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Are South32 Ltd and Western Areas Ltd about to ride a surging nickel price?

A number of Australian miners including South32 Ltd (ASX: S32), Western Areas Ltd (ASX: WSA), and Independence Group NL (ASX: IGO) received a huge lift yesterday when nickel prices climbed to a seven-week high of $US10,900 a tonne.

The reason for the surge in the nickel price was down to news out of The Philippines that the Duterte government may be about to force the closure of up to 20 mines that failed recent audits. This is on top of the 10 mines which have already been suspended this year.

The nickel mines that have both been closed or are recommended for closure accounted for 56% of the country’s nickel production last year according to Bloomberg. Considering The Philippines is the world’s largest nickel producer, if all these mines are indeed closed then I believe prices are likely to climb much higher.

This would be music to the ears of Australia’s leading nickel producers and Western Areas in particular due to it being purely focused on nickel. The company has been having an incredibly tough time of late due to prices falling to 10-year lows.

But one positive from the low prices is that the company has been forced into making vast improvements in operational efficiencies. This year management successfully cut costs and delivered a lower (cost unit) cash cost of production. If nickel prices do rise and are able to be sustained then Western Areas is in a position for bumper profits in my opinion.

Considering its debt-free balance sheet and cash balance of $75 million, it certainly makes for an attractive investment option if prices remain favourable.

In the next two weeks the Duterte government is expected to announce which mines will be forced to close. Nickel prices and Western Areas’ share price are likely to remain quite volatile until then, so I wouldn’t necessarily suggest rushing in to invest just yet.

If you're unsure about nickel prices then I would suggest you take a look at these rapidly growing shares instead. Each has the potential to take your portfolio higher in the next few months in my opinion.

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Motley Fool contributor James Mickleboro has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool Australia has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.

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