Chinese lithium carbonate prices up amid futures volatility

Spot lithium carbonate prices in China edged up over the week ended Thursday May 9 amid volatility in the futures market and weak demand after the country’s Labor Day holiday from May 1-5, sources told Fastmarkets

China’s lithium hydroxide prices, however, dipped slightly amid limited demand.

The seaborne CIF China, Japan and Korea (Korea) lithium prices remained steady over the recent week amid slow transactions.

China

Spot lithium market in China’s domestic market remained stable over the week amid inactive spot transactions, while the prices remained rangebound following futures market volatility. 

“There wasn’t much going on after the holiday, and spot transactions of lithium carbonate was slow,” a Chinese lithium trader said.

Most consumers had finished restocking prior to the holiday, while the planned cathode production for June was unremarkable, resulting in a decreased appetite for spot lithium salts over the week, multiple sources said.

Fastmarkets’ price assessment of lithium carbonate 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price range exw domestic China was 110,000-114,000 yuan ($15,222-15,776) per tonne on Thursday, up by 3,000 yuan per tonne per kg from the previous assessment at 107,000-111,000 yuan per tonne on April 25.

The most active July 2024 lithium carbonate futures contract on Guangzhou Futures Exchange opened at 112,000 yuan per tonne on Monday May 6, the first trading day after the holiday. It peaked at 115,250 yuan per tonne on Tuesday May 7, but since then, the prices were on steady decline and closed at 111,700 yuan per tonne on Thursday.

While the futures prices are widely referenced for spot lithium carbonate offers, the declines in the futures market on Wednesday May 8 and Thursday added to consumer caution, sources told Fastmarkets.

United States-based spodumene and lithium producer Albemarle held a tender for 100 tonnes of battery-grade lithium carbonate Wednesday, with results closed at 111,000 yuan per tonne, according to sources close to the matter.

On the other hand, market participants also noted thin demand for technical grade lithium carbonate, citing that the price gap between battery-grade and technical grade carbonate is too small.

“Consumers in the battery supply chain can just pay a couple of thousands of yuan per tonne and get battery-grade lithium carbonate. So there’s no reason for them to buy technical grade carbonate. For technical grade lithium carbonate to be attractive, its prices need to be at least 10,000 yuan per tonne lower than the battery-grade,” a Chinese cathode producer source said.

The lithium hydroxide market was similarly slow over the week, while multiple Chinese cathode producers sources told Fastmarkets they did not have any spot purchases after the holiday.

While multiple market participants noted that lithium hydroxide prices were roughly steady over the week, some consumers continued to try to press down the prices amid the overall weaker nickel cobalt manganese (NCM) battery sector compared to lithium iron phosphate battery sector, Fastmarkets learned.

Fastmarkets’ price assessment of lithium hydroxide monohydrate LiOH.H2O 56.5% LiOH min, battery grade, spot price range exw domestic China was 97,000-110,000 yuan per tonne on Thursday, widening downward by 3,000 yuan per tonne from the previous assessment at 100,000-110,000 yuan per tonne on April 25.

CIF CJK

Spot lithium prices in the CIF CJK market held unchanged over the recent week, with market sources noting a stable market amid limited spot transactions.

“After the Chinese holiday, the spot market has been quiet,” a Chinese lithium producer said, expecting more spot activities in the second half of the month.

Despite an illiquid spot market, “for the time being we have not seen any weakness in the market yet. Our major suppliers are still very tight in supply, so we are not receiving sufficient volume as requested”, an Asian consumer source told Fastmarkets.

But some other market participants had a more bearish attitude, indicating that the spot lithium prices could have been slightly weaker due to bearish sentiment and overall thin spot demand since Fastmarkets’ Asia Battery Raw Materials conference in Seoul, South Korea.

“Lithium hydroxide prices in China and CJK are basically in parity at the moment. The limited spot demand in CJK cannot support a CJK premium over Chinese lithium prices,” a Chinese lithium trader said.

Fastmarkets’ daily price assessment of lithium hydroxide monohydrate LiOH.H2O 56.5% LiOH min, battery grade, spot price cif China, Japan & Korea was $13.70-15.00 per kg on Thursday, unchanged from April 29.

Fastmarkets’ daily price assessment of lithium carbonate 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot prices cif China, Japan & Korea was $13.50-15.00 per kg on Thursday, unchanged from April 25.

Europe and North America

Spot lithium prices in Europe and the North American regions remained static over the week amid an improved demand outlook, tracking a similar trend in the seaborne Asia market, sources said.

“There is good demand for the third quarter [of 2024] and we see prices on current levels dealt for July delivery as well,” a lithium seller active in Europe and Asia said. “We are not confronted with buyers asking for discounts to current spot prices even for forward deliveries at the moment.”

Fastmarkets latest price assessment lithium carbonate 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price ddp Europe was $14.00-15.80 per kg on Thursday May 9, up by 2.75% from the end of April.

The lithium hydroxide spot price followed a similar trend gaining ground in the last few sessions and maintaining a marginal premium over the carbonate equivalent similarly to the dynamics at play in the seaborne Asia market.

Fastmarkets latest price assessment for lithium hydroxide monohydrate LiOH.H2O 56.5% LiOH min, battery grade, spot price ddp Europe was $14.30-15.80 per kg on May 9, up by 3.43% from the end of April.

Some sources noted that sellers – both producers and intermediaries- are trying to keep keeping offer prices firm while monitoring developments in the more liquid seaborne Asia market. Some sellers are said to hold units in tight hands in expectations of further price increases.

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