Welcome to the nickel miners news for February. The past month we saw further falls in LME nickel inventory and a large jump in nickel prices, also helped by improving sentiment with regards to a positive near-term outcome for the US-China trade war. LME inventory levels are starting to get seriously low, and the EV rampup is just starting now. February was a very big month of news from the nickel miners reporting financial and production results from 2018, as well as development and exploration activities.
Nickel price news
As of February 26, the nickel spot price was US$5.81/lb, up from US$5.23 last month. The London Metals Exchange [LME] inventory fell yet again for the month (see LME graph below) and has been rapidly falling since mid-2017.
Nickel spot prices - 5-year chart - USD 5.81/lb
London Metals Exchange nickel 5-year inventory
The chart below shows nickel inventory levels have declined and are now getting very low. Note LME nickel inventory is below the 2014 level when the nickel price was above ~USD 6lb.
Nickel demand v supply
The chart below shows nickel is forecast to be in deficit after ~2020-2022 (or at least require new supply to come online).
Source: Wood Mackenzie
Note: Some others such as BMI have been forecasting a nickel surplus by 2020 due to increased Indonesian production and reduced Asian demand.
On February 6, Benchmark Minerals Blog reported:
In the next decade the demand for lithium [used in the battery industry] is set to go up 9-times, cobalt is set to go up 6-times, nickel is set to go up 5 times, and graphite anode is set to go up 9 times.
On February 6, Mining.com reported:
Megafactories buildout could up nickel demand in batteries 19 fold—Benchmark....."Benchmark Mineral Intelligence is now tracking 70 lithium ion battery megafactories under construction across four continents, 46 of which are based in China with only five currently planned for the US. When I gave my last testimony in October 2017, the global total was at 17," Moores said.....Moores said that these megafactories are being built almost exclusively to make lithium ion battery cells using two chemistries: nickel-cobalt-manganese [NCM] and nickel-cobalt-aluminium [NCA].
Nickel Market News
On February, 5 S&P Global reported:
Panasonic eyes upstream investments to secure battery raw materials.....That could come in the form of offtake agreements, especially for critical materials such as cobalt and nickel.....On Monday, Ford's Miller told the audience that automakers could look to start investing directly in cobalt mines in order to secure supply.
On February 6, Investing News reported:
Nickel tipped to be fastest-growing battery metal in EV boom.....“Nickel’s use in lithium-ion batteries accounted for 85,000 tonnes in 2018 yet this was only 4 percent of total nickel demand. However, nickel demand from EV batteries is set to grow by between 30-40 percent a year, making it the fastest-growing battery raw material,” said Moores.
Note: Trend Investing subscribers were already aware of the above mentioned forecasts form my article in July 2017 - "A Study Of The Effects Of EV Penetration On Demand For The EV Metals." My 2018 nickel demand from EVs forecast was 84,860 tonnes.
Nickel Company News
Vale SA (NYSE:VALE)
Vale plans a US$1.7B Voisey's Bay expansion plan to boost their nickel production.
On February 5, Vale SA announced:
Vale informs increase of 180% of its investments in the management of dams between 2015 and 2019. The amount is part of the R$ 5 billion invested in dams maintenance and Health and Safety in Brazil in the period."
On February 8, Vale SA announced:
Vale informs on the hiring of expert panel, by the American law firm Skadden, to assist in the investigation of the causes of the dam breach in Brumadinho.
On February 21, Vale SA announced: "Vale announces signing of Preliminary Agreement for indemnifications."
Norilsk Nickel [LSX: MNOD] (OTCPK:NILSY)
On January 30, Norilsk Nickel announced:
Norilsk Nickel announces preliminary consolidated production results for 4Q and FY2018, and reiterates production outlook for 2019. In 4Q18, consolidated nickel production increased 16% quarter-on-quarter (q-o-q) to 62kt, almost all of which was produced from own Russian feed. The growth was attributed to expansion of carbonyl nickel production capacities at Kola MMC and increase in production of nickel concentrate for sale to third parties. In 2018, consolidated nickel production increased 1% year-on-year (y-o-y) to 219kt. Nickel output from the Company’s own Russian feed amounted to 217 kt, up 3% y-o-y and above the 210-215 kt production guidance.
