China Nickel Ore Lifeline at Risk as Philippines Talks Tough

  • Duterte’s pick for environment brief is a mining critic
  • China Merchants flags risk of crackdown on nation’s miners

Nickel ore shipments from the Philippines may be jeopardized by President-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s appointment of an anti-mining crusader to head the country’s environment department, a move that may potentially disrupt supplies to Chinese buyers.

Concerns that the new government will limit ore exports helped push nickel higher on the London Metal Exchange on Wednesday, analysts from Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. said in a note. The metal closed up 0.4 percent. It lost 0.7 percent to trade at $9,165 a ton by 9:27 a.m. in Shanghai on Thursday after the International Monetary Fund cut its forecast for U.S. growth this year.

“We might see an imminent crackdown on Philippines’ small mines,” Sam Xia, an analyst at China Merchants Futures Ltd., said from Shenzhen on Wednesday, a day after Regina “Gina” Lopez, 61, managing director of ABS-CBN Lingkod Kapamilya Foundation Inc., said that she’d accept the role. “This will reduce its nickel ore exports, including to China.”

The Philippines has emerged as the key supplier of nickel ore to Asia’s top economy after Indonesia halted shipments in January 2014 in a bid to promote local processing. Duterte, who takes office on June 30, told a forum this week that he will review all mining claims, and has referred to problematic mining in Surigao, a province that ships ore to China. The material is used to make nickel, which is used in stainless steel.

Lopez criticized miners’ track record in comments to ABS-CBN News Channel late Tuesday, saying that she didn’t like the industry as it harmed the environment and hurt the poor. Stocks of locally listed mining companies slumped this week, including Nickel Asia Corp., the nation’s largest producer in which Sumitomo Metal Mining Co. owns a stake.

China’s nickel ore imports from the Philippines rose to 3 million tons in May, the highest level in seven months, according to official figures. That accounted for 97 percent of the country’s total purchases. Shipments from Indonesia have dwindled after that country’s prohibition.

— With assistance by Martin Ritchie, and Winnie Zhu

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