Taiyuan Iron & Steel (Tisco) kept its December high-grade (8-12%) nickel pig iron (NPI) price unchanged at 700 yuan ($110) per tonne on Tuesday December 1, including delivery and VAT.

This was the same level as its November 10 bid price.

The company has not yet confirmed the purchase volume, as this depends on the NPI smelters which are willing to supply, a Tisco purchaser told Metal Bulletin.

Last month's move by a group of Chinese nickel producers to cut production has made confirming purchase volumes more difficult, an NPI trader said.

Zhangjiagang Posco Stainless Steel (Posco) has meanwhile set its purchase bid price for high-grade NPI (ni 10-15%) at 730 yuan per nickel unit on a weekly basis, an official confirmed to Metal Bulletin. This was up 40 yuan per nickel unit from a week earlier.

There had been reports that another big stainless steel producer, Jiuquan Iron & Steel (Jisco), had given a bid price for December of about 730 yuan/nickel unit (including delivery), paying by letter of credit or on acceptance.

However, these were denied by the company.

"We didn’t give that price actually. Most of the time in 2015, we've used an average monthly price of refined nickel to buy high-grade NPI," a Jisco source told Metal Bulletin.

NPI supply is tight at the moment. Large stainless steel mills are now paying a premium based on the monthly average nickel price in 2015, when they settle accounts with NPI producers, market sources said.

NPI producers are willing to supply at 720 yuan per nickel unit per tonne, according to Metal Bulletin's assessment.

The high grade nickel pig iron (10-15% nickel content) spot price is around 690-720 yuan per tonne.

The high grade nickel pig iron (10-15% nickel content) contract price is 690-730 yuan per tonne, according to Metal Bulletin’s assessment on Thursday November 1.

A survey by metals information provider Antaike suggests that in November, Chinese producers produced 27,300 tonnes of nickel-contained NPI. This was down by 14% month-on-month, and 10% lower year-on-year.

NPI production is falling a lot, sources said. However, market participants are still more focused on the high LME inventories and ailing demand. Even a big decrease in NPI production has given only limited support to nickel future prices (on the SHFE and LME), a senior analyst commented.

Ellie Wang