Chinese lithium prices extend downtrend on muted demand; other markets follow

Chinese lithium prices extended their losses over the week to Thursday August 10, amid an inactive spot market muted by sustained weakness of demand, with consumers choosing to stay on the sidelines

  • Chinese lithium prices fall on thin buying appetite
  • East Asian lithium prices slide on soft demand, domestic Chinese weakness
  • European, US lithium prices soften on slow summer demand

Market participants noted a quiet domestic spot market in China over the past week, with consumers mostly relying on long-term supply and showing limited interest in spot material.

“There were barely any spot trades over the past week, and the spot prices are still falling. The downtrend could persist into the near future,” a Chinese lithium producer source said.

The anticipation of further price weakness weighed on buying appetite, sources told Fastmarkets.

“The consumers are cautious and staying on the sidelines. They believe spot lithium prices in China haven’t reached a bottom yet,” a second Chinese lithium producer source said.

The weak consumer appetite stemmed from a downstream cathode sector that had never recovered significantly from its weak first five months of the year, sources said.

“While in May, lithium prices rebounded due to consumer restocking after they destocked earlier this year, the price support has now worn out with the completion of restocking,” a Chinese cathode producer source said.

On the other hand, the lithium hydroxide market exhibited an even more bearish picture than that for lithium carbonate due to a more sluggish nickel cobalt manganese (NCM) cathode sector in China in comparison with that of lithium iron phosphate (LFP).

“Lithium producers are not offering hydroxide since there’s no demand for spot units. They are only delivering on long-term orders,” a third Chinese lithium producer source said. “But some traders are offering hydroxide though, in an attempt to offload them before prices decline further.

Fastmarkets’ weekly assessment of the lithium carbonate, 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price range exw domestic China was 230,000-250,000 yuan ($31,924-34,700) per tonne on Thursday, down by 20,000 yuan per tonne from 250,000-270,000 yuan per tonne a week earlier.

Fastmarkets’ weekly assessment of the lithium hydroxide monohydrate, LiOH.H2O 56.5% LiOH min, battery grade, spot price range exw domestic China was 220,000-240,000 yuan per tonne on Thursday, down by 20,000-30,000 yuan per tonne from 240,000-270,000 yuan per tonne a week earlier.

East Asian lithium prices slide on weak buying, Chinese weakness

Spot lithium prices in the East Asian market further retreated over the past week due to downward pressure from the softening Chinese market and weak demand.

“The speedy decline of domestic Chinese lithium prices has applied pressure on East Asian lithium prices. Although the spot market is quiet, I don’t think consumers can take lithium hydroxide at the same prices as last week,” the third Chinese lithium producer source said.

In addition, multiple market participants spoke of a few South Korean battery producers trying to sell the lithium stock that they could not consume back to the spot market. This illustrates how weak demand is for lithium in the East Asian market, market participants said.

Fastmarkets could not verify these claims at the time of writing, however.

Battery-grade lithium hydroxide prices in East Asia have been at parity with those for battery-grade lithium carbonate in Fastmarkets’ recent pricing sessions. Hydroxide usually carry a premium over carbonate in East Asia due to stronger demand for the former.

The weakness was more palpable in prices for hydroxide in East Asia because China’s domestic market for hydroxide was weaker than that for carbonate. This weakness then reverberates into the East Asian market, sources told Fastmarkets.

Fastmarkets’ daily assessment of the lithium hydroxide monohydrate LiOH.H2O 56.5% LiOH min, battery grade, spot price cif China, Japan & Korea was $36.00-38.50 per kg on Thursday, unchanged since Tuesday, but down by $1.00-1.50 per kg from $37.00-40.00 per kg a week earlier.

Fastmarkets’ daily assessment of lithium carbonate 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot prices cif China, Japan & Korea was $36.00-38.50 per kg on Thursday, unchanged since Tuesday, but narrowing downward by $0.50 per kg from $36.00-39.00 per kg a week earlier.

Europe, US lithium spot prices soften further amid weak summer demand

Spot lithium prices continued to soften in Europe and the United States over the past week, due to a typical slowdown in spot demand over the peak of the summer period, sources said.

Fastmarkets assessed the lithium carbonate 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price ddp Europe and US at $36-38 per kg on Thursday, down by $2-3 per kg from $38-41 per kg a week earlier.

The hydroxide market softened to a lesser extent as availability in Europe and the US remained tighter than in Asia due to ongoing geopolitical tensions involving Russia, a significant exporter of refined lithium the two regions in previous years.

Fastmarkets assessed the lithium hydroxide monohydrate LiOH.H2O 56.5% LiOH min, battery grade, spot price ddp Europe and US at $38-41 per kg on Thursday, down by $1 per kg from $39-42 per kg a week earlier.

“I’m not seeing a lot of spot offers at the moment and we are also mostly relying on our longer-term contract but I heard there are some sellers refraining from making offers because they are keeping stock purchased at higher prices to wait for spot activity to pick up,” a buyer source active in Europe said.

An Asian seller source who is also active in Europe concurred about the weakness of demand in Europe. “Market participants are sending inquiries only to know where prices are at while genuine buying interest is still limited,” the source said.

An intermediary source agreed, and argued that due to the summer lull being stronger in the Western hemisphere than in Asia, the drop in prices could be even bigger as spot trading comes to a standstill.

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