Global nickel output to decline 19% y-o-y in 2020 — report

Tsingshan’s nickel pig iron (NPI) plant in Indonesia. Image from Nickel Mines Ltd.

In its latest report, Fitch Solutions revised down most of its 2020 mining production as well as metals production and consumption forecasts and said it will keep adjusting estimates in line with the evolution of the situation and of government and company announcements.

Prior to the pandemic, Fitch expected nickel mine production to decline significantly in 2020 as a nickel ore export ban in Indonesia took effect, leading to the shutdown of mines not vertically integrated nor those that could enter into off-take agreements with domestic smelters.

Global production growth will mainly be driven by output in Indonesia which is slated to ramp up two projects in 2020 despite the covid-19 pandemic

Amongst major nickel mine producing countries, most refrained from widespread sector halting measures. A suspension order from the southern Phillipines province of Surigao del Norte led to the temporary suspension of top nickel producing operations in the country for the month of April.

While Nickel Asia and Global Ferronickel restarted operations in May, Fitch lowered its nickel mine production growth forecast from 25% y-o-y to 10% in 2020 to reflect this lost output and has increased its 2021 forecast to 20% growth.

Fitch forecasts global nickel mine output to decline by 19.6% y-o-y in 2020.

The research firm expects exploration activity will be significantly diminished over 2020 as companies cut capital expenditures in order to preserve cash.

Fitch predicts that volatile equity markets and risk-off sentiment among investors will increase the difficulty for junior firms to tap the small-cap equity markets for funding, further placing downward pressure on exploration activity.

The firm also revised down its 2020 forecast for Chinese production growth in 2020 from 2.5% y-o-y to 0%. While the initial government lockdowns were a factor, analysts also expect a lack of mineral imports from Indonesia will also limit output growth. 

Global metal production growth will mainly be driven by output in Indonesia which is slated to ramp up two projects in 2020 despite the covid-19 pandemic.

Over the coming months, Fitch expects nickel output to rise as prices improve and economies restart.

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