Philippines Nickel Asia sees price, not volume, gains on Indonesia ban

Wed Jan 22, 2014 2:15am EST

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* Says not taking new orders as already seeing too much demand

* Has no ambition to change long-term mining plan in favour of higher grades

* Aims to produce 15 pct more ore this year, has contracted to sell 15.3 mln T

By Melanie Burton

SYDNEY, Jan 22 (Reuters) - Philippine nickel ore producer Nickel Asia Corp is seeing a jump in enquiries after neighbour Indonesia banned ore exports this month, but is sold out and expects to benefit from the ban through higher prices, senior executives said.

Indonesia halted exports of nickel ore on Jan. 12 in a bid to force miners to set up downstream industries with the aim of reaping more value from its mineral wealth.

"We already have too much demand as it is and we're not taking new orders," Dennis Zamora, senior vice president of Nickel Asia, told Reuters late on Tuesday. "I think we'll see the effect in price, not in volume."

Buyers in China and Japan boosted shipments ahead of the well-flagged ban. They are now searching for new sources of supply, Zamora said.

"We've had more enquiries from Japan and China, mostly from companies that are worried about where they will get future supply of high grade ore," he said.

Nickel Asia is aiming to produce 15 percent more ore this year, having contracted to sell 15.3 million wet metric tonnes of limonite and saprolite ore, but it has no intention of altering its long-term mining plan to favour higher grades, Zamora said.

Its shares on the Philippine Stock Exchange hit the highest in seven months on Tuesday at 17.90 Philippine pesos ($0.40) a share, up by a quarter from late December lows.

The ban has likely added around $2 to the average price of ore in China and would fan London Metal Exchange nickel prices this year, Zamora said.

LME nickel has already rallied around 10 percent on the ban. Analysts at Goldman Sachs warned clients on Tuesday of a potential spike to $18,000-$20,000 a tonne by year end.

LME nickel traded last at $14,755 a tonne.

China is the top importer of Indonesian ores, which are fed into furnaces to produce nickel pig iron, a lower-cost alternative to higher-quality nickel ores from Australia and elsewhere for makers of stainless steel.

Philippine ore typically has lower nickel and higher iron content, so switching feeds is not a simple or economic process. But analysts say if Jakarta doesn't ease its ban, plants in China and Japan may have no other choice, other than waiting for new processors to spring up in Indonesia.

Yet some producers are holding out hopes rules may be relaxed, Zamora said. The ban has forced tens of thousands out of work and is heating up to become an issue for Indonesia's May elections.

"What we have heard from our sources is that most likely (the ban is) temporary, but it would take a bit of time to change the law. So I think people are looking at possibly between six months to a year, if the ban were to be overturned," he said.

China's stainless steel makers may turn to LME nickel stocks, driving them down from record highs and supporting prices, especially if the ban remains in place, Nickel Asia's Chief Financial Officer Manny Samson said.

"The surplus could come down dramatically this year and we could look at a deficit for next year," he said. ($1 = 45.2800 Philippine pesos) (Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)

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