Chinese graphite exports, imports rise in Feb vs last year

Chinese demand for graphite was notably stronger at the start of this year than in early 2017, contributing to firm prices, while imports of non-Chinese graphite are increasing significantly.

Chinese exports of flake graphite rose in February against last year’s levels but declined against the previous month, while imports of the mineral continued to grow.

Chinese flake graphite exports stood at 9,423 tonnes in February, a 39% rise year on year. In value terms, the month’s trade generated $9.3 million in turnover, essentially double the value generated against year-ago levels, when value stood at $4.7 million (+98%).

While the double-digit growth in volumes sold this year were a decisive factor contributing to the uptrend, the almost 100% rise in value for February is testament to a market that has been affected by severe price increases during the past months.

All grades of Chinese graphite appreciated considerably during the second half of last year on drastic cuts in production brought about by Beijing’s environmental policies, inspections and restrictions on mining.

The price of flake graphite, 94-97% C, +80 Mesh, which is currently at $1,050-1,210 per tonne fob China, rose some 40% from $730-855 per tonne in July last year.

Flake, 94-97% C, +100 -80 Mesh, rose 30% to $800-940 per tonne fob China from $615-720 per tonne in July of last year. Flake, 94-97% C, -100 Mesh, similarly increased 30% to $655-790 per tonne fob China from $480-630 per tonne in July 2017.

All three prices have been stable in early 2018 since their latest increase in the fourth-quarter 2017, contributing to the higher generated turnover in Chinese trade in 2018.

The average export price for the month, at $987 per tonne against $833 per tonne in January and $852 per tonne in December, further exemplifies the appreciation the market has experienced.

Concurrently, February flake exports were sharply down month on month, falling 35% from January’s 14,500 tonnes. February value was also 23% lower from the previous month.

This is thought to be related to slow trading during the Lunar New Year holiday period, when most Chinese companies were shut for some weeks in the second half of the month.

Additionally, buyers would have made plans to stock up prior to the holiday period, which may have contributed to the high export number for January.

Exports of amorphous graphite (with HS code 250490) stood at 15,890 tonnes in February, down 20% from January’s 19,686 tonnes. These volumes were higher, however, than February 2017, when 10,952 tonnes were exported.

Chinese imports
As highlighted in previous months, Chinese imports of graphite, which were negligible until recently, continued to rise in early 2018. China imported 3,112 tonnes of flake graphite in January and 528 tonnes in February.

For comparison, 2017 imports were at 164 tonnes in January and 53 tonnes in February, which means annual growth has exceeded 1,000% in both months.

While numbers are still very low compared with external trade, the surge in imported volumes points to a shift in the composition of the industry, and to the growing need for domestic users to cover their requirements with non-Chinese material.

Imported graphite mainly originates from North Korea and Madagascar, with minor volumes coming from African operations.