Chinese lithium prices rebound after five months of decline

Chinese lithium prices rebounded in the week to Thursday April 27 amid improved sentiment after having been on a downtrend since the end of November

  • Chinese lithium prices rebound on improved sentiment
  • East Asian lithium prices steady, market participants monitoring Chinese rebound
  • European, US lithium prices decrease further

Sentiment in the Chinese lithium market improved in the week to Thursday, supported by rising prices for the lithium carbonate May contract prices on China’s Liyang Zhonglianjin E-commerce platform, multiple market participants told Fastmarkets.

Technical-grade lithium carbonate prices in particular were pushed up due sellers holding onto material and trying to further increase prices, sources said.

“The price gap between technical grade lithium carbonate, battery grade lithium carbonate and hydroxide in previous weeks has made it profitable to refine technical grade carbonate into battery grade material. As a result, the technical grade carbonate supply is tight because market participants bought technical-grade carbonate to take advantage of the arbitrage window,” a Chinese lithium producer source said.

Traders actively purchased technical grade lithium carbonate over the recent week on the expectation of a further near-term price rally, sources told Fastmarkets.

“[Market] sentiment has really changed. During the weekend, many people were busy scrambling for technical grade lithium carbonate because they feared that prices would soon rise further,” a Chinese lithium trader said.

Fastmarkets’ price assessment for lithium carbonate 99% Li2CO3 min, technical and industrial grade, spot price range exw domestic China was 150,000-170,000 yuan ($21,655-24,542) per tonne on Thursday, up by 10,000-20,000 yuan per tonne from 130,000-160,000 yuan per tonne a week earlier.

The strong activity in the technical grade lithium carbonate market, as well as the improved sentiment also supported battery grade lithium salts prices over the recent week, sources said.

Sellers of battery-grade lithium carbonate and hydroxide were also trying to push up the prices, sources told Fastmarkets.

Consumer demand for lithium salts, however, remained weak despite traders bottom hunting, market participants said.

“Consumers, such as cathode makers, were still relatively inactive over the past week because they still have large inventories and their operation rates remain low, so demand for lithium salts remained weak,” a Chinese cathode producer source said.

“Some cathode producers are even offering their battery grade lithium carbonate to traders,” a second Chinese lithium trader said.

Fastmarkets’ price assessment for lithium carbonate 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price range exw domestic China was 170,000-195,000 yuan per tonne on Thursday, up by 15,000-20,000 yuan per tonne from 150,000-180,000 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 190,000-230,000 yuan per tonne on Thursday, up by 10,000-20,000 yuan per tonne from 180,000-210,000 yuan per tonne a week earlier.

East Asian lithium market remains tentative

East Asian lithium prices remained flat over the recent week, with market participants cautious toward the rebound in the Chinese lithium market despite an increase in the numbers of enquiries and rising prices for Chinese material.

Multiple lithium producer sources told Fastmarkets that they received more enquiries for battery-grade lithium hydroxide over the past week.

“We received many enquiries for hydroxide over the recent week, with each asking for very large volumes like several hundred tonnes, and some for even more than 1,000 tonnes,” a second Chinese lithium producer source said.

Despite the uptick in enquiries, very few deals were heard concluded, sources told Fastmarkets.

“Although enquiries were active, there were not too many deals done. Consumers just want to test the market to see where the latest prices are, due to rebounding Chinese prices,” a third Chinese lithium producer source said.

“The strength in [Chinese prices] hasn’t filtered through to the East Asian market, and usually it takes time for the East Asian market to react to the change in the Chinese market. I think it will be clearer where East Asian lithium prices will go after the Chinese Labour Day holiday from April 30 to May 3,” a Chinese third lithium trader said.

Fastmarkets’ daily price assessment for lithium hydroxide monohydrate LiOH.H2O 56.5% LiOH min, battery grade, spot price cif China, Japan & Korea was $38-43 per kg on Thursday, unchanged since April 19.

Fastmarkets’ daily price assessment for lithium carbonate 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot prices cif China, Japan & Korea was $28-30 per kg on Thursday, unchanged since April 17.

Europe, US lithium spot prices downtrend persists

Spot lithium prices in Europe and the United States continued to drift lower across the board over the past week despite a pickup in enquiries reported by some intermediaries and the rebound in Chinese domestic prices.

Fastmarkets price assessment for lithium carbonate 99% Li2CO3 min, technical and industrial grades, spot price ddp Europe and US was $30-33 per kg on Thursday, narrowing downward by $2 per kg from $30-35 per kg a week earlier.

An intermediary active in the European technical grade market commented that they are still taking advantage of arbitrage opportunities with the domestic Chinese market to source material.

The lithium hydroxide technical grade market remains well supported in the region and at a significant premium to the lithium carbonate technical grade equivalent market, mimicking a similar trend in the seaborne Asia market and also accounting for persistent tightness of lithium hydroxide supply related to the unavailability of Russian-sourced lithium hydroxide due to the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Fastmarkets’ price assessment for lithium hydroxide monohydrate LiOH.H2O 56.5% LiOH min, technical and industrial grades, spot price ddp Europe and US was $39-43 per kg on April 27, down by $2-4 per kg from $41-47 per kg a week earlier.

A Chinese seller that is also active in the European market reported that most sellers actively sourcing material from South America are unwilling to lower their offer prices to the level seen in the seaborne Asia market. Due to smaller volumes sold in Europe, however, buyers have less bargaining power than those in the Asian markets.

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