S&P lowers base metals forecasts

S&P Global Ratings has lowered its metal price assumptions as fears of a global slowdown grow.

S&P lowers base metals forecasts

"A price spike in early 2022 eased quickly, as global metal supplies rebalanced after the onset of the Russia-Ukraine conflict," S&P analyst Donald Marleau said.

"Furthermore, strong demand in early 2022 appears to be slowing with inventory destocking downstream and pressure on global GDP growth in 2022 and 2023."

S&P lowered its 2022 copper price forecast from US$9500 per tonne to $7600/t, reflecting recent weakness, but left its 2023 and 2024 forecast unchanged at $8700/t.

Copper rose back over $8000/t overnight from as low as $7100/t last month but has still averaged $9355/t so far this year.

"Volumes in the short term could be suppressed by high prices, inflation for other materials, and supply-chain disruptions, although we expect stronger long-term end-use demand from the green energy revolution," Marleau said.

"Although mine supply tightness is expected to ease as operations resume in Central and South America and planned expansions and ramp-ups come online, the thin project pipeline could support higher prices later in our assumptions' horizon."

Nickel was the only base metal to get an upgrade, with S&P expecting it to average $20,000/t this year, up from $17,500/t.

Its 2023 forecast has been lifted by $2000/t to $17,500 though S&P forecasts it to drop back to $15,500/t in 2024.

S&P noted that Russia remained in the market after Norilsk Nickel avoided sanctions.

Demand fundamentals are generally robust, and the global supply outlook has improved because shipments have continued from critically important mines in Russia.

"The nickel market could face a surplus in the future, as increasing supply from Indonesia will likely not be matched by demand growth if the global economy slows," Marleau said.

"We don't expect rising costs to put meaningful upward pressure on pricing as the majority of the mines would remain profitable under our price assumptions."

Zinc prices for 2022 were lowered slightly to $3000/t from $3200/t, while aluminium is now expected to average $2500/t, down from $3000/t.

In bulks, iron ore in 2022 was lowered by $30/t to $100/t, but is still expected to average $90/t next year and $80/t in 2024.

Metallurgical coal and thermal coal are expected to average $230/t and $250, respectively, compared to previous forecasts of $350/t and $180/t, respectively.

Prices are expected to ease next year to $190/t for met coal and $120/t for thermal coal.

S&P's gold price forecast was left at $1800 an ounce in 2022, $1600/oz in 2023 and $1400/oz in 2024.

S&P noted miners' margins would be impacted by lower prices and rising costs.

"Therefore, we expect weaker profits and lower cash holdings will consume some of the well-earned credit buffer issuers have built with several years of financial discipline," Marleau said.

About 80% of S&P's companies under coverage have a stable outlook, while 15% have a positive outlook.

"Nevertheless, our outlook bias could begin shifting negative if large cash reserves are consumed for multiyear capex or even for shareholder returns, leaving little ratio buffer for normal downside profit volatility," Marleau said.

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