Nickel industry rules out Class 2 products for LME contract delivery, CEO says: LME Week | Hotter Commodities

Nickel market participants rejected the idea of making nickel sulfate or other Class 2 products eligible for delivery against the Class 1 London Metal Exchange (LME) contract and want the exchange to instead focus on fixing the existing contract, according to the LME chief executive officer

LME CEO Matthew Chamberlain said in a recent interview that the exchange had examined the possibility of adding sulfate or other Class 2 nickel products as contract delivery options amid structural shifts in production and the growth in consumption from the batteries sector.

“We considered whether we could add Class 2 delivery shapes or forms, such as nickel matte, nickel pig iron, or nickel sulfate – obviously with an adjustment mechanism. The LME didn’t rule that out – [but] the industry ruled it out for us very, very quickly,” Chamberlain told Fastmarkets.

Currently, the LME nickel contract allows for deliveries of approved brands in the shape of full-plate and cut cathodes, pellets, briquettes and rounds.

“The industry was very clear that it wants the LME to be the Class 1 price, and that our first order of business is to effectively get back to our Class 1 roots, which means our volumes are going to have to move accordingly,” he said.

Volumes in nickel dropped 28% last year after confidence in the nickel contract was eroded following the unprecedented volatility in March 2022, which led the LME to temporarily suspend the contract and cancel trades.

This year, however, volumes have been trending upward, with three-month nickel average daily volumes on LMEselect up 57% since January and reaching their highest level since March 2022 in September. Open interest has, meanwhile, increased by more than 22% since January, LME data shows.

At the same time, the correlation between LME Class 1 and Class 2 prices has moved close to alignment after dislocating in March last year. According to Chamberlain, a key difference now is that instead of trading at parity before March 2022, Class 2 prices are trading at a discount to the Class 1 contract.

He attributed this to the move by Chinese producers to invest in technology to turn Class 2 products into Class 1 deliverable products, which has provided a degree of alignment.

Class 2 contract

The LME also looked at launching a new Class 2 contract, Chamberlain said.

“We have said that if the market wants us to have a go at launching a Class 2 contract, we’ll do that and we looked at all kinds of approaches. But there just wasn’t a lot of interest,” he told Fastmarkets.

“Given the focus on Class 2 production in Asia, the solution we came up with was creating a China-based spot market offering for nickel sulfate and nickel matte with the Qianhai Mercantile Exchange (QME),” Chamberlain added.

This is yet to materialize; however, and Chamberlain acknowledges that the complexities of the supply chain, differing views on quality and challenges over delivery due to degradation were some of the factors making it “really hard” to create the right contract.

“It’s not for want of trying that the QME hasn’t launched something. But we’ve collectively done an awful lot of market engagement in China and it’s just very, very difficult,” he said.

Market participants in the Class 2 nickel market have expressed a growing interest in the need for hedging alternatives.

Fastmarkets calculated the price for nickel sulfate, cif Japan and Korea at $4,502 per tonne on September 29, with the nickel sulfate premium, cif Japan and Korea assessed at $1,400 per tonne on the same day.

Fastmarkets’ price assessment for nickel sulfate, min 21%, max 22.5%; cobalt 10ppm max, exw China, meanwhile, was 31,000-32,000 yuan ($5,298-5,444) per tonne on September 29, down from 31,500-32,000 yuan per tonne on September 22.

Coarse powder

The LME is also looking at the possibility of adding coarse nickel powder, a Class 1 product, for delivery against the existing contract.

While preliminary discussions with the industry have left the exchange undecided on whether or not to proceed, Chamberlain said considerations include whether the product is viable for stainless steel consumers, how it could be appropriately packaged, and what the storage implications would be for warehouse companies.

“We haven’t ruled out coarse nickel power – there is ongoing work at the moment, inspired by the engagement the whole industry’s been having, focused on whether there are better packaging solutions for coarse powder, could we have reinforced bags, and so on,” Chamberlain said.

“So, the discussion has gone from being a very technical one about fixing LME market liquidity to a much bigger discussion in the nickel industry about the role of powder,” he added.

In Hotter Commodities, special correspondent Andrea Hotter covers some of the biggest stories impacting the natural resources sector. Sign up today to receive Andrea’s content as it is published.

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