Falling nickel prices has led to growing concern that BHP Billiton may be set to close the doors on its laterite nickel mine, Ravensthorpe, in Western Australia for good.
The speculation comes against a background of worsening news about nickel, with reports that Japanese customers will defer signing new supply contracts, and predictions that the metal will be in the doldrums throughout this year and into next.
Total closure of Ravensthorpe would mean the loss of an estimated 700 jobs.
Nickel reached more than $US50, 000 a tonne in May 2007 and its highest price last year was $US33, 400 a tonne in March. Trading at the London Metal Exchange on Friday closed at $US10, 855 a tonne for three-month delivery.
BHP Billiton media relations officer Peter Ogden declined to comment on the matter.
However, the potential closure of Ravensthorpe is not the only bad news for the miner.
Reports show that BHP shipped 20% less of the fuel from its largest Australian port last month amid a slump in demand for the steelmaking material.
Shipments from the Hay Point coal terminal in Queensland fell to 2.58 million metric tons in December, from 3.23 million tons a year earlier, according to the Ports Corporation of Queensland’s Web site and confirmed today by Martin Norman, commercial manager of the port.
A complete run down on the state of BHP Billiton’s individual commodities will be announced in their production report, released later this week.