Philippines top nickel miners expect firm ore prices on China demand

MANILA, April 11 (Reuters) - The two biggest nickel miners in the Philippines, Nickel Asia Corp and Global Ferronickel Holdings Inc, on Tuesday said prices for the metal would be robust this year due to growing demand from China.

The Philippines is the world’s top supplier of nickel ore, used to help make stainless steel, with China its No.1 market.

“The company’s prospects remain optimistic driven by strong stainless steel demand in China,” Global Ferronickel President Dante Bravo said in a statement released with the company’s export outlook for this year.

Benchmark nickel prices stood around $10,155 a tonne on Tuesday, but forecasts from the likes of the World Bank show they could average around $11,000 in 2017. That would compare to around $9,500 last year.

The nation’s largest ore producer, Nickel Asia, said in its own statement that prices had held up “very well” in the first quarter and would likely remain firm due to low inventory levels in China.

Parts of the Philippines’ metals sector have been roiled as its resources minister, a committed environmentalist, this year ordered the closure of more than half the nation’s mines to protect watersheds.

One of Nickel Asia’s four mines is among the 22 ordered closed and the company has said it would pursue all legal remedies to overturn the order. Global Ferronickel is not among companies facing mine closures or suspensions.

Nickel Asia reported a 47 percent increase in the value of its shipments in the first quarter to 2.19 billion pesos ($44 million) from a year ago, despite lower sales volumes.

Global Ferronickel said it was confident of hitting its ore shipment target of 6 million wet tonnes this year as favourable weather had been helping mining operations.

Reporting by Enrico dela Cruz; Editing by Joseph Radford