China’s H1 lithium exports up but imports down further

China’s exports of lithium carbonate soared in the first half of this year from a year earlier because of a domestic supply surplus that pressured prices lower, making them attractive to foreign buyers.

China exported 7,593 tonnes of lithium carbonate in the first half of 2019, up by almost 150% from exports of 3,089 tonnes in the corresponding months of 2018, according to official Chinese data.

The export value of lithium carbonate was up 91.2% to $95.27 million from $49.83 million on January-June 2018; the average price per kg decreased by 22.2% year on year to $12.55 per kg.

The downtrend in the Chinese lithium spot market has extended into 2019 because of weaker demand and ample supply. The rate of the fall has slowed since July, however, because most downstream cathode makers have reduced output during the typical summer slowdown.

The lithium carbonate, 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, exw domestic China spot price fell by 16.5% to 64,000-68,000 yuan ($9,143-9,714) per tonne on August 1 from 75,000-83,000 yuan per tonne in January.

The top five export destinations of China’s lithium carbonate in the first half of 2019 were South Korea (4,794 tonnes), Japan (1,303 tonnes), the United States (610 tonnes), Russia (420 tonnes), and the United Kingdom (108 tonnes).

Imports of carbonate into China dropped in the first half of 2019 - Chinese consumers have preferred to source lithium carbonate from the domestic market due to cheaper prices, easy availability and cheap transport costs.

At 11,069 tonnes, imports in the first half of 2019 were down by 26.2% year on year from 15,003 tonnes 2018. Imports were mostly from Argentina (6,181 tonnes) and Chile (4,789 tonnes).

The import value totaled $104.46 million, down 52.3% from $219.25 million a year ago, while the average import price was $9 per kg, down by 40%.

Lithium hydroxide
With cheaper prices emerging in China in response to increasing production, lithium hydroxide exports surged, exceeding imports in the first half of 2019. Lithium hydroxide exports were up 99.7% year on year at 22,588 tonnes, up from 11,311 tonnes in the first half of last year.

Export values totaled $298.47 million, an increase of 90.6% from $156.61 million a year ago. The average hydroxide export price was around $13.2 per kg, down from $13.8 per kg in the same period of 2018.

Fastmarkets assessed the lithium hydroxide monohydrate, 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, ex-works, spot price at 70,000-75,000 yuan per tonne on August 1, down by 30.3% from 99,000-109,000 yuan per tonne on January 2018.

The five largest importers of hydroxide from China in the first half of 2019 were Japan (6,691 tonnes), South Korea (3,281 tonnes), India (447 tonnes), Taiwan (143 tonnes) and the US (142 tonnes).

China’s imports of lithium hydroxide fell in the same comparison - the country imported 374 tonnes of lithium hydroxide in the first half of 2019, down 67% from 1,133 tonnes in the same months of 2018.

Import revenue was $4.45 million in January-June, down 73.4% from $16.75 million a year earlier.

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