Asian lithium prices continue downtrend ahead of Lunar New Year

Chinese lithium prices continued to decline in the week to Thursday January 12, pressured downward by persistently low demand, while spot trading slowed further ahead of China's Lunar New Year holiday.

Spot lithium prices in the seaborne Asia market also tracked the weakness in China, while the European and US markets mostly remained in wait-and-see mode.

  • Chinese lithium prices down on thin demand, pre-holiday slowness
  • Seaborne East Asian lithium prices fall in line with Chinese weakness
  • Europe, US prices mostly flat following previous losses with participants in wait-and-see mode

Fastmarkets’ price assessment for lithium carbonate 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price range exw domestic China was 470,000-500,000 yuan ($69,631-74,075) per tonne on Thursday, down by 20,000 yuan per tonne from 490,000-520,000 yuan per tonne a week earlier.

Fastmarkets’ price assessment for lithium hydroxide monohydrate LiOH.H2O 56.5% LiOH min, battery grade, spot price range exw domestic China was 470,000-500,000 yuan per tonne on Thursday, also down by 20,000 yuan per tonne from 490,000-520,000 yuan per tonne a week earlier.

Market participants said that persistently weak demand had continued to put downward pressure on lithium prices in China.

“Currently, the demand for lithium salts from cathode makers is still very thin, and some cathode makers have already ceased production and gone on holiday,” a Chinese lithium producer source said.

Market participants saw little hope of a significant improvement in lithium demand in the near term, and expected the prices to remain on a downward trend.

“Market sentiment is very bearish and some eager traders continue to lower their offers in an attempt to boost sales in a stagnant market. But due to the thin demand, there hasn’t been many trades,” a Chinese cathode producer source said.

At the same time, market participants were also cautious about price movements following Lunar New Year, also called Chinese New Year, and consumers were therefore in no hurry to negotiate any spot deals.

“Many consumers are not very confident about which direction prices will take after the Chinese New Year holiday. And they are waiting until the holiday is over when the signals [of price direction] are clearer before they start negotiating any spot deals,” a second Chinese producer source said.

Issues with logistics also resulted in lower liquidity in the Chinese spot market, since transport has already begun to slow this week with the approaching holidays.

“There haven’t been many overs this week in the spot market. Even if we offer, we can only deliver those orders after the holiday. But many consumers are cautious about the prices after the holiday,” a third Chinese lithium producer source said.

East Asian market continues downtrend

Spot lithium prices in the seaborne East Asian market continued to trend lower over the past week due to the continuous decline in domestic Chinese lithium prices.

“The downward pressure from the rapidly falling Chinese market is immense. Even though the spot market in the seaborne East Asia is quiet, the prices are still falling. If you are still offering battery-grade lithium hydroxide at $84-84 per kg, no buyers will take it, because they see the decline in China,” a fourth Chinese lithium producer source said.

“The battery-grade lithium carbonate prices in East Asia ultimately follow the downtrend seen in the domestic China market,” a South Korean consumer source said.

Fastmarkets’ daily assessment of the lithium carbonate 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot prices, cif China, Japan & Korea was $77-79 per kg on Thursday, down by $1 per kg from $78-80 a day earlier. Prior to this drop, the price had held steady since January 3.

The corresponding assessment of the lithium hydroxide monohydrate LiOH.H2O 56.5% LiOH min, battery grade, spot price cif China, Japan & Korea was $79-82 per kg on Thursday, down by $1 per kg from $80-83 per kg a day earlier, and down by $2-4 per kg from $83-84 per kg a week earlier.

But spot liquidity remained limited and market participants expected a quiet market at least until the Lunar New Year holiday is over.

Like the domestic China market, many Chinese lithium producer sources told Fastmarkets that they did not make any offers because deliveries were only possible after the Lunar New Year holiday once transportation normalizes.

“We don’t see much spot demand for lithium salts recently. Consumers are also waiting to see how prices will change after the Chinese New Year,” a fourth Chinese lithium producer source said.

Spot lithium prices in Europe and US remain stable

Spot lithium prices in Europe and the United States remained mostly steady over the past week because participants were waiting for signals on price direction from the more liquid Asian markets, sources said.

The only decisive downtrend was seen in the battery-grade lithium hydroxide assessment, in line with similar weakness in the seaborne Asia spot lithium hydroxide battery grade price.

Fastmarkets’ price assessment for lithium hydroxide monohydrate LiOH.H2O 56.5% LiOH min, battery grade, spot price ddp Europe and US was $79-83 per kg on Thursday, down by $1-4 per kg from $83-84 per kg on January 5.

The market for technical-grade lithium in Europe and the US remained sluggish with participants concerned that industrial buyers will continue to resist the current level of prices, sources told Fastmarkets.

In the meantime, some distributors based in Europe have been taking advantage of a softer Chinese market.

“I bought a couple of tonnes [of technical-grade lithium salts] from China at around $71 per kg, taking advantage of the de-stocking happening in the country during the year-end. However, do not expect further price decreases due to the quietness ahead of the Chinese New Year celebrations and Covid-related disruptions in the country. I’m expecting higher prices for February,” a distributor based in Europe said.

A similar view was echoed by a global producer: “Prices have softened and I’m expecting the current level to hold until the Chinese New Year and into February; in the next quarter will see what happens.”

Keep up to date with the latest news and insights in the lithium market by visiting our dedicated lithium page.

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