Indonesia rocked the mining world on January 12, putting into effect an outright ban on nickel, bauxite and tin ore exports.
The Asian nation is the world’s premier thermal coal and tin exporter and is also a gold and copper powerhouse, but the ban on nickel and bauxite ore would have the most dramatic effect on markets.
Last week Indonesian energy and resource ministry officials scrambled to ease provisions of the raw mineral export prohibition that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono signed into law on January 12, the most controversial decision of his 10-year presidency.
Indonesia dominates the nickel export business, accounting for over a fifth of global supply at an estimated 400,000 tonnes of contained metal. Chinese nickel pig iron producers imported more than 30 million tonnes of nickel ore from Indonesia last year and China’s aluminium smelters rely on Indonesia for 20% of their feedstock.
According to the latest rules under the ban, base metals including copper, manganese, lead, zinc and tin will be allowed to be exported in concentrate until 2017.
This benefits producers like Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold NYE:FCX, which operates the world’s third-largest copper mine at Grasberg in the West Papua province and warned about a 60% drop in output should copper form part of the ban. Phoenix-based Freeport-McMoRan and Newmont Mining NYE:NEM together account for 97% of Indonesia’s copper exports.
[The ban] is the biggest supply risk facing base metals in a long time. The market has been very complacent, thinking the Indonesians would backtrack.
However against expectations of a last-minute climbdown by authorities, the nickel and bauxite ore ban, as well as the prohibition of unprocessed exports of tin, chromium, gold and silver, went into effect January 12.
FT.com quoted Gayle Berry, base metals analyst at UK bank Barclays earlier as saying the ban “is the biggest supply risk facing base metals in a long time. The market has been very complacent, thinking the Indonesians would backtrack.”
Privately owned Ibris Nickel last week announced it will cease operations in Indonesia, laying off 1,400 workers at its two-million-tonne-per-year mine. The nickel industry employs some 200,000 Indonesians across hundreds of small-scale operations.
Reuters reports the Indonesian Mineral Entrepreneurs Association said it planned to challenge the ban in the Supreme Court and Constitutional Court while almost 30,000 mine workers have been laid off, sparking protest in the capital Jakarta:
“We call on all mining workers to prepare to go on the streets and swarm the presidential palace if the government goes ahead with the implementation of the ban,” said Juan Forti Silalahi of the National Mine Workers Union in a statement on January 11.
So far the price of nickel has not reacted in a big way to the looming ban, but now all bets are off.
Three-months nickel on the LME retreated more than 20% in 2013 from opening levels of $17,450 and, after hitting a high of $18,700 in February, dropped to a four-year low in October amid an oversupplied market.
After a brief uptick in December to over $14,200, the steelmaking raw material last week fell back to the mid-$13,000s and on January 10 the contract closed at $13,725.
Even without the Indonesian ban, the prospects for nickel aren’t rosy.
Global output is forecast to rise for the first time to over two million tonnes in 2015. That’s up from 1.4 million tonnes in 2007.
Stockpiling of ore and metal in anticipation of Indonesian disruptions and the inexorable rise of nickel warehouse levels over the past two years—hitting a record 260,000 tonnes last week—have also kept prices subdued.
Indonesia, with a population of 240 million, goes to the polls for parliamentary elections in April and in July will choose a new president, so much can change over the course of the year before the true extent of the ban can be felt.
Reprinted by permission of MINING.com