Nickel prices have rebounded after dropping to a near seven-year low last week, buoyed by market speculation that heavily indebted miner and trader Glencore Plc could curb output following cuts to its copper and zinc production.
Glencore is the world’s fifth-biggest producer of nickel, with operations in Australia, Canada, Norway, New Caledonia, and Dominican Republic, much of which was acquired in its 2013 takeover of Xstrata.
Glencore, whose shares have been hammered by worries about its debt burden, declined to comment on the speculation.
In nickel, as in copper and zinc, an output cut by Glencore could have an immense impact, said Minelife commodities analyst Gavin Wendt.
It would not only send the right message to Glencore’s investors and bankers, it would be saving the company money and probably list the nickel price in the process.
London Metal Exchange nickel stood at $10 460 a tonne on Tuesday, 15% above the $9 100 it fetched on Aug 12, its lowest price since December 2008.
That is despite a mammoth 440 000 t of nickel stocks in LME warehouses in a two-million-tonne-a-year market.
UBS analyst Daniel Morgan estimates that 50% of the world’s nickel is being produced at a loss at close to today’s price – among the most extreme across mined commodities.
Despite this, shuts have been few and relatively the worst response versus other commodities, Morgan said in a report, adding any lowering of supply by producers would be very supportive for prices.
The biggest cuts to date have come from Canada’s Sherritt International Corp. In July it reduced its 2015 nickel production target to 78 000 to 82 000t from a previous estimate of 80 000 to 86 000t.
Nickel, even more so than copper and zinc, has underperformed for Glencore.
The nickel division saw a 25-percent drop in revenue in the first half compared with 12% and 8% declines for copper and zinc respectively.
Copper prices rebounded from six-year lows in September after Glencore said it would suspend copper operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zanbia for 18 months, removing 400 000 t from the supply pool.
Last Friday, zinc galloped 10% higher – its single biggest one-day gain in at least a decade – after Glencore said it was eliminating 500 000 t of zinc production, or 4% of global supply.
The move in copper and zinc suggest Glencore may be looking at doing the same in nickel, said Australia and New Zealand commodities analyst Daniel Hynes.
As it wrestles with ways to cut $30-billion in debt by a third, Glencore has shown it can be ruthless in jettisoning unwanted nickel assets.
In June it sold the mothballed Cosmos nickel mine for A$24.5-million, a fraction of the A$3.1-billion Xstrata had spent in 2008 to acquire its then owner Jubilee Mines.