The squeeze in the nickel market is getting worse

The nickel market is showing more signs of stress.

Stockpiles held by the London Metal Exchange extended their decline on Tuesday, with the last increase coming in October. Buyers are paying a massive premium for immediately deliverable futures.

The key cash three-month spread, which briefly eased on news of additional shipments from Tsingshan Holdings Group Co., notched new highs on Monday. Contracts for immediate delivery are trading at a $508-a-ton premium to those in three months, the highest such premium since a historic squeeze in 2007.

cash nickel contracts trade at huge premiums as inventories decline

While the squeeze last month was focused on near-dated contracts, in recent days it has spread through the curve. That shows the market is now pricing in tighter nickel supplies for longer, amid strong demand from stainless steel producers and battery manufacturers.

The spread between February and March contracts has more than doubled in the past week, as has the spread between March and April contracts.

Base metals are extending gains after their best year in more than a decade, aided by strong demand and power-related supply disruptions. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. sees deficits across all refined metals, raising its 12-month targets for aluminum, copper and zinc.

Nickel rose 1.9% to $22,750 a ton as of 3:50 p.m. on the LME.  Most other main LME metals also gained, with copper up 2.6% as comments from the U.S. Federal Reserve alleviated concerns over an aggressive tightening of monetary policy.

Chinese markets are shut all week for the Lunar New Year holiday, which is damping trade in Asia.

(By Eddie Spence, with assistance from Jack Farchy, Mark Burton and Yvonne Yue Li)