On February 13, Norilsk Nickel announced:
Nornickel to take dispute with Botswana's BCL to London. The Botswana Court of Appeal has handed down a judgment in favour of Nornickel ruling that the dispute between the Russian company and Botswana's BCL Group over the failed sale of Nornickel’s interest in Nkomati (hereinafter “the Transaction”) must, in accordance with the parties’ initial agreement, be brought before the London Court of International Arbitration [LCIA].
On February 26, Norilsk Nickel announced:
Nornickel reports full year 2018 audited consolidated IFRS financial results." Revenue was up 28% to USD 11.67b. Net profit up 44% to USD 3.059b. Free cash flow increased to USD 4.9 billion. Net debt reduced by 14% to ~USD 7b. The Company quotes - "Nornickel became one of the most profitable global diversified mining majors in 2018." The excellent result was said to be due to "improved metal prices, higher copper output and sale of palladium from earlier accumulated stocks....and lower operating expenses driven by efficiency gains."
An outstanding result helped along by record palladium prices.
Investors can read my article "An Update On Norilsk Nickel."
BHP Group [ASX:BHP] (NYSE:BHP)
In 2017, BHP announced a US$43.3m investment in its Nickel West project to enable conversion to nickel sulphate.
On January 29, BHP Group announced: "Samarco debt negotiations update."
On February 19, BHP Group announced: "BHP results for the half year ended 31 December 2018." Highlights include:
- "Attributable profit of US$3.8 billion and underlying attributable profit of US$3.7 billion down 8% from the prior period.
- Underlying EBITDA of US$10.5 billion at a margin of 52% from continuing operations.
- Net operating cash flow of US$6.7 billion and free cash flow of US$3.6 billion from continuing operations with volumes and commodity prices broadly in line with the prior period.
- Productivity guidance is now expected to be broadly flat for the 2019 financial year largely reflecting the unplanned production outages at Olympic Dam, Western Australia Iron Ore, Spence and Nickel West."
- Net debt of US$9.9 billion, reduced by US$1.0 billion from 30 June 2018 (reduced by US$5.5 billion from 31 December 2017), which includes US$7.0 billion of proceeds received from the onshore US sale, partially offset by the completion of a US$5.2 billion off-market BHP Group Limited share buy-back.
- Capital and exploration expenditure of US$3.5 billion. Guidance unchanged at below US$8 billion per annum for the 2019 and 2020 financial years.
- The Onshore US sales process was completed on 31 October 2018, with the net proceeds of US$10.4 billion returned to shareholders through a combination of an off-market buy-back in December 2018 and a special dividend (US$1.02 per share) in January 2019."
Jinchuan Group [HK:2362]
On February 1, Jinchuan Group announced:
Profit warning. The Board would like to inform the shareholders of the Company and potential investors that, based on the preliminary review of the unaudited consolidated management accounts of the Group and the current available information to the Board, the Group is expected to record a loss attributable to the shareholders of the Company in 2018 2H. Materially lower prices for copper and cobalt in 2018 2H as compared to 2018 1H with market copper and cobalt prices falling by approximately 11% and 18% respectively from 2018 1H to 2018 2H. A decrease in cobalt quantity sold by approximately 70% in 2018 2H as compared to 2018 1H due to slower than expected demand from customers and electric vehicle market in China. Approximately 1,400 tonnes of cobalt hydroxide inventory was recorded as at 31 December 2018 with a net realization value of approximately US$30 million under the current market terms.....The significant increase in royalty rate on copper and cobalt from 2% to 3.5% in The Democratic Republic of Congo since June 2018.
Glencore (OTCPK:GLCNF) [LSX:GLEN]
On February 1, Glencore announced:
Full year 2018 production report. Own sourced nickel production of 123,800 tonnes was 14,600 tonnes (13%) higher than in 2017, mainly reflecting Koniambo running two production lines throughout the year."
