Cobalt prices consolidate gains, hand-to-mouth buying dominates

Cobalt metal prices consolidated their recent gains last week, supported by a steady run of smaller inquiries, albeit at a slower pace than in recent weeks.

Metal Bulletin assessed low-grade cobalt prices at $43.50-44.25 per lb, in-warehouse, on Wednesday April 11, up from $43.25-44.25 per lb at the end of the prior week.

Meanwhile, high-grade cobalt metal prices rose to $43.50-44.50 per lb, in-warehouse, at the midweek assessment.

Both assessments were unchanged on Friday April 13.

“People are buying the minimum they need: there’s a noticeable increase in smaller-tonnage inquiries; smaller consignments; hand-to-mouth buying, and always quite prompt,” a trader said.

“Most people are just buying only what they really need,” a consumer added.

Larger inquiries were reported, but were yet to result in any material changing hands.

“I’m not sure how serious inquiries are - they could just be testing the market. A few weeks ago buyers were much more aggressive,” a producer said.

Prices for both grades rose by more than 10% over March, with the rally picking up pace once the psychological barrier at $40 per lb was broken.

“Realistically the market is very stable now; it’s done an awful lot recently, so this is just some consolidation of recent gains,” a second producer source said.

Despite a decline in the number of prompt, spot inquiries, sellers declined to lower their offers last week, and cheaper bids were dismissed, providing further support to prices at existing levels.

“Replacement costs are still running the market,” a second trader.

Other buyers were believed to be holding out for cheaper offers from sellers, hopeful that some cheaper units would materialize from a step down in prompt buying: something which most were doubtful would happen.

“There haven’t been that many windows to catch a bargain of late; not since January 2016 really. It’s been one way traffic since then,” a third trader said.

In the forward market, demand also remains healthy.

“You can book a 100-tonne clip forward without too much trouble,” a fourth source said.

“On long-term contracts people keep taking their maximum volumes, and that will continue for a way ahead,” he added.

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