Trafigura Bets on Green-Nickel Squeeze in Defiance of China Cure – by Yvonne Yue Li and Andy Hoffman (Bloomberg News – April 20, 2021)

(Bloomberg) — Just weeks after a novel production method upended the nickel market, two of the top names in the battery-supply chain made a play that suggests the world’s worries over sourcing cheap, clean supplies of the metal are far from over.

Commodity trader Trafigura Group and Elon Musk’s Tesla Inc. signed a deal in late March to enter the Goro mine in New Caledonia, part of a group that will take the operation off the hands of Vale SA. The transaction wasn’t a surprise, with Vale in talks to offload the under-performing mine for months. But the deal’s timing was telling.

Earlier the same month, China’s Tsingshan Group triggered the biggest two-day nickel rout in a decade with its plans to make battery-grade metal from materials previously reserved only for stainless steel, potentially flooding the market. Wall Street banks lowered their nickel forecasts after futures plunged from about $19,000 a ton to $16,000.

The Goro deal shows Trafigura and Tesla don’t see Tsingshan’s new processing method as a panacea for meeting surging demand for nickel used in the batteries that are needed to help wean the world off fossil fuels.

Carmarkers’ preference for cleaner sources of aluminum and cobalt suggest they’ll follow a similar line on nickel, said Socrates Economou, head of nickel and cobalt trading at Trafigura.

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