On February 20, Glencore announced:
Furthering our commitment to the transition to a low-carbon economy. As one of the world’s largest diversified resource companies, Glencore has a key role to play in enabling transition to a low carbon economy. We do this through our well-positioned portfolio that includes copper, cobalt, nickel, vanadium and zinc - commodities that underpin energy and mobility transformation. We believe this transition is a key part of the global response to the increasing risks posed by climate change.
Sumitomo Metal Mining Co [JP:5713] (OTCPK:SMMYY)
On February 8, Sumitomo Metal Mining Co. announced: "Consolidated financial results for the third quarter ended December 31, 2018 [IFRS]." For the nine months ended December 31, 2018 profit was down by 1.6%.
On February 15, Sumitomo Metal Mining Co. announced: "Partial revision to the "Renewal of countermeasures to large-scale acquisitions of Sumitomo Metal Mining Co., Ltd. Shares (takeover defense measures)"
Anglo American [LSX:AAL] (OTCQX:AAUKF)
On February 21, Anglo American announced:
Anglo American preliminary results 2018. Mark Cutifani, Chief Executive of Anglo American, said: “We are delivering improvements on a consistent basis, with a further 4% increase in underlying EBITDA to $9.2 billion. Our commitment to disciplined capital allocation has helped strengthen our balance sheet by more than $10 billion over three years, with net debt reduced to $2.8 billion at the end of 2018."
On February 14, Eramet announced:
Eramet creates Eramet ideas and accelerates R&D. Commenting on this, Laurent Joncourt, Chairman of Eramet Ideas, said: "By joining major projects, at national or European level, by establishing partnerships with universities, industrial partners, start-ups and SMEs, we want to become a key player in the future of extractive metallurgy and raw materials’ recycling.
On February 20, Eramet announced: "Eramet: high current operating income for 2018, at €581m, driven by a favourable price environment." Highlights include:
- "Sales up 5% over 2018 to €3,825m in a context of rising metal prices and favourable markets for mineral sands.
- New operating records for the Mining and Metals division, confirming the Group's ambitions: 4.3 million tonnes of manganese ore produced, 1.2 million tonnes of nickel ore exported out of New Caledonia in 2018, 7,743 thousand tonnes of mineral sands concentrate produced.
- EBITDA at €843m, in line with the guidance provided. Second year of strong value creation with a 22% ROCE.
- High current operating income, at €581m1 with contrasting performances by activity notably production difficulties in Nickel activity, and an unfavourable market environment in the main sectors of the High Performance Alloys division.
- Net income - Group share at €53m, including a non-current provision of €65m to factor in the cost of the quality process review within the High Performance Alloys division.
- A key milestone in 2019 for the major growth projects of the Group: Organic growth in manganese ore with a production target of 4.5 million tonnes as of 2019 and decision expected to increase volumes by end-2023 to 7 Mt. Expected decision to be made on the lithium project in Argentina reflecting the acceleration of the diversification strategy in metals for the energy transition.
- Intrinsic growth and productivity gains in 2019, offsetting the current deterioration in market conditions, thereby resulting in forecast EBITDA close to that of 2018."
Sherritt International (OTCPK:SHERF) [TSX:S]
On January 28, Sherritt International announced: "Sherritt announces 2018 production results and guidance for 2019." Highlights include:
- "Finished nickel production at the Moa Joint Venture (“Moa JV”) in 2018 was 30,708 tonnes, in line with guidance and indicative of efforts to overcome adverse weather conditions, transportation delays and hydrogen sulphide supply disruption experienced throughout the course of the year.
- Finished nickel production forecasted for 2019 at the Moa JV is expected to increase between 1% and 8% from 2018 results.
- Net direct cash costs at the Moa JV are forecasted to be in the range of US$3.40 and US$3.90 per pound of finished nickel sold in 2019. The increase over 2018 guidance reflects the recent decline in cobalt prices and its impact on reduced by-product revenue.
- Sherritt’s share of capital spending for 2019 is forecasted at US$72 million, which will be primarily earmarked to replace existing equipment and infrastructure at the Moa JV as well as for drilling on Block 10."
