China’s production of nickel pig iron will rise 6.2 percent to 155,000 metric tons next year, with Chinese stainless steel producers substituting about one-third of primary nickel with the cheaper alternative, CRU said.
“Nickel pig iron is the swing producer in the nickel market,” Vanessa Davidson, a London-based analyst at CRU, today said at the New Caledonia Nickel Conference in Noumea. “About 30 percent of total primary nickel in China’s stainless steel production is from nickel pig iron.”
Chinese stainless steelmakers began substituting nickel with nickel pig iron in 2003 in response to rising prices. Nickel pig iron, a form of ferronickel, is priced as much as 15 percent less than the London Metal Exchange nickel price because of its higher levels of impurities than refined nickel.
Nickel is the second-best performer on the London Metal Exchange this year, driven by rebounding demand from stainless steelmakers. Prices have traded at an average of $21,624 a ton since the start of the year. Nickel prices last year surged by 58 percent.
CRU counts 88 nickel pig iron producers in China with capacity of 600,000 metric tons. Some capacity has been closed because of the government’s efforts to curb energy use and shut down polluting industries, Davidson said.
Stainless steel usage accounts for two-thirds of nickel demand. This year global output of stainless steel will increase to at least 30 million tons from 24 million tons last year, Bureau of International Recycling said last month.