LONDON – China is importing more nickel than ever before. Headline imports of refined metal hit a new all-time record high of 49,012 tonnes in April. The cumulative tally of 157,600 tonnes over the first four months of the year represents a 115,000-tonne increase over the same period of last year.
Imports of ferronickel have also surged to 294,700 tonnes so far this year, which is already more than any previous calendar year with the exception of 2015.
Somewhere in this flow of material lies an unfolding bull narrative, one of falling Chinese production and resurgent demand. The problem is that there is too much else going on in the import data to get a good view of the shifting Chinese nickel landscape.
RUSSIAN ROULETTE WHEEL
When it comes to refined nickel, the core driver of rising imports is the flow of Russian metal into China. Russia’s Norilsk Nickel is one of the world’s largest producers of the metal so has always accounted for some of China’s imports needs in the past.
But the amount of Russian metal entering the country has grown from around 45 percent of total imports in 2012 and 2013 to 72 percent so far this year. In April itself Russian metal accounted for 80 percent of all imports.
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