Top Stories
Top Stories

METALS-Nickel slips from 16-month peak on Indonesian uncertainty

Eric Onstad

* GRAPHIC-2019 asset returns: (Adds analyst comment, updates prices, changes dateline from BEIJING)

LONDON, Aug 9 (Reuters) - Nickel slipped on Friday from a 16-month high amid uncertainty over whether top producer Indonesia would soon ban ore exports, while other base metals drifted lower after weak Chinese data.

Indonesia's nickel miners association on Thursday urged the government not to bring forward a ban on mineral ore exports from its current timeframe of 2022.

Helped by worries about shortages, benchmark nickel on the London Metal Exchange had surged nearly 40% from early July to a peak on Thursday of $16,690 a tonne, the highest since April 2018. It has since pared those gains.

"I don't think a ban makes sense and it looks like the market is pricing in a full ban, so I think the risks are to the downside," said Colin Hamilton, director of commodities research at BMO Capital.

The rational thing would be for Indonesia to conduct an audit of refined nickel projects and slap an export ban only on those not making adequate progress, he added.

"If nothing happens, then the nickel price is about 20% too high, but there's a chance and it's hard to quantify that chance, that we get something, and then the nickel market is suddenly in a bigger raw material deficit than we thought."

Three-month LME nickel was down 0.7% at $15,765 a tonne by 1010 GMT, but was on course to add 9% this week.

* CHINESE NPI: Supply of stainless steel ingredient nickel pig iron on the Chinese spot market is "still relatively tight and some stainless steel plants have already locked in orders until the end of September," Huatai Futures said in a note.

* SHANGHAI NICKEL: The most-traded October nickel contract on the Shanghai Futures Exchange closed up 5.2% after hitting a record high overnight. Market open interest in Shanghai nickel, a measure of liquidity, reached 803,652 lots on Thursday, the highest since June 2018.

* CHINESE PRODUCER PRICES: Metals were pressured after factory gate prices in top metals consumer China shrank for the first time in three years in July, stoking deflation worries and adding pressure on Beijing to deliver more stimulus.

* LEAD TIME SPREADS: The premium of cash LME lead over the three-month contract <CMPB0-3> jumped to $29.50 a tonne, the strongest since June 11, from $3.50 two days earlier, indicating near-term shortages of material in the LME system.

One party has control of 50%-80% of LME inventories, data showed on Friday. LME lead added 0.1% to $2,071 a tonne after touching a two-week high of $2,077.50.

* PERU: Anti-mining protests in Peru have held up about $400 million in copper exports from some of the country's top mines and blocked supplies from reaching their operations for nearly three weeks, port operator Tisur said.

* PRICES: LME copper shed 0.4% to $5,774 a tonne, aluminum rose 0.2% to $1,781, zinc slid 1.4% to $2,273 and tin fell 0.3% to $16,800. (Additional reporting by Tom Daly in Beijing; Editing by Dale Hudson)