On February 28, Sherritt International announced: "Sherritt reports higher nickel production at Moa JV and stronger balance sheet for Q4 2018."
Independence Group [ASX:IGO] (OTC:IIDDY)
On January 31, Independence Group announced: "Ni-Cu sulphides identified at Plumridge Nickel Project."
On January 31, Independence Group announced: "Record quarterly metal production from Nova and Tropicana." Highlights include:
- "Nova delivered record metal production for the Quarter at cash costs in line with guidance at A$1.94/lb (payable), which was a 30% improvement on the previous quarter.
- Tropicana delivered record quarterly gold production at cash costs and All -In Sustaining Costs [AISC] in line with guidance at A$645/oz and A$848/oz respectively.
- Underlying EBITDA for the Quarter of A$68M and underlying free cash flow of A$29M.
- Cash balance increased from A$176M at the start of the Quarter to A$208M, resulting in a net cash position of A$94M."
On February 20, Independence Group announced:
- "At 31 December 2018, IGO’s total attributable Mineral Resources contained estimated metal contents of 302kt Ni, 107kt Cu, 9kt Co, and 2.31Moz Au. These estimates are inclusive of Ore Reserves.
- IGO’s total attributable Ore Reserves as at 31 December 2018 contained estimated metal contents of 219kt Ni, 87kt Cu, 7kt Co and 1.12Moz Au."
On February 20, Independence Group announced: "Lake Mackay JV: 63 AEM targets and Ni-Co prospect defined." Highlights include:
- "63 targets recognised in Lake Mackay JV airborne EM.
- 9,600m of RC drilling to start early Q2.
- Second Nickel-Cobalt Prospect recognised: 2.0% Co, 1.0% Ni and 11.2% Mn from rock chip sampling."
Western Areas Ltd. [ASX:WSA](OTCPK:WNARF)
On February 20, Western Areas Ltd. announced: "FY 2019 half year financial results... The Company remains in a strong, debt free, financial position to continue to fund its active growth projects, such as Odysseus, and exploration in the near term." Highlights include:
- "Nickel production into concentrate 10.8kt (10.9kt).
- Strong, debt free, balance sheet with cash at bank of A$134.3m, plus A$16.6 min receivables.
- Increase in sales revenue to A$123.7m (A$115.8m).
- Average realised price of nickel (before pay ability) of A$7.45/lb (A$6.81/lb).
- EBITDA of A$30.6m (A$36.4m).
- NPAT of A$0.2m (A$3.5m).
- Odysseus Project DFS completed and decision to mine announced for a long life, low all‐in sustaining cost project.
- Bagging facility completed for the Mill Recovery Enhancement Project [MREP], enabling spot sales to commence during the half."
- NB: Comparisons in brackets refer to the corresponding period 1H FY18.
On February 22, Western Areas Ltd. announced: "Nickel-copper sulphide drilling begins at Mt Alexander."
Highlands Pacific [ASX:HIG] (OTC:HLPCF)
On January 29, Highlands Pacific announced: "Quarterly activities report for the period ended 31 December 2018." Highlights include:
Ramu Nickel Cobalt Mine (Highlands 8.56%)
- "Record production of 9,182 tonnes of nickel achieved in December quarter. Annual production of nickel in concentrate at a record 35,355 tonnes.
- Quarterly cobalt production totalled 838 tonnes. Annual cobalt production was 3,275 tonnes, slightly below the record output of 3,308 tonnes achieved in 2017.
- Product shipments resumed strongly in the December quarter.
- A major expansion of production capacity is being investigated by project manager MCC. Highlands is waiting on final details."
Sewa Bay Nickel (Exploration)
- "Discussions with Sojitz on future explorations programs ended in January.
- Strategic review of the project will be now be undertaken."
Panoramic Resources [ASX:PAN] (OTCPK:PANRF)
On January 29, Panoramic Resources announced: "Quarterly report for the period ending 31 December 2018." Highlights include:
- "Cash – $19.2 million in available and restricted cash, plus $16.5 million available to be drawn down against the $40 million Macquarie Facility."
