What’s the zinc outlook for 2022? Experts share their thoughts on what’s ahead for the base metal in the new year.
Click here to read the previous zinc outlook.
After an uncertain 2020, zinc rose steadily in 2021, hitting a 14 year high in the second half of the year.
The power crisis and increasing demand for the base metal as strict COVID-19-related lockdown restrictions were lifted supported prices for zinc during the 12 month period.
As the new year begins, the Investing News Network (INN) caught up with analysts to find out what’s ahead for zinc supply, demand and prices. Read on to learn what they had to say.
Zinc outlook 2022: 2021 in review
Zinc prices kicked off 2021 above the US$2,800 per tonne mark after rallying for most of the second half of 2020. A recovery in the steel sector helped the base metal throughout the first half of 2021 as COVID-19 lockdown measures eased, supporting demand for zinc.
Commenting on the main trends seen in the market in 2021, Helen O’Cleary of CRU Group told INN zinc’s demand recovery was stronger than expected in the US and Europe, but lagged in Asia excluding China.
In October, zinc prices hit their highest level in 14 years, hovering around the US$3,800 mark on the back of the power crisis and costs associated with carbon emissions.
“Zinc’s price outperformed expectations in 2021 on the back of strong demand and smelter disruption, particularly in Q4, when European smelters started to cut back due to record high energy prices,” O’Cleary said.
One of the world’s top zinc smelters, Nyrstar (EBR:NYR), said back in October that it was planning to cut production at its European smelter operations. Mining giant Glencore (LSE:GLEN,OTC Pink:GLCNF) also said it was adjusting production to reduce exposure to peak power pricing periods during the day.
Speaking with INN, Carlos Sanchez of CPM Group said zinc has been in recovery since prices bottomed out in 2020, helped in part by vaccination efforts globally and also by supply disruptions around the world.
“The most recent issue is the concern about high energy input costs into smelters in Europe — that's been pushing prices higher recently,” he said. Even though prices could not sustain that level until the end of the year, zinc remained above US$3,500 on the last trading day of 2021.
Zinc outlook 2022: Supply and demand
As mentioned, demand for base metals took an upward turn in 2021 as the world economy recovered on the back of stimulus plans and as vaccination rollouts took place in many parts of the world.
Looking at what’s ahead for zinc demand in 2022, CRU is expecting Chinese demand growth to slow to 1.1 percent year-on-year as the effects of stimulus wane.
“In the world ex-China we expect demand to grow by 2.4 percent, with the ongoing auto sector recovery partially offsetting the construction sector slowdown in Europe and the US,” O’Cleary said.
CPM is also expecting zinc demand to remain healthy in 2022, both inside and outside of China, including demand from developing countries. “One thing that remains uncertain is what will happen with COVID,” Sanchez said.
Moving onto the supply side of the picture, the analyst expects that if everything remains status quo, disruptions are unlikely to happen.
“There are going to be some blips here and there, but there have been some labor issues in Peru; yes, there's been some energy problems in Europe and China, but that's a fact in zinc output and in demand to an extent,” Sanchez said. “But really the catalyst that we don't know, and how it can affect prices, is how COVID will impact industries.”
For her part, O’Cleary is expecting most disruptions to happen in the first quarter, with CRU currently having a disruption allowance of 55,000 tonnes for that period.
“But this may well tip over into Q2,” she said. CRU is expecting mine supply to grow by 5.1 percent year-on-year in 2022, and for the concentrates market to register a 190,000 tonne surplus.
Meanwhile, smelter output is forecast to grow by less than 1 percent year-on-year in 2022, according to the firm, which is currently forecasting a small refined zinc deficit in 2022.
“Should smelter disruption exceed our 55,000 tonne allowance the deficit could grow,” O’Cleary said. “But high prices and a tight Chinese market could lead to further releases of refined zinc from the State Reserve Bureau stockpile, which could push the market towards balance or even a small surplus.”
Similarly, CPM is expecting the market to shift into a deficit in 2022. “That's due to the strong demand, recovering economies of COVID and its financial economic effects,” Sanchez said.
Zinc outlook 2022: What’s ahead
Commenting on how zinc might perform next year, O’Cleary said prices are likely to remain high in Q1 due to the threat of further energy-related cutbacks in Europe during the winter heating season.
O’Cleary suggested investors keep an eye on high prices and inflation, as they could hamper zinc demand growth.
Similarly, CPM expects prices to stay above current levels and to average around US$3,400 for the year. “I wouldn't be surprised to see zinc top US$4,000,” Sanchez said. “But at the same time, I don't think it holds above there; you'd have to have really strong fundamentals for that to happen, stronger than what's happening now.”
The CPM director suggested zinc investors should keep an eye on COVID-19 developments and be quick movers, taking a position whether it's short or long.
Looking ahead, FocusEconomics analysts see prices for zinc cooling markedly next year before falling further in 2023, as output gradually improves and new mines come online.
“Moreover, fading logistical disruptions and easing energy prices will exert additional downward pressure, although solid demand for steel will continue to support prices,” they said in their December report, adding that pandemic-related uncertainty is clouding the zinc outlook.
Panelists recently polled by the firm see prices averaging US$2,827 in Q4 2022, and US$2,651 in Q4 2023.
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Securities Disclosure: I, Priscila Barrera, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.
Editorial Disclosure: The Investing News Network does not guarantee the accuracy or thoroughness of the information reported in the interviews it conducts. The opinions expressed in these interviews do not reflect the opinions of the Investing News Network and do not constitute investment advice. All readers are encouraged to perform their own due diligence.
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