Nickel industry seen maintaining output

Published October 22, 2020, 7:00 AM

by Madelaine B. Miraflor

Despite the pandemic, the Philippines, the world’s top nickel producer and one of the most highly mineralized countries globally, may still end up with the same output of 40 million to 45 million wet metric tons (WMT) of nickel ore this year. 

Moreover, nickel mining firms may even book higher earnings on the back of much improved world prices.

This was according to Philippine Nickel Industry Association (PNIA) Board Member Isidro Alcantara, Jr., who attributed the optimistic outlook on the strong demand coming from the world’s second largest economy, China.

“In 2019, we exported 40 million to 45 million WMT. The [initial] expectation is it will be lower for this year, but considering that the nickel mining prices, which is through the roof, I hope nickel mines will take advantage of the prices. The same volume is possible this year,” Alcantara, who also serves as the president of nickel mining firm Marcventures Holdings, Inc., added. 

For next year, he said that the industry “hopes our luck continues”, citing positive outlook on the economy of China, which is the Philippines’ top market for nickel ore export.

Kaycee Crisostomo, director for corporate communications and marketing at TVI Resource Development Philippines Inc. and a PNIA board member, said the boost in demand for nickel coming from the Philippines is also supported by the export ban imposed by the Indonesian government on the commodity.

To recall, it was in September last year when the government of Indonesia, the largest nickel producer globally, announced a nickel ore export ban from 2020 to 2022. This was just months after lifting the said ban, which was first put in place in 2014.

“The prices of high-grade ores right now have already reached 2014 levels. The middle grade is also reaching that level. Why 2014 is significant is because this was the year when Indonesia first imposed its nickel export ban,” Crisostomo said during the same briefing.  

“We hope this is the trend that will continue until next year,” he added.

During the first half of this year, in terms of percentage, nickel ore, together with its nickel products, had the largest contribution to the country’s total metallic production value, accounting for 44.79 percent or P24.13 billion, a data from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) showed.   

However, during the period, nickel ore alone incurred production volume and value shortfall of 28 percent and 21 percent, respectively, from 141,584 metric tons (MT) with an estimated value of P12.33 billion in the first half of 2019 to 102,310 MT with an estimated value of P9.76 billion in the first half of this year.

Dante Bravo, president of PNIA, said the major factor for the decline for nickel alone was the lockdown, which disrupted movement of mineral products and mine personnel across the country from March to May.  

Meanwhile, PNIA members, composed of eight major nickel mines, have already spent as much as P203 million for their respective Environmental Protection and Enhancement Programs (EPEP) and have reported a total of 6.3 million trees planted over 3,167 hectares in their respective mining areas.

Bravo said that despite the slowdown in operations during the community quarantine period, PNIA member companies have planted an additional 809,656 more trees in the first two quarters of 2020 alone, covering 322 hectares of land or equivalent of approximately 600 football fields.

The increase in tree planting efforts from the association resulted in a 13.9 percent growth in the total number of trees planted as of the second quarter of 2020.

Last year, PNIA reported 5.3 million trees planted.

Bravo also serves as the president of Global Ferronickel Holdings Inc. (FNI), the third largest nickel ore producer in the Philippines and the largest single lateritic mine exporter in the world.