Nickel sizzle: Hot money piles into metal on Indonesia ore ban talk

SINGAPORE/JAKARTA, Aug 8 (Reuters) - Nickel prices surged on Thursday on concerns that major supplier Indonesia could bring forward a ban on ore exports despite a senior official claiming any such ruling remains “uncertain.”

Benchmark three-month nickel on the London Metal Exchange (LME) surged as much as 12.7% to $16,690 a tonne, its highest since April 2018.

LME nickel eased to $15,635 a tonne at 0755 GMT, up 5.6%.

Meanwhile the most active nickel contact on the Shanghai Futures Exchange rose to a record 124,890 yuan ($17,726.96) a tonne.

“This is a very sexy price. For miners, higher price always makes us happy,” said a trader with a nickel mine.

Indonesia, a major supplier of nickel ore used mainly in the stainless steel industry, relaxed a ban on ore exports in 2017, but said at the time the moratorium would last only five years and that exports would be restricted again in 2022.

“I can only talk about the existing (rules). I don’t want to talk about something that is uncertain,” Bambang Gatot Ariyono, director general of mineral and coal at Indonesia’s mining ministry, told Reuters on Thursday when asked if the government is planning to move forward the ban.

Earlier this week, Ariyono said he did not want to speculate on whether the government might bring forward the ban.

Market participants, however, still expected the restriction to come before 2022.

“People believe the ban is coming,” said an executive at a major nickel producer in Indonesia.

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