Metals rally heats up as nickel price hits $24,000 on supply snarls

Refined nickel at Glencore’s Nikkelverk refinery in Norway. Credit: Glencore

Base metals rallied, with nickel touching $24,000 a ton for the first time in more than a decade and tin notching up a fresh record on supply snarls and China’s monetary easing.

Metals supplies are dwindling as the world recovers from the pandemic. All the main London Metal Exchange contracts are in backwardation — a condition in which prices for cash delivery are higher than futures — signaling supply constraints. 

Supplies of nickel held by the LME were unchanged on Thursday after falling for 56 straight days. The nickel market had reached its tightest since 2007 earlier this week after a plunge in exchange stockpiles, prompting closer monitoring from the bourse.

Nickel’s gains over two days reached more than 10% at one point as Chinese lenders lowered borrowing costs for a second straight month after the central bank cut policy loan rates and pledged more easing to spur the economy. China’s property sector — a pillar of metals demand — had been under pressure from tightening credit conditions. Tensions over Ukraine also raise the potential for disruptions to exports from Russia, a key nickel producer, Morgan Stanley said.

NIckel price surges to fresh decade high.

“In addition to the latest liquidity easing from China, extremely tight metal supply is a key driver of the rally,” said Wang Yue, an analyst with Shanghai East Asia Futures Co. In nickel’s case, “demand from electric-vehicle batteries is so strong that immediate supply can’t keep up,” he said.

Production at the China-backed Tagaung Taung nickel-processing plant in Myanmar’s Sagaing region was halted this month after electricity was cut off, researcher Shanghai Metals Market said, citing a report from The Irrawaddy. The plant produces 85,000 tons of ferronickel annually and is the largest in the country, according to the report. 

Nickel on the LME advanced 2.8% to settle at $23,795 a metric ton at 5:51 p.m. in London, the highest since August 2011. It had earlier reached a high of $24,435 on the London bourse. Futures in China surged by the daily limit.

All other main LME metals except lead gained, with copper up 1.5% and zinc up 1.9%.

(With assistance from Eddie Spence and Yvonne Yue Li)

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