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Nickel price forecast: Will the metal continue to rise after 2022?

By Fitri Wulandari

Edited by Jekaterina Drozdovica


Updated

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Nickel
Nickel Spot
28813.83 USD
-707.61 -2.400%
Copper
Copper
3.8575 USD
-0.0245 -0.630%

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A lump of nickel ore on a white background
Are the good times over for nickel? – Photo: Shutterstock

As 2022 comes to a close, nickel has emerged as the clear winner among base metals that have survived a volatile year.

After rising to multi-year highs in the first quarter as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a global economic slowdown caused by central banks’ aggressive monetary tightening and the effects of Covid-19 lockdowns on China’s economy have wiped out gains for other industrial metals.

Copper, the economic health barometer, has fallen nearly 15% year-to-date (YTD), aluminium has lost 11.5% YTD, and tin has plunged 41% YTD. Nickel has increased by 29% since the beginning of 2022, despite falling from $100,000 per tonne during a short-squeeze in March.

However, as it has become clear that some major economies will enter a recession in 2023, as well as uncertainty surrounding China’s plan to end its ultra-strict ‘zero-Covid’ policy, demand for the metal used to make stainless steel may fall.

On the supply side, rising supply from Indonesia, the world’s top nickel producer, is poised to add downward pressure on the metals.

So what factors are shaping a nickel price prediction for 2022, 2025 and 2030?

Nickel price trend: Major price drivers in 2022

In the most recent nickel price news, the metal had been on a bull run which began in the final quarter of 2021, as seen on the nickel price chart below.

Dwindling Chinese output, global supply chain bottlenecks and a scarcity of materials constrained supply in the face of strong demand for stainless steel and batteries for electric vehicle manufacturing last year. The supply crunch ate into global inventories, subsequently increasing nickel prices in the first two months of 2022. 

The LME nickel price chart showed that the metal started strongly at $20,700 a tonne in early January and continued its climb to $25,000 a tonne in the third week of February as tensions between Russia and Ukraine heated up. In addition, the drawdown on inventories did not show any signs of pausing, piling pressure on the already tight supply. 

On 24 February 2022, the nickel price jumped to above $26,000 a tonne as Russian forces began their invasion of Ukraine. Prices then briefly dipped to the $25,000 a tonne level but in early March, the metal started its ascent as Russia ramped up its offensive on Ukraine and Western nations tightened sanctions. 

Investors are concerned that nickel exports from Russia, the world’s fourth-largest nickel producer, will be the next target. Russia accounted for roughly 8.3% of the global nickel output of 2,427.4 thousand tonnes (kt) in 2021, according to GlobalData.

The country supplies high-grade nickel, a critical material in making batteries for electric vehicles. 

Nickel (USD/T) price chart, 2017 - 2022


On 8 March 2022, the metal soared 70% in one day at the London Metal Exchange (LME) and briefly broke the $100,000 per tonne barrier, before dropping to $86,791 and closing at around $81,000.  

LME suspended nickel trading for several days following the massive rally, sparked by fear of supply disruptions after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. A short squeeze by one of the biggest Chinese steel manufacturers, Tsingshan Holding Group, also fuelled nickel’s massive price rally.

Historical nickel price data from the Institute Nickel Study Group (INSG) showed that the previous peak of $52,179 a tonne was achieved in May 2007. 

The price of the metal began to drop after the 8 March rally as the US Federal Reserve kicked off its monetary tightening with its first rate hike since 2018. Also in March, China, the world’s largest nickel importer, faced a fresh Covid-19 outbreak which prompted the health authorities to put several cities into lockdown.

Nickel was trading at around $27,000 as of 1 December 2022, down more than 70% from a record high in March, but up about 29% YTD.

Nickel price volatility has increased as stocks at the LME’s warehouse dwindled. On 14 November, nickel briefly jumped by its 15% trading limit to hit nearly $31,000/tonne following an unconfirmed report about a blast in a small nickel smelter in Indonesia, Bloomberg reported.

The LME warehouse’s nickel stocks dropped nearly 48.5% to around 52,122 tonnes as of 1 December 2022, from 101,136 on 4 January 2022.

“LME volumes have declined since then as many traders have reduced activity or cut their exposure due to a loss of confidence in the LME and its nickel contract after its handling of the March short squeeze,” ING Group’s commodity strategist Ewa Manthey wrote on 30 November.

“These low levels of liquidity have left nickel exposed to sharp price swings – even amid small shifts in supply and demand balances,” she added.

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Top five nickel producing countries (thousand tonnes, 2021)

Nickel price predictions: Analysts’ sentiment

ING’s Manthey predicted that nickel prices would remain bearish in the short term due to a deteriorating macroeconomic picture and sustained market surplus. She predicted that continued weakness in demand from the stainless steel sector, which accounts for 70% of nickel consumption, would keep the global nickel market in surplus this year.

“Although demand from the battery sector is growing rapidly, making up around 5% of total demand at the moment, it isn’t enough to offset a slowdown in traditional sectors like construction. China’s strict zero-Covid policy has hurt the country’s construction sector and has weighed on demand for nickel,” Manthey said.

