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BHP strike said unlikely to hurt nickel market

Keywords: Tags  BHP Billiton, Cerro Matoso, strike, ferronickel, nickel supply, nickel pricing, Daniel Fitzgerald

NEW YORK — Domestic nickel market participants say they don’t anticipate any notable changes in nickel availability if workers strike at BHP Billiton Plc’s Cerro Matoso mine in Colombia.

Local union official Domingo Hernandez said mine workers have threatened a work stoppage if employee Jamer Ledesma is disciplined for an alleged breach of safety procedure, according to media reports.

Hernandez told AMM that Ledesma would meet with the company at a disciplinary hearing Feb. 14, and that the union would subsequently review its options, he said Feb. 12.

The Cerro Matoso nickel operation, which combines a nickel mine and ferronickel smelter, is described by BHP as the world’s second-largest ferronickel producer.

Market sources told AMM that global ferronickel and nickel supply is strong enough to outweigh any changes in production at the mine though.

“Everybody has ferronickel; it’s coming out the wazoo,” said one consumer, who said his company uses an average of 120 gross tons a month. “There are people calling us every day saying they’ve got it, so I don’t think there’ll be a shortage. There’s plenty around.”

Nickel vendors also told AMM that global supply is strong enough that even if ferronickel consumers are forced to change their feedstock to regular nickel, it would be unlikely that availability would be affected significantly.

“Business is slow, and there’s a tremendous amount of material out there,” one seller said. “The ferronickel market would have to be horrendous for them to switch to nickel.”

The Cerro Matoso smelter produced 48,900 tonnes of ferronickel in the year ended June 30, 2012, according to BHP (, July 18).

BHP Billiton declined to comment.

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