Nickel was hit by a wave of profit-taking on Friday after a barnstorming run that has caught many analysts and investors by surprise.
The metal, which is used to make stainless steel, has been on a tear since the start of the month, rising more than a fifth and outpacing other industrial metals, which are still weighed down by fears over the trade war.
It burst above $15,000 a tonne on Thursday as nickel volumes on the London Metal Exchange surged to 19,000 lots before retreating on Friday and falling 1.9 per cent to $14,685 in late afternoon trade.
A number of factors have helped push up the price, including strong demand in China where production of “300 series” stainless steel — which has a high nickel content — has surged 13 per cent year-on-year in June.
“This rally started in Shanghai with better than expected stainless production in China, leading to heavy buying [on the Shanghai Future Exchange] by one large consumer,” said analysts at Macquarie.
Glencore, Vale and Norilsk Nickel are among the world’s biggest producers of the metal, which has a reputation for being volatile.
Nickel is tipped to be one of the metals that benefits from the shift to cleaner forms of energy. It is a key component in the battery packs that power electric vehicles — and one that is forecast to become more important as carmakers switch to technologies that use more of the metal.
But with sulphide nickel ore sources — the mainstay of the industry and the material best suited to making battery-grade nickel — in short supply, there has been much excitement among analysts and investors about a potential supply crunch and ultimately higher prices. For the moment electric vehicles account for just 4 per cent of nickel demand.