Though nickel prices have recently gone into chaotic overdrive, the craze will be short-lived and investors should remain rational at this critical moment, said experts.
The London Metal Exchange announced on Tuesday night a suspension of all trading in its nickel contracts as the LME three-month nickel CMNI3－the primary pricing reference for the global physical supply chain－hit a record high of $101,365 a ton early on Tuesday. The previous record had just been refreshed on Monday at $55,000.
All physically settled nickel contracts due for delivery on March 9 or later were all deferred. Trading resumption awaits further notice, the LME said.
The Shanghai Futures Exchange has thrice released risk warnings of soaring nickel prices between Feb 23 and March 7. In an announcement released on Tuesday, the SHFE reminded members and investors of the drastic price fluctuations of nickel in overseas markets. Commissions for six major nickel contracts trading on the exchange will be elevated from Thursday.
A-share listed nickel industry leaders such as Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt Co Ltd and Chengtun Mining Group touched their daily downside limits of 10 percent on Wednesday. Companies with nickel-related operations saw their share prices fall by over 6 percent on average.
The extremely low nickel inventory is the basic reason for the commodity's stratospheric prices, said Cheng Jun, founder of Springwell (Shenzhen) Capital Management LLC. The global storage of electrolytic nickel fell from 500,000 tons in 2016 to 81,300 tons in March.
Electric vehicle makers' rising demand for nickel－a key ingredient in lithium-ion batteries－has caused declining stocks of the commodity, said UBS Global Wealth Management analysts.
The likely heightening of sanctions on Russia could tighten nickel supply in the West and drive up LME nickel prices to an all-time high, said Zhu Yi, a senior analyst of metals and mining at Bloomberg Intelligence.
According to figures released by Bloomberg, nickel exports from Russia accounted for 13 percent of the world's total exports of the metal.
Soaring nickel prices are partly the inflationary result of recent spiking energy prices, said Wang Yanqing, senior analyst of nonferrous metals at China Futures. The sanctions on Russia's energy industry will continue to push up oil prices and escalate prices of downstream products, with nickel being no exception. Rising energy prices will elevate smelting costs and companies will thus have to cut production.
But Zhu of Bloomberg Intelligence said nickel's sharp price jump may soon be corrected after a "short squeezing".
UBS analysts estimate nickel prices will drop to $34,000 in June and further slide to $28,000 by March 2023.
Wang of China Futures said that LME's trading mechanism, with no price limit set, will allow shortsellers to be easily cornered when inventories are low.
The EV industry may encounter difficulties in the short run given skyrocketing costs and low inventories, he added.
Guo Shiying, chief economist at First Futures, described this as a "rarely seen special case" in global financial markets. Investors should be aware of all risks and abide by follow-up measures taken by exchanges and futures companies.