China: imports of key raw materials for stainless
The World Bureau of Metals Statistics (WBMS) has just published China trade for the first half of 2019. In this edition of stats corner we are looking at the results for two of the most important raw materials for stainless – chrome and nickel. It is traditional for the chrome industry to talk in volume terms of gross weight for ore and ferroalloy. So we adhere to that and the stats are gross weight.
^ The World Bureau of Metals Statistics (WBMS) has just published China trade for the first half of 2019.
Article by Peter Cranfield
Chart 1 shows that China’s imports of nickel in ore increased by 19% to 258 kt. The two largest supplies by far are the Philippines and Indonesia, together accounting for almost 200 kt or nearly 80% of China’s nickel ore imports. This will be in the form of oxide ores, most of which will be used to produce nickel pig iron (NPI) in China. Sulphide ores are mainly in the form of concentrates and are mainly from Australia, S. Africa and others. These can be converted to refined metal or increasingly nickel sulphate or other nickel chemicals for use in lithium ion batteries.
Chart 2 shows a similar increase for finished nickel as for ore, a substantial increase on the previous period of 18%. The imports from Indonesia, New Caledonia, Colombia and Brazil amounting to 97 kt of contained nickel are ferronickel/NPI. The imports from the Russian Federation and Australia, amounting to 70 kt nickel are metal. The 57 kt from others is a mix of the two nickel types. The increase from Indonesia is part of the extensive investment in NPI and stainless production, a joint venture on the island of Sulawesi.
Chart 3 shows imports of chrome ore into China were 2% down on the previous period at 7.4 Mt. S. Africa accounted for 75% of total imports, similar to 2018. Other significant sources included Turkey, Zimbabwe, Oman, Pakistan and Albania, together accounting for 20% of China’s imports. With the exception of Turkey these countries showed considerable changes year on year. The remaining 5% came from a large number of countries, including some in the Middle East.
Chart 4 shows ferrochrome imports, which increased 36% from 1.2Mt to 1.65 Mt. In the first six months of 2019 S. Africa accounted for 60% of total imports, Kazakhstan 21% and India 13%. The others accounted for the remaining 6%.
So with nickel imports, in all forms, up nearly 20% and ferrochrome imports up 36%, this suggests either activity levels are increasing or raw material inventories have increased. Data on macroeconomic growth suggests a slowing of the rate of growth in China, so we await the data for the second half-year with interest.
Meet the Author
Peter Cranfield has a BSc (Econ) from London University and an MBA from Warwick. He started his career at Inco serving as market research manager and also producing the annual publication World Stainless Steel Statistics (in 1986 taken over by WBMS).
Later he joined Shell-owned Billiton in The Hague for 15 years working in a number of metals and industrial minerals as well as strategic planning. Peter then moved back to London with BHP Billiton working in business planning and analysis in nickel, cobalt and stainless. He has regularly delivered presentations on nickel and stainless at conferences around the globe. Since retiring he has consulted for BHPB, Nickel Institute and now the UK-based World Bureau of Metal Statistics.