Which countries have the highest nickel reserves in the world? Australia, Brazil and Russia are at the top of the list.
Investors interested in nickel stocks are often curious about which countries produce the most of the metal. After all, major producers are often home to many miners and explorers.
But investors should also be aware of which countries hold significant nickel reserves. Why? While many countries that produce large amounts of nickel have big nickel reserves, some countries produce little nickel but have high reserves of the metal. It’s possible that in the future they could become powerhouses in the space.
With that in mind, here’s an overview of the five countries that hold the highest nickel reserves in the world. All nickel reserves by country data is based on the US Geological Survey’s most recent report.
Reserves: 19 million MT
Australia holds the highest nickel reserves in the world at 19 million MT, but last year it was only the fifth-largest nickel producer in the world. In 2017, it produced 190,000 MT, down from 204,000 MT in 2016.
Some top-producing nickel mines in the country include BHP Billiton’s (NYSE:BHP,ASX;BHP,LSE:BLT) Nickel West assets, which produced 90,600 tonnes of nickel in the most recent financial year, and First Quantum Minerals’ (TSX:FM,LSE:FQM) Ravensthorpe mine. Ravensthorpe, which previously exported about 25,000 tonnes of nickel annually, was placed on care and maintenance in October 2017.
Reserves: 12 million MT
In second place is Brazil, with total nickel reserves of 12 million MT. The country saw a drop in nickel production last year, with output sinking from 160,000 MT in 2016 to 140,000 MT in 2017. Even so, it still came in as the seventh-largest nickel producer in the world.
Vale (NYSE:VALE) is based in Brazil, and is a major nickel producer in the country. Other companies mining and exploring for the base metal in Brazil include Anglo American (LSE:AAL) and Horizonte Minerals (TSX:HZM).
Reserves: 7.6 million MT
Russia, which fell from second down to the world’s sixth-largest nickel producer in 2017, holds a vast amount of nickel reserves at 7.6 million MT. The country saw a production drop last year, putting out 180,000 MT compared to 222,000 MT in 2016.
Norilsk Nickel (MCX:GMKN), one of the world’s largest nickel and palladium producers, recently put out its H1 2018 production results, declaring output of 104,000 tonnes of nickel, up 1 percent year-over-year. This growth was attributed to the “processing of higher volumes Polar division of nickel matte by Kola MMC and Harjavalta following the downstream reconfiguration.”
Reserves: 5.5 million MT
Cuba is not a major producer of nickel, but its reserves of the metal stand at 5.5 million MT. According to Reuters, nickel is one of the top foreign exchange earners for Cuba’s beleaguered economy, and the country’s production plateaued at 51,000 tonnes in 2017. Since then, its nickel export earnings have been hit by plant obsolescence and low nickel prices.
Reserves: 4.8 million MT
Last on our nickel reserves list is the Philippines, coming in at 4.8 million MT. The country’s nickel production fell dramatically last year, going from 347,000 MT in 2016 to 230,000 MT in 2017. This is by and large due to new environmental regulations, which have seen open-pit mines suspended or closed across the country.
In June 2018, news came out that 23 out of 27 mines had passed an environmental compliance review, which has eased some of the tension in the country. However, President Rodrigo Duterte continues to express negativity towards mining, leaving the country’s future in the field somewhat uncertain.
More nickel reserves by country
Australia, Brazil, Russia, Cuba and the Philippines have the highest nickel reserves in the world, but many other countries also hold significant reserves. Here’s a quick look at where other nations stand:
- Indonesia — 4.5 million MT
- South Africa — 3.7 million MT
- Canada — 2.7 million MT
- China — 2.9 million MT
- Guatemala — 1.8 million MT
- Madagascar — 1.6 million MT
- Colombia — 1.1 million MT
- United States — 130,000 MT
Various other countries account for nickel reserves totaling 6.5 million MT, and the world total for nickel reserves stands at 74 million MT.
Where’s New Caledonia?
We reached out to the US Geological Survey to find out why New Caledonia, once listed as a country with high nickel reserves, is no longer included in its report. It turns out that New Caledonia’s reserves got shelved this year due to a lack of economic viability — while there are still approximately 6.7 million MT of nickel in the ground in New Caledonia, the country’s only nickel mine, owned and operated by Vale, has been mothballed due to prices.
Historically, the country’s South Pacific French Territory has resisted selling nickel ore directly to large nickel-consuming countries such as China in order to preserve its domestic smelting and refining industry, which is one of its key sources of revenue.
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Securities Disclosure: I, Amanda Kay, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.