January 11, 2018 / 1:43 PM / 5 months ago

METALS-Nickel retreats from 2-1/2 year high, zinc nears decade highs

* GRAPHIC-2017 asset returns: tmsnrt.rs/2jvdmXl

* LME/ShFE arb: bit.ly/2wZSAEz (Recasts, adds closing prices, details)

By Maytaal Angel

LONDON, Jan 11 (Reuters) - Nickel fell on Thursday as traders took profits after pushing the metal to its highest level in 2-1/2 years in the previous session, while zinc headed towards its highest in more than a decade amid a supply crunch.

Four nickel mines in the Philippines, a key nickel exporter, remain shut on environmental grounds, an official said, while Japan’s Sumitomo Corp suspended output at a mine in Madagascar following a cyclone.

“There’s good demand (for nickel) coupled with some supply tightness coming through because of mine closures in the Philippines. The market is in a deficit and that will continue,” said Robin Bhar, analyst at Societe Generale.

“We should continue to hold in the $10,000-13,000 range with a bias on the upward path of that range,” he said.

FUNDAMENTALS

* NICKEL: Benchmark nickel on the London Metal Exchange (LME) ended down 2.4 percent at $12,625 a tonne, having touched $13,200 on Wednesday, its highest since June 2015.

* POSITIONING: Funds have ramped up bets on higher prices, doubling their net long position in LME nickel from a low in December to 29,746 contracts as of Jan. 5. LME-NI-MNET

* STOCKS: Nickel stocks in Shanghai Futures Exchange warehouses stood at 48,920 tonnes as of Jan. 5 versus over 90,000 tonnes a year ago. LME nickel stocks at 368,292 tonnes MNISTX-TOTAL are down from levels above 470,000 tonnes in June 2015, but double levels seen in May 2013.

* ZINC: Zinc ended up 1.5 percent at $3,386, near its highest for more than decade hit earlier this week at $3,400.

“We have been flagging Q1 2018 as the quarterly peak for zinc for some time now, on the assumptions that demand destruction and new mine supply finally begin to tackle the yawning deficit,” said Macquarie in a note.

“Dugald River starting up and some returning Glencore output are beginning to feed that narrative, while ingot premiums are down in Asia.”

* COPPER: Copper ended down 0.2 percent at $7,140.

* COLUMN: Copper faces double supply disruption threat in 2018.

* ALUMINIUM: Aluminium ended down 0.3 percent at $2,175.50, recovering from a low of $2,149.50 on Jan. 9.

“This was a metal that you couldn’t give away 36 hours ago but now it seems the selling from the index rebalancing is viewed as very digestible,” said broker Marex Spectron.

* DOLLAR: The dollar fell versus the euro after the European Central Bank signalled it could begin to wind down its 2.5-trillion euro stimulus program this year. A weaker dollar makes dollar-priced metals cheaper for non-U.S. investors.

* OTHER METALS: Lead ended flat at $2,549 while tin ended up 0.8 percent at $20,225.

Additional reporting by Tom Daly; Editing by David Evans and Jane Merriman

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