Asian black mass bookings pick up at stable prices despite continued lithium weakness

Buyers of black mass in Asia have returned to the market for bookings of shredded lithium-ion battery packs at stable prices over the past week, sources have told Fastmarkets

Chinese lithium prices trended down again over the past week amid poor demand, snuffing out gains made since the end of the Golden Week holidays, but payables for nickel mixed hydroxide precipitate (MHP) moved up, with sellers holding back tonnages from the market.

Between October 25 and November 1, three deals for black mass  – from origins such as Japan and the US  – were heard in a range of 72-75% CIF South Korea for payables of nickel and cobalt including the value of lithium in nickel cobalt manganese oxide (NCM) black mass, sources said.

A deal from Europe was heard at 74% CIF South Korea for payables of nickel and cobalt in NCM black mass, but it was discarded from Fastmarkets’ price assessment because it was not known if the value of lithium was included in the transaction.

One offer of NCM black mass was heard from the US at 70% CIF South Korea for nickel and cobalt with an unknown extra value for lithium for 200 tonnes, Fastmarkets heard.

An offer of EU-origin NCM black mass was heard at 75% CIF Southeast Asia for nickel and cobalt including value for lithium, while North American material was heard offered at 78% CIF, according to a buyer source in the region.

Offers for lithium payables were heard from Southeast Asia at 4-5% CIF Asia in recent weeks. A rumored deal was heard after the pricing deadline at payables of 73% for nickel and cobalt in NCM black mass and a 4% payable for lithium, one trading source said.

Deals for lithium cobalt oxide (LCO) black mass from India were heard at 73-74% CIF Southeast Asia this week, but demand for the material remained lower in South Korea.

Fastmarkets’ price assessments for black mass, NCM/NCA payable indicator, nickel, cif South Korea, % payable LME nickel cash official price and for black mass, NCM/NCA, payable indicator, cobalt, cif South Korea, % payable Fastmarkets’ standard-grade cobalt price (low-end) were both at 69-72% on Wednesday November 1, unchanged week on week.

Fastmarkets’ assessment for black mass, NCM/NCA, payable indicator, lithium, cif South Korea, % payable Fastmarkets’ lithium carbonate 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot prices cif China, Japan & Korea was 4-5% on Wednesday, unchanged week on week.

“Payables for black mass are mostly the same as last week, but the lithium market is not supportive, so Chinese buyers can’t take much black mass right now,” a seller source said on Wednesday.

He said it was possible to see a reduction in payables soon – particularly for high-cobalt LCO black mass – because the higher October average prices on cobalt metal have raised the total value of purchasing black mass using the standard month-1 quotation period system of payment.

“Regarding LCO black mass, there is not much demand in Korea. It is not even easy to sell cobalt sulfate lately,” a South Korean buyer source said.

Said a second South Korean consumer: “The lithium price is very [weak] but black mass payables are still high, and I heard some large companies are stocking up on black mass and black powder for their recycling plants, which are not even operating yet – this is why the payables are so strong.”

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