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The Big Take

The 18 Minutes of Trading Chaos That Broke the Nickel Market

When the commodity’s price went vertical last week, the metals industry plunged into turmoil not seen since the Tin Crisis of 1985.

The open-outcry trading ring at the London Metal Exchange in February, several days before the nickel price spike.

The open-outcry trading ring at the London Metal Exchange in February, several days before the nickel price spike.

Photographer: Chris J. Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
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It was 5:42 a.m. on March 8 in London when the nickel market broke. At that time of day, bleary-eyed traders are typically just glancing at prices as they swig coffee on their way to the office.

On this day, however, metal traders across the city were glued to a screen, watching the price action on the electronic market, which was already open to accommodate Asian trading. Nickel prices usually move a few hundred dollars per ton in a day. For most of the past decade, they’d traded between $10,000 and $20,000.