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Shanghai nickel prices hit record high on strong demand, low stocks

  • ShFE stocks touch record low
  • Strong stainless steel and EV demand
  • Global nickel demand seen up 18% y/y -Wood Mackenzie
  • But nickel prices seen weakening over rest of 2021
31 Aug, 2021

Prices of nickel on the Shanghai Futures Exchange leaped to their highest on record on Tuesday, supported by solid demand and low inventories across the world.

The most-traded October nickel contract on the Shanghai Futures Exchange hit a record 149,870 yuan ($23,197.89) a tonne, up 21% year-to-date.

Three-month nickel on the London Metal Exchange touched its highest since July 30 at $19,810 a tonne, having risen 17% so far this year.

"Orders for stainless (steel) product extend to the end of the year, primarily due to the strong post-lockdown rebound in demand and COVID-19 related disruption to distribution. Shipping delays have forced consumers to post orders well ahead of need," said Andrew Mitchell, head of nickel research at Wood Mackenzie.

"At the same time expansion of the electric vehicle (EV) fleet is supporting a near doubling of nickel precursor chemical production in China," Mitchell said, adding that global nickel demand is seen rising by almost 18% in 2021 from last year.

Nickel climbs on higher risk appetite and demand boost

Stainless steel and EV batteries are the top nickel consuming sectors.

Refined nickel inventories in ShFE warehouses hit a record low of 4,455 tonnes, down 89% from a year earlier. Stockpiles in LME warehouses fell to their lowest since January 2020 to 194,466 tonnes.

A China-based nickel trader said the high Tuesday prices were partly due to a short squeeze in the market.

"Here is a market short of physical with trade scrambling to cover or get hold of units and which also exhibits a positioning short by our estimate," said Alastair Munro at broker Marex Spectron in a note.

However, nickel might face pressure for the rest of the year due to calls to trim stainless steel output in China on excess supply and power rationing at a time when macroeconomic data is subdued, Wood Mackenzie's Mitchell said.

A wave of automotive cutbacks due to semiconductor chip shortages is likely to reduce nickel demand in the fourth quarter and extend into 2022, he added.

Wood Mackenzie forecast LME nickel prices to fall to $18,000 a tonne on average in the fourth quarter, from $19,050 in July-September, with an average just over $18,000 for the whole of 2021.

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