Chinese lithium carbonate import volumes rise after price fall in April-May

A spike in Chinese lithium carbonate imports in the first two months of the second quarter reflects a drop in prices that made the material more attractive to buyers.

China imported 4,539 tonnes of lithium carbonate in April-May 2019, according to the most recent available figures from Chinese customs, up by 37% from 3,315 tonnes in the whole of the first quarter.

The monthly average value of the imported lithium carbonate fell by 17.76% to $9,316 per tonne in May from $11,328 per tonne in January.

The import data can be misleading because it includes different grades of lithium carbonate as well as mixing contract and spot prices. Still, seaborne lithium prices in Asia have been trending lower in general.

Fastmarkets’ battery-grade lithium carbonate (min 99.5% Li2CO3) spot price fell by 13% to $11-12.50 per kg on June 27 from $12.50-14.50 on January 3.

Fastmarkets’ technical & industrial lithium carbonate (min 99% Li2CO3) spot price fell by 12.5% to $9.50-11.50 per kg from $11-13 over the same period.

China has been importing significant volumes off-grade and industrial-grade material, which typically trades at a discount of $1-2 per kg to Fastmarkets’ prices, for conversion into battery-grade lithium carbonate or into lithium hydroxide.

Material seeking qualification from Chinese battery makers is also being traded at a discount into China. These discounted prices on a seaborne China basis have been dragging down lithium carbonate prices in the rest of the world.

As well, lower lithium prices in China have been progressively pushing down the seaborne, forcing lithium producers outside China to lower their prices to compete in the Chinese market.

The Chinese spot price of battery-grade lithium carbonate (minimum 99.5% ex-works China) fell by 57% o 70,000-75,000 yuan ($10,168-10,894) per tonne on June 27 from 165,000-175,000 yuan per tonne on December 21, 2017.

China also exported 1,681 tonnes of lithium carbonate in May-April, down from 4,810 tonnes in the first quarter as a whole.

The average price achieved per tonne remained relatively stable at $12,316-12,624 per tonne, according to Chinese customs data.

Lithium hydroxide exports steady but price falls
Chinese exports of lithium hydroxide of 6,148 tonnes in April-May compare with 10,016 tonnes across the entire first quarter of the year, according to China customs data.

The average price of exported material fell by 11.44% to $12,963 per tonne in May from $14,639 per tonne in January.

Ample availability of lithium hydroxide and lower domestic prices were the main reasons for the fall in export prices, market participants told Fastmarkets.

Fastmarkets’ battery-grade lithium hydroxide monohydrate (minimum 56.5% LiOH.H2O) spot price in China fell by 44% to 80,000-85,000 yuan per tonne on June 27 from 145,000-150,000 yuan per tonne on December 21, 2017.

China, which is a leading producer and exporter of lithium hydroxide, imported only 26 tonnes of lithium hydroxide in May, up from 12 tonnes imported in January.