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METALS-Nickel holds at five-year high on Indonesia ore ban

Zandi Shabalala

* GRAPHIC-2019 asset returns: http://tmsnrt.rs/2jvdmXl (Updates throughout, changed dateline from SINGAPORE)

LONDON, Sept 3 (Reuters) - Nickel prices clung to five-year highs on Tuesday after Indonesia spurred fears of shortages by banning exports of ore from January.

Indonesia, the world's biggest nickel ore producer, on Friday brought forward a plan to ban exports by two years to encourage miners to process the metal locally.

Benchmark nickel on the London Metal Exchange (LME) eased 0.3% to $17,990 a tonne by 1000 GMT, but was still at its highest since September 2014.

Prices for the metal used in stainless steel have advanced 10% since then and nearly 70% so far this year but analysts say the rally is not over.

"Nickel is taking a bit of a breather now but there is potential for it to spike higher if we look back at movements after the last Indo ore ban," BMO analyst Kash Kamal said.

He said speculation since July that the ban would be brought forward had pushed prices above $15,000 a tonne, which is the marginal cost of production for nickel pig iron.

DEFICIT: BMO forecasts a deficit of 51,000 tonnes in 2020 and a shortage of 127,000 tonnes in 2021 in the 14-million-tonne nickel market.

EYES ON $20,000/T: Goldman Sachs expects nickel to reach $20,000 a tonne in three months, a level not seen since May 2014.

NICKEL SUPPLY: Philippine nickel mining companies are likely to boost ore production next year when Indonesia bans exports, but may be unable to fill the supply gap.

TRADE WAR: In the latest escalation in the U.S.-China trade war, Beijing lodged a complaint against Washington at the World Trade Organization over U.S. import duties, the Chinese Commerce Ministry said.

The prolonged trade dispute has sapped demand for metals, hurt global economic growth and pushed China to boost investment and economic incentives to spur economic demand.

CHINA COPPER PREMIUMS: Yangshan copper premiums <SMM-CUYP-CN>, paid on top of LME copper prices to import metal into China, are at $77 a tonne, their highest since November 2018.

This indicates stronger physical demand in top consumer China.

COPPER INVENTORIES: On-warrant inventories of copper in warehouses certified by the London Metal Exchange <MCUSTX-TOTAL> are at their lowest in two months at 212,150 tonnes but have doubled since the start of 2019.

OTHER PRICES: Copper fell to a two-year low, down 1.2% at $5,550 per tonne, aluminium shed 0.4% to $1,742, and zinc eased 1.9% to $2,201, having fallen to its lowest in three years. Tin shed 2.3% to $16,420.

(Additional reporting by Mai Nguyen in SINGAPORE; Editing by Dale Hudson)