The three-month nickel price stood at $19,810 per tonne at 9am on Thursday, up from $19,543 per tonne at the previous day’s 5pm close. The metal also reached $19,885 per tonne during early trading, edging closer to its $20,110 per tonne year-to-date high from February.

Copper was up by 1% at $9,787 per tonne at 9am, having touched $9,808 per tonne earlier on Thursday. The red metal closed at $9,686 per tonne on Wednesday.

"Investors were watching developments at the world’s largest mine, Escondida, where union leaders urged members to vote against owner BHP’s latest wage proposal," Marex's LME Desk analyst Anna Stablum said on Thursday.

The union have until Sunday to place a vote. If the strike vote was to go ahead, a mandatory five-day government-mediated process will begin.

"Nickel benefited for a second day as Eramet said (in its first-half 2021 results) its New Caledonia operation was hampered by labor unrest and bad weather in the first half of the year," Stablum added.

French company Eramet pointed out that the exceptional rainy season in April and May had a strong impact on production, and while the company maintained its guidance for its New Caledonia operations at Doniambo, ferro-nickel production was down 22% in the first half of the year compared with 2020.

Elsewhere, tin's three-month price was up by 1.2% to $34,825 per tonne on Thursday morning. Facing myriad supply disruptions and steady demand, the metal reached an all-time high of $34,990 per tonne on Tuesday. Premiums in Europe and the United States are also at previously unseen levels.

Weakness in the US Dollar Index also lent support to the LME base metals prices on Thursday; the index reached a one-month low of 92.02, following the Federal Reserve's unchanged monetary policy stance presented on Wednesday evening.

"Though the Fed and Chairman Powell gave so-to-speak advance warning yesterday evening that bond purchases are likely to be reduced, they remained otherwise dovish for the most part," Commerzbank's industrial and precious metals analyst Daniel Brieseman said on Thursday.

"Powell did not give any indication of when this might happen, for example. It seems that the Fed wants to wait for a number of key economic data such as next week’s labor market report before ultimately taking any action," he added.

Other highlights
  • During the second round of Chinese state reserve metal releases into the market, Chinese copper fabricators were able to buy copper cathode at bigger discounts against exchange prices than in the first round.
  • A total of 170,000 tonnes of industrial metals were set to be sold on Thursday by the State Reserve Bureau, Marex's Stablum said.
  • Economic data out later on Thursday includes preliminary gross domestic product figures for the US for the second quarter of 2021, together with unemployment claims for the week to July 24.