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Nickel Still Flat, But There Is An Upside

By Robert Young — Exclusive to Nickel Investing News 

Nickel Still Flat, but There is an Upside Once again it appears that nickel prices are under pressure. With the current price hovering around $18,700/tonne, prices have remained relatively flat through the first quarter of 2012. During 2011, nickel prices averaged $22,680 per tonne compared to $21,980 per tonne for the previous twelve months. But fourth quarter prices slipped to $18,333 and have remained close to that level ever since. Now, with recent concerns in the market over China's economic growth, or lack thereof, nickel may continue to face an uphill battle.

China has been the leading consumer of nickel, but with the recent focus on the country's projected slowdown, demand may be stalled for quite some time. Earlier this year, China cut its 2012 growth target for gross domestic product to 7.5 percent, an eight-year low. Additionally, the country raised its gasoline and diesel prices for the second time this year, prompting concerns that higher prices could weigh on Chinese consumers. The Chinese Automotive Association is already anticipating unmet targets for the year.

Back in June 2011, the  Bank of America Merrill Lynch predicted nickel surpluses could climb as high as 60,000 metric tons in 2012. At the time of the announcement, nickel was trading at $22,283 per metric ton and the bank expected a ten percent drop in the price.

That news hasn't stopped mining companies and refineries from producing even more nickel. According to  Macquarie Group Ltd., new mines could increase the supply by eleven percent in 2012. That amount would be the most in 17 years if raw-material producers continue to be active in exploration and mining, and supply expands faster than demand.

Additional supply could also come from Vale's (NYSE: VALE) Onca Puma,  Anglo American's (OTC Pink: AAUKY) Barro Alto mines in Brazil,  Glencore's (LSE: GLEN) Murrin Murrin, or First Quantum Minerals' (TSX: FM) Raventhorpe in Australia, according to Morgan Stanley. Projects by Vale in New Caledonia and Sherritt International (TSX: S) in Madagascar could take production from new operations to 117,000 tons in 2012, the bank estimates. Other new mining projects could add more than 100,000 tonnes to global nickel production in 2012, causing another surplus year.

Barclays Capital estimates that nickel production could exceed demand by 45,000 metric tons, a 73 percent jump from 2011. That amount is equal to 46 percent of stockpiles tracked by the London Metal Exchange.

The good news

But despite the negative atmosphere, there are some positive factors coming to the surface that could help the metal shine in the latter half of 2012.

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