industrial metals in the months ahead,” writes Ira Iosebasvili. 

If the Chinese economy hits a period of slower growth — as many in recent months have warned will happen — then the copper market will certainly be affected.

For Now, Copper Holds Steady

Although many analysts are predicting a course correction for the metal throughout the rest of the year, copper is holding steady.

A rally in Chinese steel and iron ore prices painted a positive positive in China, the world’s largest metals consumer, Reuters reported.

Trading in Cobalt for Nickel?

For makers of batteries in Asia, cobalt is getting a little pricey — so much so that some battery makers are turning to even more nickel.

A rise in cobalt prices has inspired battery makers in Asia to adjust their battery ingredient formula, according to a report from Reuters.

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Cobalt prices have shot up over the last year on high demand and supply disruptions, Reuters reports. In fact, Reuters reports the price of cobalt rose to six times that of nickel in July.

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This morning in metals news, copper slipped from its two-month high on the London Metal Exchange (LME), Canadian researchers have discovered a way to make metals processing greener and nickel hits its lowest price in a year.

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Copper Falls in Anticipation of Federal Reserve Interest Rate Decision

Copper fell from a two-month high on the LME — and dropped 1.1% on the Shanghai Futures Exchange — ahead of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s decision this week regarding raising the interest rate (which many expect it to do), Reuters reported.

The decision is scheduled to be announced Wednesday afternoon, after the conclusion of a two-day policy meeting.

An uptick in the interest rate is expected to shore up the dollar, making dollar-based commodities more expensive for holders of other currencies and leading to a dip in demand, Reuters reported.

Researchers Announce Environmentally Friendlier Way to Process Metals

A Canadian team of researchers recently announced a new method for processing metals without toxic chemicals or reagents, Science Daily reported.

The team outlined its approach in a recently published article in Science Advances. Through their method, the scientists seek to perfect a process that curbs the negative environmental impacts of processing metals, using easily recyclable compounds instead of toxic materials.

The discovery was the result of a collaboration between Jean-Philip Lumb and Tomislav Friscic at McGill University in Montreal, and Kim Baines of Western University in London, Ont.

As demand for electric vehicles grows and green initiatives become more visible, it’s not surprising to see movement toward making the entire production process going green — for example, from the processing of raw metals all the way to a final product itself (a “green” vehicle).

Nickel Falls to One-Year Low

It isn’t a good time for nickel, which fell to its lowest price in a year Tuesday in a climate of falling Chinese steel prices and a weak forecast for the Chinese economy, Reuters reported.

As the Chinese government tackles credit debts — the nation was recently downgraded by rating agency Moody’s for the first time since 1989 — many expect growth to slow in the second half of the year. That prediction has already been borne out by weak April and May Chinese economic data, according to the article.

Caroline Bain, chief commodities economist at Capital Economics in London, told Reuters that China’s efforts to rein in credit growth and curb excessive behavior on the property market is “bad news” for metals.

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