MINOR METALS-Cliffhanger countdown as China seeks to auction giant hoard of indium

Tom Daly and K. Sathya Narayanan


* China court to sell 3,609 T of indium, 5 years' worth of supply

* Amount is 'unbelievable', jangling nerves in market - trader

* Fanya inventory overhang has weighed on prices since late 2014

* Auction to open at 0200 GMT on Sunday; no bidders yet registered

BEIJING/BENGALURU, Dec 27 (Reuters) - Traders in minor metals are bracing for what could be the sale of the equivalent of about five years of global supply of indium, used in flat-panel displays and semi-conductors, when a China court opens a long-awaited auction at 0200 GMT on Sunday.

As of 1630 Beijing time (0830 GMT) on Friday, the internet auction page for the 3,609 tonnes of indium once held by the now-defunct Fanya Metal Exchange - a weight equal to about a third of the Eiffel Tower's - had been viewed more than 3,500 times.

No bidders had yet registered to take part in the actual auction, on Chinese e-commerce platform Taobao.

Market interest in the auction, which will run for 24 hours, is intense because a sale of that scale would be ominous for the price of the silvery metal, a price that has already plummeted more than 70% this decade as demand dropped in line with a shift in consumer electronics technology.

Spot indium prices of just under 900 yuan ($128.65) per kg are "the lowest in the past 10 years," said Shelly Liu, an indium analyst with industry data provider Asian Metal. Yet the minimum asking price in the auction is even lower at around 790 yuan per kg.

"So I think there is room to decline further after the bidding," Liu said, adding that she did not think lower prices would automatically lead to production cuts.

The Fanya Metal Exchange, a minor metals bourse in Southwest China, collapsed amid liquidity problems and was taken over by government investigators. A Kunming court has this year been auctioning off Fanya's metal inventories to pay back creditors.

Still, traders are scratching their heads trying to come to terms with how so much indium - which the court says is sitting in warehouses in Shanghai and Kunming - could be sold. Some openly doubt whether it even exists at that magnitude.

"If the quantity is true, indium is dead," one China-based indium trader said. "Too much quantity will certainly kill the market."

The amount being sold is "so unbelievable that I don't expect it is true, to be honest," said another indium trader following the auction from Europe, adding that stockholders had become nervous since the auction date was announced earlier this month.

The court sold a small batch of indium in April but the inevitability of the remainder eventually going under the virtual hammer at some point has sent prices <AM-99C-INDM> down some 40% this year.

Meanwhile, one U.S.-based trader queried whether there would be enough demand for the indium stockpile given the shift towards organic light-emitting diode (OLED) screens, which use less indium, from liquid crystal displays.

"You have two effects," he said. "The short-term immediate impact of the sale and then the question about ... what will be the usage as the technology changes." ($1 = 6.9958 Chinese yuan renminbi)

(Reporting by Tom Daly in Beijing and K. Sathya Narayanan in Bengaluru; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)