Japan’s Top Producer Says Zinc Could Surge to 5-Year High

  • Price may rise to $2,500 by March as tight ore supply persists
  • Banks from Goldman to Citi have highlighted bullish outlook

Zinc, this year’s best performing metal, has the potential to extend gains to the highest level since 2011 because of a shortfall in ore production, assuming that Glencore Plc doesn’t restart idled mines, according to Japan’s biggest producer.

Prices could advance to $2,500 a metric ton by March because of “super tight” ore supply after companies cut output, Osamu Saito, general manager of Mitsui Mining & Smelting Co.’s metals sales group, said in an interview in Tokyo. “Even if Glencore ends production cuts, supply will continue to trail demand, though the feeling of shortage will ease somewhat.”

The company joins Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Deutsche Bank AG and Citigroup Inc. in highlighting the bullish outlook. Goldman Sachs predicts that zinc will reach $2,500 in three months, while Citigroup says it will average $2,445 in 2017. The metal used to galvanize steel has already risen more than its peers on the London Metal Exchange this year and traded at $2,260 on Monday at 10:29 a.m. in London.

Mitsui Mining is maintaining its estimate for a global deficit this year of 440,000 tons, the widest in over a decade. About 1 million tons will be lost this year through Glencore’s cuts and closures of depleted mines in Australia and Ireland, Saito said Thursday. That’s about 7 percent of global supply last year based on International Lead & Zinc Study Group data compiled by Bloomberg.

Ore output in China, the world’s biggest producer and consumer of refined zinc, will also be curbed this quarter because of the approach of winter, prompting local smelters to reduce production, Saito said.

“Our analysis suggests that the zinc market still has the best fundamentals, and it remains our top pick,” RBC Capital Markets said in an Oct. 16 note. The firm lifted its 2016 forecast for zinc to $0.93 a pound from $0.85 and raised its 2017 forecast to $1.15 a pound from $1.10. That’s about $2,535 a ton.

Glencore closely monitored supply and demand before cutting 500,000 tons of output last year, Chief Executive Officer Ivan Glasenberg told investors on an August call. “At the right time, where we believe supply-demand justifies bringing it back into the market, we’ll do the same day,” he said. A spokesman for Baar, Switzerland-based Glencore declined to comment further.

“Everyone is focusing on the issue of whether the company keeps the output cuts,” Saito said. A majority view among industry analysts is that the company won’t act until after the first quarter of 2017, he said.

Average prices could drop to $2,100 in the financial year starting next April if Glencore restarts the idled mines, while they could increase to $2,400 without a resumption, Saito said. He put the average for the next six months at $2,300. “There’s nothing out there that we can see capable of driving prices below $2,000,” Saito said.

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