Log in
Log in
Or log in with
Twitter Twitter
Facebook Facebook
Apple Apple     
Sign up
Or log in with
Twitter Twitter
Facebook Facebook
Apple Apple     


End-of-day quote Moscow Micex - RTS  -  2022-07-07
16720.00 RUB   +1.03%
09/19Norilsk Nickel Puts Rusal Merger Talks on Halt
09/19Russian Mining Group Nornickel Plans Hiking Employees' Stake to 25%
09/16Nornickel provides further update on noteholders' consent solicitation
SummaryMost relevantAll NewsOther languagesPress ReleasesOfficial PublicationsSector newsMarketScreener Strategies

Shanghai's nickel twist risks more market fracture: Andy Home

09/12/2022 | 09:13am EDT

LONDON, Sept 12 (Reuters) - The London Metal Exchange's (LME) controversial suspension of its nickel contract in March didn't just impact trading in London.

In the immediate aftermath of the LME intervention, the Shanghai Futures Exchange (ShFE) was forced to suspend its nickel contract for two days and has arguably suffered even greater damage.

LME nickel volumes have unsurprisingly slumped since March with activity in August down 47% on the same month last year. But ShFE nickel volumes have fallen harder, collapsing 74% year-on-year in August and dropping by 70% over the first eight months of 2022.

Nickel activity in Shanghai is now back at levels last seen in 2015 when the contract was first launched.

ShFE's response is to broaden the range of physical nickel that can be delivered against its contract to include briquettes.

The move would help address the Shanghai contract's persistent problem of super-low inventory and align it more closely with the LME product.

But it also risks stimulating competition for LME stocks, which are overwhelmingly in the form of briquettes and already low. The root problem is that both exchanges are competing for physical liquidity in what is a shrinking part of the global nickel supply chain.


ShFE first mooted the idea of including briquettes against its contract in 2020. It's a form of nickel that has become more widely traded in China in recent years, largely because it's a popular choice for electric vehicle battery makers.

This year's market meltdown appears to have given the proposal fresh impetus.

It's easy to forget that the short squeeze that caused the London March mayhem was foreshadowed by rolling tightness in Shanghai over the second half of last year.

Indeed, the resulting import-friendly arbitrage accentuated a run on LME stocks, laying the foundations for the price explosion that rocked the market in early March.

Persistent tightness in the Shanghai market is a function of chronically low exchange inventory. It fell below the 10,000-tonne level in April last year and hasn't recovered since, currently standing at a meagre 3,523 tonnes.

Physical liquidity on the Shanghai contract is constricted by the fact that it only allows for delivery of full-plate nickel cathode with a limited number of registered brands.

Other than China's domestic producers, only Russia's Norilsk Nickel and Glencore's Norwegian Nikkelverk brands are accepted.

Extending the delivery criteria to include briquettes looks like an easy win-win of making the contract more useful for domestic battery-nickel players and attracting more physical units to ShFE warehouses.

The only problem is where that extra metal might come from.


China doesn't produce much high-purity Class I nickel, most of the country's production taking the form of nickel pig iron for the stainless steel sector.

Briquettes have to be imported from Australia, Madagascar and Canada or from the LME warehouse system, where briquettes account for 87% of registered nickel stocks.

History provides a warning of what might happen if ShFE changes its delivery criteria.

Low stocks liquidity plagued the Shanghai nickel market from its launch in April 2015. Faced with the prospect of an immediate squeeze on its new contract, ShFE included Norilsk Nickel full-plate metal as a delivery option from June of that year.

In doing so, it generated a tectonic movement of Norilsk-brand nickel from LME warehouses into China.

LME warehouses held over 267,000 tonnes of full-plate nickel, accounting for 57% of total registered inventory, at the start of June 2015. By the end of 2017 that stockpile had dwindled to 71,340 tonnes, representing just 19% of registered nickel stocks.

China's imports of refined nickel hit what remains an all-time record high of 371,000 tonnes in 2016, including 228,000 tonnes of Russian origin metal

ShFE nickel stocks rose from 10,000 tonnes in the middle of 2015 to what also is still an all-time high of 112,000 tonnes in September 2016. Since then the mountain has dwindled to next to nothing.


A similar shift in briquettes inventory can't be ruled out, although there is simply not enough metal around to generate the volumes seen in the 2016 migration of full-plate cathode.

LME nickel stocks fell by 147,000 tonnes last year and they have halved again so far this year to 53,532 tonnes.

Although accentuated by the flow of refined metal to China in the closing months of 2021, the underlying demand for LME stocks has been coming from the battery sector.

The world is building ever more gigafactories and most of them need refined nickel to feed into the metallurgical mix.

Availability of refined nickel is challenged and that of briquette even more so.

Remaining physical stocks risk being split across two trading venues, disrupting rather than enhancing pricing.

The core issue facing both exchanges is that Class I refined nickel only accounts for around half of global production and the ratio is falling all the time as Indonesia builds ever more nickel matte capacity.

Tsingshan Group, which found itself at the centre of the March storm, is a massive nickel producer but none of its output is in a refined form that could be delivered against either the London or Shanghai market. With no option of delivering physically against its short position, its massive exposure could only be resolved at eye-watering financial cost.

The limitations on what sort of nickel can be traded on the London market played a key part in the market blow-up of 1988 when the LME also briefly suspended trading.

The problem was well understood even then but no-one could agree on what would constitute a benchmark specification for a product as chemically variable as ferronickel.

It remains to be seen whether the LME or ShFE can find a pricing solution to what is an increasingly diverse product spectrum, which now includes a fast-growing stream of nickel sulphate.

Competing for a declining slice of the physical market may not be the answer.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author, a columnist for Reuters.

(Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

© Reuters 2022
Stocks mentioned in the article
ChangeLast1st jan.
GLENCORE PLC -5.81% 461.55 Delayed Quote.23.10%
09/19Norilsk Nickel Puts Rusal Merger Talks on Halt
09/19Russian Mining Group Nornickel Plans Hiking Employees' Stake to 25%
09/16Nornickel provides further update on noteholders' consent solicitation
09/15Nornickel Extinguishes Fire at Cobalt Section
09/15MMC NORILSK NICKEL : Fire at kola mmc extinguished. nickel and platinum group metals produ..
09/14Norilsk Nickel Suspends Shop Operations After Fire at Cobalt Section
09/14MMC NORILSK NICKEL : Fire breaks out in electrowinning shop at kola division
09/14Public Joint Stock Company Mining and Metallurgical Company Norilsk Nickel Announces Fi..
09/08Nornickel's Top Shareholders Said to Refrain from Renewing Dividend Deal After December..
More news
Financials (USD)
Sales 2021 17 852 M - -
Net income 2021 6 512 M - -
Net Debt 2021 4 952 M - -
P/E ratio 2021 7,30x
Yield 2021 20,1%
Capitalization 40 553 M 44 425 M -
EV / Sales 2020 3,55x
EV / Sales 2021 2,90x
Nbr of Employees -
Free-Float 34,3%
Duration : Period :
Mining and Metallurgical Company Norilsk Nickel Technical Analysis Chart | MarketScreener
Full-screen chart
Income Statement Evolution
Mean consensus -
Number of Analysts 0
Last Close Price 16 720,00
Average target price
Spread / Average Target -
Managers and Directors
Vladimir Olegovich Potanin President & Chairman-Management Board
Sergey Gennadyevich Malyshev Chief Financial Officer & Senior Vice President
Andrey Bougrov Senior Vice President-Sustainable Development
Sergey Stanislavovich Stepanov Operational Director & Senior Vice President
Evgeny Arkadievich Shvarts Independent Director