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- CRB Fundamentals - 2008 Commodity Articles


Nickel (symbol Ni) is a hard, malleable, ductile metal that has a silvery tinge that can take on a high polish. Nickel is somewhat ferromagnetic and is a fair conductor of heat and electricity. Nickel is primarily used in the production of stainless steel and other corrosion-resistant alloys. Nickel is used in coins to replace silver, in rechargeable batteries, and in electronic circuitry. Nickel plating techniques, like electro-less coating or single-slurry coating, are employed in such applications as turbine blades, helicopter rotors, extrusion dies, and rolled steel strip.

Nickel futures and options trade at the London Metal Exchange (LME). The nickel futures contract calls for the delivery of 6 metric tons of primary nickel with at least 99.80% purity in the form of full plate, cut cathodes, pellets or briquettes. The contract is priced in terms of U.S. dollars per metric ton.

Prices - Nickel prices varied widely during 2007. Nickel started the year at about $34,327 per metric ton, and then rallied sharply to reach a high of $54,249 per metric ton in mid-May. From there the price fell sharply to about $25,155 in August, rallied a bit for the next few months but then moved lower to close the year at about $26,437 per metric ton, down 27% from the beginning of the year.

Supply - World mine production of nickel in 2005 (latest data available) rose +5.7% yr/yr to 1.480 million metric tons. That is more than double the production seen in 1970. The world's largest mine producers of nickel in 2005 were Russia (with 21% of world production), Australia (13%), Canada (13%), Indonesia (11%), and New Caledonia (8%). In 2004 (latest data available) U.S. secondary nickel production fell 7.2% to 77,280 metric tons, farther down from the record high of 83,960 metric tons in 2002.

Demand - U.S. consumption of nickel in 2005 (latest data available) fell 4.9% to 174,000 metric tons, falling farther below the 2002 record high of 197,000 metric tons. The primary U.S. nickel consumption use is for stainless and heat-resisting steels, which accounted for 63% of U.S. consumption in 2005. Other consumption uses were nickel alloys (10%), super alloys (9%), electro-plating anodes (6%), copper base alloys (3%), alloy steels (2%), and chemicals (1%).

Trade - The U.S. relied on imports for 17% of its nickel consumption in 2007, down from 60% in 2006. U.S. imports of primary and secondary nickel in 2004 rose +2.4% to 158,500 metric tons, up from 2002's 12-year low of 130,110 metric tons. U.S. exports of primary and secondary nickel in 20053 rose +12.3% to 63,230 metric tons, which was a new record high.

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