Chinese lithium prices extend uptrend amid futures strength; other markets in stalemate

Spot lithium prices in China’s domestic market remained on an uptrend in the week to Thursday March 14, following the strong futures market and rising spot offer prices, while market participants noted sporadic restocking activities

Lithium prices in the CIF China, Japan and Korea (CJK), in addition to the DDP Europe and United States markets remained in a stalemate, where limited consumer demand capped the prices.

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Chinese spot lithium prices follow futures uptrend

Spot lithium market in China further extended strength over the recent week, with sources attributing the support mainly to stronger performances in the futures market.

The most-traded lithium carbonate July 2024 contract price on the Guangzhou Futures Exchange (GFEX) peaked at 119,800 yuan per tonne on Thursday, up by 6,800 yuan per tonne from the closing at 113,000 yuan per tonne the previous Thursday.

Spot offers, especially for lithium carbonate, consequently pushed higher, since most traders reference the GFEX lithium contracts prices for their spot offers, with a discount usually applied.

“Many lithium sellers kept their prices firm and were not willing to sell much lower than futures level,” a Chinese lithium trader said.

On the other hand, market participants continued to note sporadic restocking activities from downstream cathode makers, while significant demand improvement still has yet to be seen and many of the consumers still only relied on long-term deliveries during the recent week.

Several Chinese cathode makers sources told Fastmarkets that their planned productions for March were all higher than the February levels, which was reasonably low given that production was disrupted by the Lunar New Year Festival.

While some of the above sources said their March productions were slightly better than the January level, other said their March productions were similar to January levels.

There was resistance reported among some Chinese cathode makers to accept higher lithium offer prices, leading to touch negotiation for spot deals, Fastmarkets learned.

Fastmarkets’ price assessment for lithium carbonate 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price range exw domestic China was 111,000-119,000 yuan per tonne on Thursday, up by 6,000-9,000 yuan per tonne from 105,000-110,000 yuan per tonne a week earlier.

Fastmarkets’ price assessment for lithium hydroxide monohydrate LiOH.H2O 56.5% LiOH min, battery grade, spot price range exw domestic China was 100,000-105,000 yuan per tonne on Thursday, up by 3,000-8,000 yuan per tonne from 92,000-102,000 yuan per tonne a week earlier.

CIF CJK market in stalemate with muted spot demand

Despite the consistent uptrend in China’s domestic market, the CIF CJK lithium prices struggled to follow the same route, with muted demand for spot materials capping any upward potential, sources said.

An East Asian consumer source told Fastmarkets that they had not been active in the spot market since they were well covered by their long-term deliveries.

A Chinese lithium producer source noted that spot market was quiet over the recent week, and consumers were only picking up deliveries on a hand-to-mouth basis.

Multiple sources noted that Chinese lithium producers were trying to push up offer prices due to strengthening Chinese market. However, such efforts were met with strong resistance due to minimal spot demand for any spot units.

“The market is in a stalemate. There hasn’t been any clear signal that CIF CJK already start to follow the Chinese uptrend yet, although we have tried to push up the offers,” a second Chinese lithium producer source said.

Fastmarkets’ daily price assessment for lithium hydroxide monohydrate LiOH.H2O 56.5% LiOH min, battery grade, spot price cif China, Japan & Korea was $12.50-13.75 per kg on Thursday, unchanged from a day earlier, but narrowing downward by $0.25 per kg from $12.50-14.00 per kg a week earlier.

Fastmarkets’ daily price assessment for lithium carbonate 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot prices cif China, Japan & Korea was $13.00-13.75 per kg on Thursday, unchanged from a day earlier, but narrowing from 12.40-14.00 per kg from a week earlier.

Europe, US spot lithium prices move sideways awaiting price direction

Spot lithium prices in Europe and the United States on a DDP basis moved sideways over the week, with most sources seeing little movement in recent sessions and acknowledging that recent price increases in the domestic Chinese market have not filtered through the international lithium spot market yet.

Fastmarkets last assessed the price of lithium carbonate 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price ddp Europe and US at $13.00-14.75 per kg on Thursday, widening up by $0.25 per kg from $13.00-14.50 per kg a week earlier.

Similarly, Fastmarkets last assessed the price of lithium hydroxide monohydrate LiOH.H2O 56.5% LiOH min, battery grade, spot price ddp Europe and US at $ 13.00-14.75 per kg on Thursday, narrowing downward by $0.25 per kg from $13.00-15.00 per kg a week earlier.

Most sources agreed that there was close parity between the lithium carbonate and hydroxide markets in the Europe and US regions due to the historical premium that lithium hydroxide used to held.

“Prices in Europe are still dropping… we have received enquiries from customers but asking for lower and lower prices, I do not see a change in the fundamentals’ landscape,” a lithium intermediary said.

A seller of lithium hydroxide admitted that he is trying to offer at higher level internationally on the back of a strengthening Chinese domestic market but has yet to conclude deals at the level offered.

A consumer of battery-grade quality lithium active internationally commented that looking also at the futures curve there is some upward pressure on battery grade carbonate and hydroxide.

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