Fitch Ratings has increased most metals and mining price assumptions, particularly those that benefit from increased longer-term demand due to global decarbonisation or short-term supply-demand imbalances.
We have raised short- and medium-term copper prices due to strong demand, supported by energy transition trends such as electric vehicle production and renewables roll-out. Copper inventories are at very low levels (less than three weeks’ worth of consumption with exchange stocks at 20-year lows).
We expect the copper market to stay largely balanced over the medium term, supporting prices. While demand is increasing, mining companies face challenges in obtaining environmental permits for new projects and local communities’ resistance, reducing risks of oversupply.
We have cut our 2022 iron ore price assumption and increased it in 2023-2024. We expect the iron ore market to be more balanced in 2022 following a large deficit in 2021. Inventories have risen and are likely to remain higher than in the past two years, which will support price moderation in 2022. However, cost inflation – including shipping rates and environmental compliance – will limit downside risks in the coming years.
The updated coking coal price assumptions for 2022 reflect our expectation that prices will moderate from current levels due to lower demand from China, driven by the government-induced decline in steel production and winter season curbs. However, supply is likely to remain disrupted, while there are some pockets of growing demand, including India, which support our higher-than-previously expected short-term assumption.
We have increased all aluminium price assumptions due to strong market fundamentals. Power disruptions in China have led to production capacity curtailments that, together with delayed ramp-ups and restarts, have led to significant deficits in 2021 that we expect to continue in 2022 with a tight market balance thereafter. Weaker demand from some end-markets, including that linked to chip shortages, has been more than offset by production cuts. Demand for aluminium in the medium and long term will be supported by its application in electrification and energy transition.
Our increased short and medium-term zinc price assumptions are driven by global demand growth at nearly pre-pandemic rates, despite some deceleration in China. The global refined zinc market is likely to swing into shortages in 2022 and 2023, supporting prices. However, supply is price-elastic and highly fragmented, leading to increased production and curbing prices in the longer term.
Our increased gold price assumptions reflect increased demand due to its ‘safe haven’ investment status, although it has moderated since the height of the pandemic due to better prospects of economic recoveries. We assume the price to re-base at USD1,300/oz in the long term.
Our increased 2022 Qinhuangdao 5,500kcal/kg thermal coal price assumptions reflect our expectation that the market supply will remain tight after temporary production-incentivising measures are withdrawn in China. We still expect low single-digit growth in domestic consumption of thermal coal in 2022, despite the slowing of the economy, because new renewable capacity cannot cover all power demand. We expect prices to subsequently align with the earlier assumptions. We have similarly revised the Australia Newcastle 6,000 kcal/kg benchmark.
The increase in the 2022 nickel price assumptions is driven by residual effects of low stocks and higher prices in 2021, while we kept other medium- and long-term assumptions unchanged due to risks of increased supply from Indonesia, that could potentially lead to small market surpluses.
Our updated assumptions for 2021 largely reflect year-to-date average prices.