TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Amid war in Ukraine and market chaos, the price of nickels are now worth more as melted metal than to spend. It may be causing some Americans to start hoarding the coins to future-proof for potential inflation.
So far, coverage on the effect of the war in Ukraine has focused on gas prices, with Russia one of the largest producers of oil in the world. However, according to McKinsey & Company, Russia was the largest exporter of raw nickel in the world, with 21.1% of the global supply of nickel mined in the country. The next highest was Canada, with 17.1% of raw nickel mining in the world.
On March 7, the London Metal Exchange reported the price of nickel rose 250% in just 24 hours, causing them to halt trading on nickel for the first time since 1985. On March 14, Bloomberg reported the nickel market “broke.” The price returned to a more normal level on March 8, but prices crept back up by March 22. Later reporting by Bloomberg on the topic said the nickel market’s trading “chaos” broke the metal’s market in less than 20 minutes.
Ongoing disruptions to coin circulation during the pandemic have also been exacerbated recently by individuals stocking up on nickels. It’s an example of online media-fueled disruptions of normal economic systems. The cause, like the GameStop stock push of 2021, was partially due to efforts by Reddit community members to trade cash for coin in preparation for another potential shortage.
Reddit forum, or subreddit, “Wallstreetsilver” had some users posting about joining in on what they’re calling “US Nickel FOMO” or “fear of missing out.” Like the WallstreetBets efforts with the stock market, the moves are both memes and investments.
If you were to melt down a single $0.05 nickel coin today, the metal you get would be worth $0.079. That’s a nearly 60% markup of price versus material. It means a $2.00 roll of nickels, containing 40 coins, would be worth $3.18.
But nickel is needed for more than just coins.
Car batteries use nickel as a main material, and cars are already expensive due to semiconductor shortages hurting production costs and timelines for vehicles and pushing the prices for used and new cars up amid historically high inflation.
While material costs of nickels fluctuate, it is only illegal to melt the coins down to sell the metal itself. Melting nickels, dimes, quarters and pennies for the purpose of simple destruction, creating art, or other non-economic purposes is still legal in the U.S.
Nickels are worth more to melt than to spend, at least according to Coinflation.com, a site that tracks the metal value of coins compared to their dollar values.
According to the U.S. Mint, the part of the federal government responsible for producing the cash we spend in the U.S., today’s nickels are only made with 25% of the metal they’re named for. The rest of the coin is made with copper.
Ironically, pennies are mostly zinc instead of copper. The U.S. coin known for the shiny orange metal has only contained 2.5% actual copper since 1982.
The U.S. Federal Reserve created the U.S. Coin Task Force, made up of “a group of coin industry representatives that came together at the onset of the pandemic to identify, refine and promote strategies to resolve the pandemic-related coin supply chain issues.”
Among the many issues created by the COVID-19 was what many called a coin shortage.
In a report by the task force, the industry representatives said the pandemic didn’t cause a coin shortage, but a slowdown in recirculation. According to the report, only 17% of the coins in circulation were created in 2019. The U.S. Treasury said there were $48 billion in coins already in circulation.
As Americans stayed indoors and payed for things electronically, through app or card, there were fewer coins in circulation. While not a shortage, technically, it did put a premium on physical coins for stores and banks. Supply chain issues for materials remain a clear and present concern, particularly amid ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
At the end of the day, while the material value of a coin can fluctuate, its currency value remains static. Nickels will always be $0.05, even when the metal is worth more. The U.S. Mint reported the nickel’s unit cost rose by 14.8% in Fiscal Year 2021. For the 16th year in a row, nickels were more expensive to produce than they were worth as cash.