Russia's Nornickel says palladium output may fall in 2018

MOSCOW, Jan 31 (Reuters) – Norilsk Nickel (Nornickel), the world's largest palladium producer, said on Wednesday its production of palladium could decline in 2018, while the output of nickel from Russian raw material would remain flat. Nornickel, part-owned by Russian tycoon Vladimir Potanin and aluminium giant Rusal, previously said its production of nickel and platinum group metals would be unchanged with rising copper output in 2018-2020.

"We reiterate our earlier 2018 metal production guidance, with a small downside risk to platinum group metals volumes owing to a potential build-up of work-in-progress material at Kola division due to ongoing nickel refinery upgrade," Sergey Dyachenko, Nornickel Chief Operating Officer, said in a statement.

The company completed the main phase of its downstream reconfiguration programme in 2017 and plans active modernisation and expansion of capacity at its Kola nickel refining operations in 2018.

Nornickel, which competes with Brazil's Vale SA for the rank of the world's top nickel producer, experienced a fall in consolidated production of nickel as its reconfiguration led to a reduction of low-margin processing of third parties' feed at Norilsk Nickel Harjavalta in Finland. Its output of copper and platinum group metals rose in 2017 mainly due to the processing of concentrate it previously purchased from state conglomerate Rostec.

This year Nornickel plans to produce from Russian feedstock 210-215 tonnes of nickel, 400-420 tonnes of copper, 2.6-2.7 million troy ounces of palladium and 600-650 ounces of platinum.

In 2017, consolidated nickel production was 217,112 tonnes, down 8 percent year-on-year, and consolidated copper output was 401,083 tonnes, up 11 percent. Its palladium and platinum production was 2.8 million ounces, up 6 percent, and 670,000 ounces, up 4 percent, respectively.

Nornickel's production in 2017 and production guidance for 2018 from Russian feedstock, excluding its Bystrinsky copper project *:

Metals                                2017 output               2018
Nickel, 000 tonnes             210                                   210-215
Copper, 000 tonnes           398                                   400-420
Palladium, 000 ounces     2,728                                2,630-2,725
Platinum, 000 ounces       650                                   600-650

* In 2018, Bystrinsky plans to produce 35,000-40,000 tonnes of copper and 180,000-200,000 ounces of gold in concentrate. Nornickel owns a 50 percent stake in the project.

(Reporting by Polina Devitt, editing by David Evans)