- "Mining – mine production commenced from the Savannah ore body.
- Process Plant – refurbishment completed at the end of November, first ore through the mill mid-December.
- Tailings Storage Facility – 3m lift of the existing facility wall completed. Savannah North ventilation rise–pilot hole completed mid-January 2019, reaming underway.
- Recruitment – recruiting and on-boarding of site personnel ongoing.
- Revenue – first concentrate shipment scheduled for 5-10 February 2019.
- Exploration – additional assaying of samples from Frog Hollow returned anomalous vanadium results."
On February 14, Panoramic Resources announced: "Savannah first revenue. 1st concentrate shipment departed 13 February 2019" Highlights include:
- "MV Heemskerkgracht departed Wyndham bound for Lianyungang, China.
- Savannah bulk nickel/copper/cobalt concentrate on-board of 7,735 wmt.
- Preliminary invoice value of approximately A$8.6million."
The Savannah Mine and Mill in Western Australia restarts production
Axiom Mining [ASX:AVQ] (OTC:AXNNF)
On January 30, Axiom Mining announced: "Isabel Nickel Project update." Highlights include:
- "San Jorge mining operations. Mining has commenced. First shipment of ore is on track for this quarter.
- Off-take and financing. Axiom is considering a number of final proposals for off-take agreements including offers of debt project financing. A final decision on these offers will likely occur in the coming weeks."
On February 19, Axiom Mining announced: "Excellent drill results at San Jorge Island, Isabel Nickel Project." An example below:
The Isabel Nickel Direct Shipping Ore [DSO] Project Solomon Islands commences production
Other nickel producers
Franco/Nevada [TSX:FNV], Mincor Resources [ASX:MCR], MMG [HK:1208], South32 [ASX:S32], Lundin Mining [TSX:LUN], Nickel Asia Corporation [PSE:NIKL] (OTC:NIKAY).
Note: First Quantum Minerals halted their nickel production from their Ravensthorpe mine in 2017 due to low nickel prices.
RNC Minerals [TSX:RNX] (OTCQX:RNKLF)
No nickel-related news, but there was some gold related news, which you can read here.
Poseidon Nickel [ASX:POS] (OTC:PSDNF)
On January 30, Poseidon Nickel announced:
Quarterly report 31 December 2018. Change in Board Composition. Drilling at Abi Rose confirms mineralisation continues within and outside the limits of historical exploration and is open at depth with the plunge direction now identified.
Garibaldi Resources [TSXV:GGI] [GR:RQM] [LN:OUX6] (OTC:GGIFF)
On February 21, Garibaldi Resources announced:
Garibaldi drills 7.7% nickel over 4.8 meters within 49-meter intercept in new shallow zone at Nickel Mountain. Drill hole EL-18-33 cut three separate intervals highlighted by 4.8 meters of massive sulphides featuring 7.7% nickel and 2.95% copper within a broader 49-meter intersection starting at a downhole depth of just 37.9 meters and grading 1.34% nickel and 0.89% copper.
Cassini Resources [ASX:CZI]
On February 19, Cassini Resources announced: "2019 field programs set to commence."
North American Nickel [TSXV:NAN] (WSCRF)
On January 28, North American Nickel announced:
Exploration of the Fossilik intrusion Keel structure for high tenor ni-cu-co-PGE sulphide mineralization. North American Nickel Inc. is pleased to report the results of a detailed geological, geochemical, and geophysical investigation to test the P-058 sulphide zone and the keel zone of the large Fossilik intrusion located centrally on the Company's 100% owned Maniitsoq nickel-copper-cobalt-PGM sulphide project in southwest Greenland.
On February 12, North American Nickel announced:
North American Nickel announces results from Post Creek Drill Program, Sudbury, Ontario. Footwall style mineralization which typically carries elevated abundances of copper, nickel, and precious metals was also absent. The mineralized intervals include: 7.50m @ 3.55% zinc and 0.82ppm silver.
Amur Minerals Corp. [LSE:AMC] [GR:A7L] (OTCPK:AMMCF)
On February 26, Amur Minerals announced: "Kun-Manie Pre-Feasibility Study."
