October 25, 2019 / 6:20 AM / 2 months ago

UPDATE 2-China Sept nickel ore imports hit highest since at least 2016 as Indonesia ban looms

* China’s Sept nickel ore imports at 7.13 mln T, up 24.6% m/m

* Volumes from Indonesia rise 56% from Aug to 2.51 mln T

* Ban on Indonesian exports from Jan 2020 sparks rush for ore

* Shipments from Philippines at 13 month-high of 4.39 mln T (Adds analyst comment in paragraphs 11, 12)

By Tom Daly

BEIJING, Oct 25 (Reuters) - China’s nickel ore imports in September rose 24.6% from the previous month to their highest since at least 2016, customs data showed on Friday, as stockpiling accelerated ahead of a ban on shipments from top miner Indonesia from January 2020.

China imported 7.13 million tonnes of nickel ores and concentrates in total last month, according to the General Administration of Customs.

That was 24% higher than a year earlier and the highest monthly total in records on the customs database website going back to January 2017.

Indonesia confirmed on Sept. 2 it would advance a ban on nickel ore exports by two years, to the start of 2020, as it seeks to process more of its resources at home.

There were signs of stockpiling by China, the world’s biggest nickel ore buyer, in August, amid rumours of the ban, but there was a bigger scramble in September.

China’s imports from Indonesia last month were 2.51 million tonnes, up 56% from August and up 47.5% from September 2018. That was also the highest volume since at least 2016.

October imports are set to be higher still, said a major purchaser in eastern China’s Shandong province, who uses nickel ore to produce nickel pig iron, a raw material for stainless steel.

“Most of the material purchased in September will arrive in October,” he said.

China’s stainless steel output is “not so good” at the moment, said Xu Aidong, chief nickel analyst at Antaike. “All the nickel ore they purchased may be for next year,” she added, expecting monthly imports to stay at or above 5 million tonnes over the rest of 2019.

Indonesia’s mining ministry has recommended an increase of about 330,000 tonnes in the nickel ore export quota for miner PT Aneka Tambang (Antam), although export permits are only valid until December.

“Between now and the end of the year, the amount of ore coming out of Indonesia may well be 8-10 million tonnes more than we would have thought, which is about 80,000 to 100,000 tonnes of nickel units,” analyst Jim Lennon at Macquarie said in London on Thursday.

“So that will be stockpiled in China, enabling the nickel pig iron producers which use that ore to keep going at current levels through to the middle of next year,” he added.

Shipments to China from the Philippines, an alternative supply source to Indonesia, but with lower-grade nickel ore, hit a 13-month high of 4.39 million tonnes in September.

That was up 10% from August and up 14.5% from a year earlier.

Reporting by Tom Daly; additional reporting by Eric Onstad in London; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and David Evans

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