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Global nickel demand outlook flat for 2016, 2017 amid lack of drivers

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Global nickel demand outlook flat for 2016, 2017 amid lack of drivers

Hong Kong — World nickel consumption is expected to stay flat in 2016 and 2017 as a result of weak economic growth and no rise in steel production, the Australian Department of Industry, Innovation and Science said Friday in its June quarterly report on resources and energy.

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Demand was expected to inch up just 1% from 2015 to 1.91 million mt in 2016, while the forecast for 2017 was another 1.8% gain year on year to 1.94 million mt, the report said.

Nickel consumption is closely linked to steel demand, particularly in China, which accounts for 51% of world consumption, the report said. With downside risks to China and US economy expected to persist, global steel production is forecast to be just a tad higher than 1.6 billion mt/year between 2015 and 2017.

Meanwhile, mined nickel output was expected to shrink by 2.6% to 2.1 million mt in 2016. Low LME nickel prices, which are forecast to slump about 26% year on year to an average $8,708/mt in 2016, were expected to limit any investment in new capacity, the report said. Any increase in consumption was likely to be met through increased production at existing mines, it added.

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The Australian government expects a 16% decline in mined production this year from the world's largest producer, the Philippines. The slump will more than offset a 7% increase in Canadian nickel output to 252,000 mt and a 15% jump in New Caledonian production to 213,800 mt in 2016.

The report warned of growing uncertainty about nickel ore production in the Philippines as the new government under Rodrigo Duterte implements measures to ensure stricter environmental compliance by the mining industry.

Global output of mined nickel was likely to rebound 1.8% year on year in 2017 to 2.13 million mt, supported by higher prices and moderate increase in consumption, according to the report.

A decline in refined nickel production in China and Russia this year was expected to drag global output down by 3.6% from 2015 to 1.91 million mt, the report said. Increased production in Indonesia, which has banned the export of raw ore since 2014, and other smaller producers would partly offset the decline, it added. In 2017, production is expected to remain steady at 1.91 million mt.

"The uncertainty around mine production in the Philippines -- the main source of supply to China -- has the potential to disrupt China's refined nickel production and provides a downside risk to this assessment," the report added.

--Winnie Lee,
--Edited by E Shailaja Nair,