Cobalt prices close to 10-month lows; some sellers holding back

Cobalt prices held close to levels last seen in August 2019 on Tuesday June 9, with buyers largely resisting spot market purchases.

Fastmarkets’ price assessments for cobalt standard grade, in-whs Rotterdam and cobalt alloy grade, in-whs Rotterdam were both unchanged at $14.60-15 per lb on June 9.

Alloy grade and standard grade prices were down 18.2% and 14.2% respectively from March highs, but the decline has slowed over the past month. Tuesday’s prices were down 2.3% from $15-15.30 per lb for both grades on May 11, according to Fastmarkets’ data.

Nevertheless, weak spot demand has caused prices to trend lower, with sellers competing for consumer inquiries and open to reasonable bids in the absence of large-scale restocking. Near-term uncertainty and mixed signals on the consumption side have also limited a more pronounced move in cobalt prices.

Sources told Fastmarkets that in some cases, their order books were strong and maximum call-offs were being made on long-term contracts, but that in others, buyers were taking minimum volumes.

“There’s volatility on the demand side in both ways and no certainty at the moment, but it does seem like sellers are willing to give discounts to get liquidity,” one consumer source.

“There’s no question that the aerospace sector is still weak, but underlying that, cobalt prices are at multi-month lows, so some buyers will be considering that it’s a good time to take material. You can take the view that, from here on down, there can’t be much [more downside],” a trader added.

Prices have been relatively steady, according to sources, due to measures implemented to control the spread of Covid-19 - such as at CTT’s suspension in Morocco and Ambatovy’s temporary stop in Madagascar - that disrupted cobalt production, along with generally low consumer inventories before the pandemic.

“I don’t suppose the producers are that flush with material, unlike they were during the credit crunch. The cobalt world has fundamentally been destocking since mid-2018,” a second trader said.

Cobalt prices started to rebound in late December 2019 and in January this year, creating a floor at about $15 per lb that has broken in recent weeks. Some, however, are taking a view on industrial restarts and a expect recovery in consumer confidence and battery growth later in the year, and are happy to sit on stock rather than sell at prevailing spot levels.

“Metal is being held in relatively strong hands and people have been liquidating in a reasonably disciplined way. Plus, it’s cheaper to hold on to material and keep financing stocks than it ever has been,” a final source said.

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