GLOBAL LITHIUM WRAP: Reduced demand weighs on Chinese domestic spot battery-grade lithium carbonate prices

Spot, battery-grade lithium carbonate prices continued to fall in China this week on thin buying activity, with buyers in no rush to buy ahead of the Labour Day holiday (April 29-May 1) and cautious given recent price declines.

  • Chinese lithium carbonate battery-grade spot prices fall due to softer demand 
  • Consumers of lithium carbonate battery-grade hold back on procuring material ahead of holidays 
  • Competitive lower lithium carbonate battery-grade prices offered by some Chinese producers help to push domestic market down 
  • China, Japan and Korea seaborne market prices remain strong, converging toward domestic Chinese spot prices 
Influenced by a deceleration in consumption of lithium compounds in China, the Chinese domestic spot battery-grade lithium carbonate price (min 99.5% Li2CO3) fell to 138,000-143,000 yuan ($21,833-22,624) per tonne on an ex works China basis from 140,000-145,000 yuan per tonne from previous week, according to Industrial Minerals market assessment on Thursday April 26.

"Sales showed no improvements ahead of the holiday, and some small-sized producers have been selling at lower prices as downstream demand remains weak," a Chinese producer told Industrial Minerals.

"We keep aiming at selling our lithium carbonate battery-grade as high as 145,000 yuan per tonne and won’t reduce our selling price, despite the very competitive prices in the spot marketplace below 140,000 yuan per tonne seen over the past week," the producer added.

The lithium hydroxide monohydrate (min 56.5% LiOH.H2O) spot market remained steady, with prices resisting the downward trend in the lithium carbonate market in recent weeks.

Producers and other suppliers have kept their prices supported by limited supply, keeping the battery-grade lithium hydroxide monohydrate price between 148,000-153,000 yuan per tonne on an ex-works China basis on April 26, according to latest Industrial Minerals market assessment.

"There is less availability of lithium hydroxide monohydrate against lithium carbonate in the Chinese market, alongside the growing demand for lithium hydroxide monohydrate battery-grade in China," a Chinese battery producer told Metal Bulletin.

"Adding to that, the current production of lithium carbonate has increased whereas the production of lithium hydroxide monohydrate remains tight, keeping the prices of this lithium compound fairly stable," he added.

Seaborne market holds
Trade in the seaborne market was also slow this week, with China, Japan and Korea lithium spot prices remaining strong, closer to the price levels traded within the Chinese domestic spot market.

The battery-grade lithium carbonate (min 99.5% Li2CO3) spot prices remained unchanged week on week between $19-21 per kg on a cif China, Japan and Korea basis on Thursday April 26, with market participants reporting little spot market activity across the week.

"We have noticed a reduction in demand over the course of the past two weeks for battery-grade lithium carbonate from the China, Japan and South Korean markets against consistent, continuous demand over the course of the first-quarter 2018," a second lithium producer told Industrial Minerals.

"More availability of material in the spot market of the [relevant] region could be at the core of a deceleration in consumption, but it remains unclear," he added.

More spot market activity was reported to Metal Bulletin in the battery-grade lithium hydroxide monohydrate (min 56.5% LiOH.H2O) market, however, prices remain unchanged, trading at strong price levels between $20-22 per kg on a cif China, Japan and Korea basis week on week.

"We have received different offers of material over the course of the week but we're in no rush to buy material for the time being as we are well stocked and the Labour Day Holiday is just next week," a second battery maker told Industrial Minerals.

Europe, US steady ahead of holidays
The European and US spot markets remained fairly stable, witnessing little market activity over the course of week.

The battery-grade lithium carbonate and hydroxide monohydrate markets remained quite stable week on week between $18-20.50 per kg and $19-21.50 per kg on a ddp Europe and US basis, respectively, according to the April-26 market assessment.

"Spot market liquidity in Europe and the US remains quite low as the majority of battery-grade lithium compounds sold in the spot market end in China, Japan and South Korea," a third lithium producer told Industrial Minerals.

"The market remained quite stable and despite inquiries, we have not sold battery-grade material into the European and US spot market this week," he added.

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