• Seaborne East Asian battery-grade lithium carbonate price exceeds that of lithium hydroxide.
  • Chinese battery-grade lithium carbonate price rises amid tight spot supply and year-end restocking.
  • Lack of spot units continues to push up lithium prices in the United States and Europe.
Supply of battery-grade lithium carbonate in the seaborne East Asian market was further squeezed this week, while persistent logistical disruptions applied further upward pressure to prices.

In addition, price gains in China also filtered through into the seaborne East Asian market.

Fastmarkets’ weekly assessment of the lithium carbonate 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price, cif China, Japan & Korea was $30-32 per kg on Thursday, up by $2.50-3 per kg from $27.50-29.00 per kg a week earlier.

Fastmarkets’ weekly assessment of the lithium hydroxide monohydrate 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price, cif China, Japan & Korea was $29.50-31.50 per kg on Thursday, up by $1.50 per kg from $28-30 per kg a week earlier.

Fastmarkets’ assessment of the lithium carbonate 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price range, ex-works domestic China was at 200,000-210,000 yuan ($31,305-32,870) per tonne on Thursday, up by 5,000-10,000 yuan per tonne from 195,000-200,000 yuan per tonne a week earlier.

“One of our suppliers has no spare capacity for lithium carbonate. They will focus primarily on honoring long-term commitments and will not allocate any extra [units for the spot market],” a consumer source active in both the European and East Asian markets said.

“Adding to the tightness of the market is the backlog of shipping that is causing delays, which is also making it difficult to get hold of material,” the consumer source added.

The battery-grade lithium hydroxide price in the seaborne East Asian market also rose on tight supply this week, but at a slower pace than that of battery-grade lithium carbonate.

“Since [supply of] lithium carbonate is tight in China, offer and sales prices for units sold in the seaborne market will tie more closely with prices in China. In other words, the upturn of lithium carbonate will be passed on to seaborne market more quickly than lithium hydroxide,” a producer source in China said.

“Availability of battery-grade lithium hydroxide is tight in the East Asian market, while China’s price is stable. So, the price grows slower than that of battery-grade lithium carbonate in the East Asian market,” a consumer source in the East Asian market said.

In the Chinese market, consumers began to top up their inventories of battery-grade lithium carbonate in the run-up to the end of the year.

"Some consumers are eagerly restocking to prepare the necessary feedstock for operations in January and early February, when China's New Year Festival (January 31 - February 6) takes place," a consumer source in China said.

The China-based consumer source added that cathode materials producers usually restock enough units ahead of the week-long holiday to enable them to operate for one and half months.

This increased demand for battery-grade lithium carbonate in China, at a time when supply is already tight, caused the price rally in China to accelerate, market sources said.

"Lithium carbonate units are not held mostly by producers. Instead, some of them are at hands of either traders or battery manufacturers," a second consumer source in China said.

“Due to the optimism of lithium-iron-phosphate batteries in China, the market sees more room for lithium battery-grade carbonate price to rise. Therefore, some traders are holding their units in tight hands,” a trader in China said.

"Lithium carbonate is still squeezed and as long as cathode materials producers need to operate, they have no choice but to restock with expensive units," a second producer source in China said.

Bucking the general uptrend seen across Asia this week, the battery-grade lithium hydroxide price held steady in China for the fourth consecutive week.

Fastmarkets’ assessment of the lithium hydroxide monohydrate, 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price range, exw domestic China was 185,000-205,000 yuan per tonne on Thursday, unchanged since October 28.

“The future of NCM [nickel-cobalt-manganese] batteries looks less promising that that of LFP [lithium-iron-phosphate] batteries, so demand for lithium hydroxide is weaker than that of lithium carbonate, which keeps the price [of battery-grade lithium hydroxide] stable. Its supply was also less tight,” a second trader in China said.

Spot lithium prices in Europe, US continue to push higher

Lithium spot prices in Europe and the US continued to push higher this week, with increases seen in both technical-grade and battery-grade compounds while sources continued to cite a lack of available spot units.

Most sources also agreed that prices in Europe and the US are playing catch up with ongoing gains in the Chinese domestic market.

A Chinese distributor active in southern Europe that sources lithium technical-grade carbonate said that producers he dealt with preferred to discuss short-term supply contracts rather than committing to long-term contracts on expectations that prices will continue to rise.

“The market is in short supply, everyone is interested in battery grade material instead of technical or industrial grades,” the same distributor said, adding that he received an offer at cif Europe basis from China at $31 per kg.

A source at a lithium-brine-based producer said that while he is seeing a narrowing of the price differential between battery-grade and technical-grade compounds in the European market due to the higher demand from the industrial sector in those regions, this is not true for the seaborne Asia market where the battery-grade compounds maintain a price premium because there is more demand from the battery sector.

Fastmarkets assessed the lithium carbonate 99% Li2CO3 min, technical and industrial grades, spot price ddp Europe and US at $29-30 per kg on Thursday, up by $1 per kg from $28-29 per kg a week earlier. The price was assessed at $21-22 per kg on October 14.

Similarly, Fastmarkets’ assessment of the lithium carbonate 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price ddp Europe and US was at $30-31 per kg on Thursday, up by $1 per kg from $29-30 per kg a week earlier. The price was assessed at $21-22 per kg on October 14.