SHANGHAI, May 10 (SMM)—China’s refined nickel output dropped 0.21% from March to 13,000 mt in April. Operating rates across nickel smelters remained unchanged from March at 59%, down 7 percentage points from a year ago. There were only two smelters in China producing refined nickel in April. The Gansu smelter postponed its maintenance to May, and produced 12,000 mt of refined nickel, while the Xinjiang smelter produced 1,014 mt. Smelters in Tianjin and Guangxi continued to produce nickel sulphate, and the Jilin smelter launched its resumption schedule in late April but did not yield any output in the month.
SMM expects China’s refined nickel output to shrink to 12,400 mt in May. The Xinjiang smelter will operate normally in May, while the Gansu smelter is expected to overhaul its furnace in mid-May which is likely to affect output by 1,000-2,000 mt. The Jilin smelter is expected to produce 400 mt, while the smelters in Tianjin and Guangxi will remain suspended.
Nickel pig iron (NPI)
China’s NPI output shrank 11.9% from March to 33,900 mt Ni in April. This included 26,700 mt Ni of high-grade NPI, down 12.87% on the month, and 7,200 mt Ni of low-grade NPI, down 8.16% month on month. Low prices and high costs drove some high-grade NPI plants to reduce output. A large-scale high-grade NPI plant in east China lowered output by 22% on the month. Besides, fewer operating days in April also led to the slide in high-grade NPI output. Compared with the #300 and #400 series, profits of #200 stainless steel were poor, which prompted some steel mills to cut its output. In addition, a low-grade NPI plant in south China suspended production due to local environmental policies. These resulted in the decline in low-grade NPI output in April.
SMM expects China’s NPI output to rise 2.63% on the month to 34,800 mt Ni in May. Output of high-grade NPI is likely to rise slightly to 27,900 mt Ni, while that of low-grade NPI to shrink further to 6,800 mt Ni. Nickel ore prices slid as imports increased, and NPI prices are likely to rebound, which encouraged some high-grade NPI plants to raise output. In addition, an NPI plant in north China will complete maintenance in May, and another one in east China will restart one of two production lines, which will also boost output in the month. Output cuts of #200 stainless steel will further weigh on low-grade NPI output in May.
China’s nickel sulphate output expanded 5.37% from March and 133.19% from a year ago, to 103,800 mt or 22,800 mt in nickel content in April. This included 99,100 mt of battery-grade materials, up 8.68% month on month amid strong demand from the new energy industry, and 4,700 mt of electroplating materials, down 35.84% on the month as a large-scale nickel salts plant in north-east China suspended production for maintenance.
SMM expects China’s nickel sulphate output to increase 0.13% from April and 142.99% from a year ago to 22,900 mt Ni in May, as more plants are expected to use nickel briquette to produce nickel sulphate.