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Unusually for the year-end, stainless steel demand remained good in the final quarter of 2021.

Demand for superalloy scrap also made further gains and, while not fully back to pre-pandemic levels, its comeback is well on track. The oil/gas sectors remained strong while the aerospace industry improved its requirements to some extent.

Nickel ended last year with a robust flourish, edging over US$ 20,000 per tonne for an increase of more than 12% over January 2021, attributed in part to LME inventories being at a two-year low. The LME nickel cash average climbed from US$ 19,400 per tonne in October to US$ 19,949 in November and then to US$ 20,055 in December to give an average for the quarter of US$ 19,819.

LME cobalt prices were on an even steeper upward trajectory in the final quarter to arrive at a gain of more than 82% over the start of January 2021. The LME cash average of US$ 54,975 per tonne for October became US$ 59,650 the following month, with a further spike in December to US$ 68,675. These numbers equate to an average for last year’s final quarter of US$ 61,100 per tonne.

The electric vehicle (EV) sector has now established itself as a key driver of the cobalt market. Prices remained buoyant throughout the fourth quarter largely as a result of supply constraints but were also underpinned by restocking demand and EV market requirements. So in short, the physical demand is there and has bolstered pricing.

Cobalt use by the battery sector is expected to increase by around 30% in 2022 and so the future looks rosy for this commodity.

It is also worth mentioning molybdenum - a big factor in both stainless steel and superalloys. In terms of scrap, there has been an increase in commodity pricing coupled with an upturn in demand.