Summary PFS results
Note: TS = Toll Smelt option, FFS = Electric Furnace/ Flash Smelter option, PP = Payback Period.
Ardea Resources [ASX:ARL] (OTCPK:ARRRF), Artemis Resources (OTCQB:ARTTF) [ASV:ARV], Australian Mines (OTCQB:AMSLF) [ASX:AUZ], Cassini Resources [ASX: CZI] (OTC:CSSQF), Clean TeQ [ASX:CLQ] (OTCQX:CTEQF), Giga Metals (OTCPK:HNCKF) [TSXV:GIGA], Mustang Minerals [TSXV:MUM], New Age Metals (OTCQB:NMTLF) [TXV:NAM], Nickel Creek Platinum [TSX:NCP] (OTCQX:NCPCF), Pancontinental Resources Corporation [TSXV:PUC], PolyMet Mining (NYSEMKT:PLM) [TSX:POM], S2 Resources (ASX:S2R), St George Mining Ltd [ASX:SGO] [GR:SOG], Transition Metals (OTC:TNTMF) [TSXV:XTM], and Wallbridge Mining [TSX:WM] (OTC:WLBMF).
Note: Some of the above companies are covered in the Cobalt monthly news.
Nickel spot prices were sharply up in February and inventories fell again.
Highlights for the month were:
- Benchmark Minerals - In the next decade, the demand for battery nickel is set to go up 5 times.
- Benchmark Minerals - Megafactories buildout could up nickel demand in batteries 19-fold.
- Simon Moores - "Nickel demand from EV batteries is set to grow by between 30 and 40 percent a year."
- Norilsk Nickel 2018 results - Revenue was up 28% to USD 11.67b. Net profit up 44% to USD 3.059b. Free cash flow increased to USD 4.9 billion. The Company quotes - "Nornickel became one of the most profitable global diversified mining majors in 2018."
- BHP H2 2018 results - "Attributable profit of US$3.8 billion and underlying attributable profit of US$3.7 billion down 8% from the prior period. Productivity guidance is now expected to be broadly flat for the 2019 FY.
- Jinchuan Group forecasting a profit loss in H2 2018 due to falling copper and cobalt prices, and rising DRC royalties.
- Glencore - Full year 2018 production report. Own sourced nickel production of 123,800 tonnes was 14,600 tonnes (13%) higher than in 2017.
- Eramet forecasts "intrinsic growth and productivity gains in 2019, offsetting the current deterioration in market conditions."
- Sherritt - Finished nickel production at the Moa Joint Venture (“Moa JV”) in 2018 was 30,708 tonnes, in line with guidance.
- Independence Group - "Nova delivered record metal production for the Quarter at cash costs in line with guidance at A$1.94/lb (payable), which was a 30% improvement on the previous quarter."
- Western Areas "remains in a strong, debt free, financial position to continue to fund its active growth projects, such as Odysseus, and exploration in the near term." Odysseus Project DFS completed and decision to mine announced for a long life, low all‐in sustaining cost project.
- Highlands Pacific - Record production of 9,182 tonnes of nickel achieved in December quarter. Annual production of nickel in concentrate at a record 35,355 tonnes.
- Panoramic Resources (restart) and Axiom Mining (DSO) commence nickel production.
- Garibaldi Resources drills 7.7% nickel over 4.8 meters within 49-meter intercept in new shallow zone at Nickel Mountain.
- Amur Minerals releases their Kun-Manie Pre-Feasibility Study.
As usual, all comments are welcome.
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Disclosure: I am/we are long NORILSK NICKEL [LSE:MNOD], GLENCORE [LSX:GLEN], RNC MINERALS [TSX:RNX], AXIOM MINING (ASX:AVQ), ARDEA RESOURCES [ASX:ARL], AUSTRALIAN MINES [ASX:AUZ], POSEIDON NICKEL [ASX:POS], SAMA RESOURCES [TSXV: SME]. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.
Additional disclosure: The information in this article is general in nature and should not be relied upon as personal financial advice.