She added that China's new stimulus measures to support its property sector, as well as the relaxation of its Covid restrictions, raised hopes for increased demand for industrial metals.

In its Quarterly Metal Report on 4 November, Sucden Financial said that stainless steel production in China dropped by 590,000 tonnes in September, a 19.75% decline year-over-year (YoY). The country’s stainless steel output reached 24.78 million tonnes through to the end of September 2022, up 17.1% YoY.

“Demand from the stainless market has been strong and could rebound in 2023 as China’s economy grows, boosting stainless demand in autos and the property sectors; however, this is likely to be in Q2 2023,” Sucden Financial’s head of research Geordie Wilkes and research associate Daria Efanova wrote in the note.

Robust growth in Indonesia’s production was projected to contribute to the build-up of nickel surplus. The International Nickel Study Group in October forecasted the surplus in the market to grow to 171kt in 2023, from 144kt in 2022.

According to data from the US Geological Survey, as cited by ING, Indonesia was forecast to produce between 1.25 and 1.5 million tonnes of nickel in 2022, supplying more than 40% of the world’s mined production estimated at between 3 million to 3.2 million tonnes,

“We believe rising output in Indonesia will pressure nickel prices next year,” Manthey said.

Nickel price outlook: Targets for 2022

As demand was expected to soften due to headwinds from monetary tightening and risks of recession, what will be the nickel price forecast for 2022?

On 1 December 2022, ANZ Research forecasted nickel to average $25,130 a tonne in 2022, falling to $22,575 in 2023 and dropping further to $19,225 in 2024.

According to ING on 30 November, nickel prices will hover between $20,000/tonne and $20,500 in the first two quarters of 2023 before gradually rising to $21,000 in Q3 and $22,000 in Q4 as the global growth outlook improves.

On 25 November, Fitch Solutions’ nickel price forecast for 2022 expected the metal to average $24,250/tonne, declining to $22,500 in 2023.

Trading Economics was bullish on nickel, expecting the metal to trade at $26,842 a tonne by the end of the fourth quarter, based on its global macro models and analysts’ expectations as of 1 December. In addition, the economic data provider estimated the metal to average $32,042 in 12 months’ time.

 Analysts did not provide nickel future price predictions for 2025 to 2030.


Nickel price forecast 2025-2030

As of 1 December 2022, algorithm-based forecasting service Wallet Investor forecast the nickel price to rise to $32,987.75 a tonne by December 2023. Wallet Investor’s nickel price forecast for 2025 saw the metal hitting $43,956.62 per tonne in December 2025 and reaching $54,298.97 in November 2027.

The service did not offer a forecast beyond 2027.

Fitch Ratings expected the nickel price to drop to $20,000/tonne in 2023 from $25,000 in 2022. The price was projected to fall to $17,000 in 2024, though this price was up from the previous forecast of $15,000. The firm predicted nickel to decline to $15,000 in 2025 and stay at the $15,000 level beyond 2025.

“We have raised assumptions for 2023-2024 as inventories, while normalising, will remain below historical levels, while demand from stainless steel and EV increases. However, Indonesian supply additions will leave the market oversupplied, although fast-growing EV demand represents some upside,” Fitch Ratings said in its forecast.

“Our Global team anticipates that widespread sanctions on the Russian economy are likely to remain entrenched in coming years and that, even in the case of sanctions being lifted, Western firms would be very hesitant to re-engage fully with the Russian market. While nickel-producing firms have not been targeted directly by sanctions, the effect on investment will be substantial,” wrote Fitch Solutions in its 14 June long-term nickel forecast

According to Fitch Solutions’ nickel price forecast for 2030, the price was expected to fall to $21,000 from 2027 and steady at that level in 2031, on a substantial increase in refined nickel production from Indonesia.

When considering analysts’ commentary and algorithm-based nickel price projections, it’s important to note that predictions can be wrong. You should do your own research. Keep in mind that past performance is no guarantee of future returns, and never invest any money you cannot afford to lose.

FAQs

Is nickel a good investment?

Whether nickel is a suitable investment for you depends on your personal financial circumstances, asset allocation and risk tolerance. You should do your own research to help you make your own investment decisions and reach your own conclusion.

Remember that past performance is no guarantee of future success, and never invest any money you cannot afford to lose.

How high nickel can go?

As of 1 December 2022, Wallet Investor projected that the nickel price could hit $54,298.97 in November 2027. However, bear in mind that nickel price forecasts from analysts and price-predicting services can be wrong.

Commodities, including nickel, are volatile assets. The rise and fall in nickel prices is affected by factors that are difficult to forecast, particularly geopolitical tensions and mine production. We suggest that you always conduct your own research, looking at technical and fundamental analysis.

Should I invest in nickel?

The nickel price is expected to fall in the long term, according to analysts. However, your decision to invest in nickel should be based on your risk tolerance, investment objectives, portfolio composition, and experience in the markets.

You should do your own research, and never trade money that you cannot afford to lose

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