The price of nickel actually fell yesterday, by a marginal $400 a tonne to $33,300 for cash on the nail, "spot" delivery on the London Metal Exchange.

But a fall is a fall and an unusual event for nickel recently. The price has doubled over the past six weeks, so some people have mountainous profits to take.

This scramble has left just 900 tonnes of nickel in the LME's warehouses, enough to supply the world for six hours, altogether too close for comfort - although consumers and producers are thought to have stocks good for four weeks tucked away elsewhere.

This is a classic market squeeze and the LME will doubtless do something to calm it, as it did this time last year when it turned out that half the world's stock of zinc was in Katrina-struck New Orleans.

It is not in itself a matter of nickel, or any other commodity, starting to run out. That is the message from the market - nickel for delivery in three months' time was quoted at $28,900 yesterday falling right back to $19,050 for 27 months.

But the question gets asked - with enough urgency for the Swiss bank UBS to ask its researchers for answers.

The hard fact is that the citizens of the world's two most populous countries, China and India, are rapidly becoming less poor.

Individually, the average Chinese or Indian is unlikely to catch up with the average Westerner for the foreseeable future. But their collective economic clout - as consumers, not just suppliers of the rich West - is set to become immense.

UBS concluded that the present developed countries will remain the biggest endc onsumers of natural resources.

But the growth is likely to be driven by huge numbers of people ceasing to be poor in countries we still label as emerging markets.

So will they gobble up all the nickel, copper, iron ore and the rest? UBS opines "Over the long term, there appears to be no issue of depletion in the next 2000 years or so for mineral commodities like ferrous and non-ferrous metals".

There will be shortages for the next three to five years at least, due to past under-investment in the search for base-metal deposits, but that is now being addressed.

Oil is something else.

UBS sees the world's oil output peaking in the mid to late 2020s. We already use four times as much oil in a year as is discovered.

It is not just Shell overstating its reserves and having to write them down.

That doesn't mean the world runs out of energy -prolonged high prices should promote research and investment in alternative sources.

Yesterday the German RWE was talking of converting an oil-fired British power station to palm oil.

Much more of that would be glum news for rain forests felled to make way for palm oil plantations, but it is a sign of the times.

UBS looks to natural gas to fill the looming energy gap, overtaking crude oil by 2030.

If all this sounds too precise to be probable, it is.

The certainty is that the days of cheap energy are gone for good.