While many expected the nickel price to continue to rise in 2015 on the back of Indonesia’s ban on unprocessed ore exports, it ultimately fell from $14,767 to $9,895 by September 2015.
Overall, global nickel production increased slightly in 2015 compared to the previous year (2,450,000 tonnes vs. 2,530,000 tonnes). And as mentioned above, the nickel price declined in 2015, according to the US Geological Survey (USGS). Decreased prices were attributed to declining growth rates for global production of austenitic stainless steal and commissioning of nickel refineries in Madagascar and Canada. The rampup of production at ferronickel smelters in Brazil and New Caledonia also played a role.
Despite weak prices and oversupply of nickel, companies continue to bring on new mining and processing projects in anticipation of a turnaround in the global economy.
Here’s a look at the 10 top nickel-producing countries from 2015, as reported by the USGS.
Mine production: 530,000 tonnes
The Philippines saw an increase in its nickel production from 2014, producing 530,000 tonnes last year. In 2015, the Philippines was the largest exporter of DSO in the world. The country took advantage of Indonesia’s export ban and stepped in to distribute to China in 2014 with the Philippines’ nickel exports to China increasing by 24 percent in the first 10 months of the year, according to Bloomberg. The Philippines also holds 3.1 million tonnes in nickel reserves.
Mine production: 240,000 tonnes
Russia also saw a slight increase in production from 2014, putting out 240,000 tonnes of nickel vs. 239,000 tonnes the previous year. A Mining World Russia press release stated that nickel will return to growth in 2016, according to the Russian Ministry of Economic Development. It is expected that nickel mining levels will rise three percent in 2016, and by a further one percent in each of the following two years.
Mine production: 240,000 tonnes
Canada saw gains in its nickel production from 2014 to 2015, producing 240,000 tonnes of nickel last year. According to an article written by CBC, mining companies in Sudbury, Ontario, are remaining cautious as the industry rebuilds. The Sudbury Basin is the second largest supplier of nickel ore in the world. In April 2016, nickel miner Vale (NYSE:VALE) announced a cut in capital spending, including management salaries, at its operations around the world.
George Darling, from the Sudbury Vale location, said companies will continue to be conservative until the downturn is over, according to CBC.
“[Mining companies] are managing their capital at a minimum, hoping for a rebound in the resource sector,” he said.
Mine production: 234,000 tonnes
Australia’s nickel production dropped from 245,000 million tonnes in 2014 to 235,000 tonnes in 2015. According to Australia Mining, nickel prices have dropped to its lowest level in more than a decade as Chinese demand continues to recede. In 2015 the overall nickel price fell 41.8 per cent, after rising 6.91 per cent in 2014 – the first lift for the metal since 2010. The decline has seen a swathe of operations cut workers and shutter operations.
5. New Caledonia
Mine production: 190,000 tonnes
Like most other countries on the list, New Caledonia saw its nickel production gain in 2015, rising from 2014′s 178,000 tonnes to 190,000 tonnes. This year, country announced that it will allow two companies to export nickel ore to China, according to Reuters.
The South Pacific French Territory has resisted selling ore directly to large consuming countries such as China in order to preserve its domestic smelting and refining industry, a main source of revenue. However, due to struggles with weak prices for the metal, France is set to provide $300 million euros ($340 million) in loans to New Caledonia nickel producer Societe Le Nickel (SLN). New Caledonia holds roughly a quarter of the world’s reserves in nickel, which is used in products such as stainless steel and batteries.
Mine production: 170,000 tonnes
Indonesia experienced a cut in production from last year, with its output dropping from 177,000 tonnes in 2014 to 170,000 tonnes in 2015. Almost two years after the country, the biggest producer of mined nickel, banned ore exports to nurture its metals industry, fledgling smelters are being pummeled by a plunge of more than 40 percent in prices, according to Bloomberg. The main cause of the slump is the slowdown in China, which consumes about half of the world’s nickel used mostly for corrosion-resistance in stainless steel. Prices rose more than 50 percent to their highest level in more than two years after Indonesia enacted the ban in January 2014.
Nickel prices have since plummeted about 60 percent amid a deepening slowdown in China
Mine production: 110,000 tonnes
Brazil saw an increase in nickel production in 2015 from 102,000 in 2014 to 110,000 in 2015. Brazil’s largest miner, Vale, has produced 73,500 tonnes of nickel, an increase of 6.2 percent compared to the same period last year.
Mine production: 102,000 tonnes
China increased its nickel production in 2015 by 2,000 tonnes, from 100,000 in 2014 to 102,000 in 2015. According to Reuters, China is the world’s leading producer of nickel pig iron, which is a low-grade ferronickel used in stainless steel. According to Bloomberg, nickel smelters in Canada plan to cut output in 2016 by at least 20 percent in a bid to shore up prices after the metal plunged to its lowest in 12 years. According to Metal Miner, stainless steel production in China is projected to show no growth until 2020.
Mine production:73,000 tonnes
Colombia’s production dipped from 81,000 in 2014 to 73,000 tonnes in 2015. Last May,workers at BHP Billiton’s (NYSE:BHP,ASX:BHP) Cerro Matoso nickel mine in Colombia went on strike for two weeks, a move that generated about US$26 million in losses and forced the company declare force majeure. The Cerromatoso nickel mine, located in Montelíbano, Córdoba, produces an average of 52,000 tons of nickel a year. That puts the company in second place for nickel producers worldwide, according to the Sequitur.
Mine production: 57,000 tonnes
Finally, Cuba’s nickel production increased from 50,400 in 2014 to 57,000 in 2015. According to Mining.com, Cuba experienced a sudden, but still modest, investment rush last year, triggered by an ongoing reconciliation between the Caribbean nation and the US.
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Securities Disclosure: I, Jocelyn Aspa, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.