Cobalt prices hold while spot availability improves, buyers step back

Spot demand for cobalt slowed in late April while availability of the material increased, leaving metal prices to move only slightly higher at the end of the month.

Metal Bulletin’s benchmark low-grade cobalt assessment closed the week at $43.70-44.45 per lb, in-warehouse, on Friday April 27, stable with the midweek assessment, and up from $43.55-44.45 per lb at the end of the previous week.

Prices for high-grade cobalt metal fared similarly over the course of the week, assessed at $43.70-44.55 per lb on Friday, unchanged from the assessment on April 25, and up from $43.55-44.55 per lb on April 20.

Market participants reported an increase in the improved ease of receiving offers for material, especially in the second half of the week. Offers have so far been met with muted buying interest while buyers wait for the international market to find its next direction.

Offers were reported to Metal Bulletin within the previous range, with nothing to suggest cheaper material was immediately available.

“We’re seeing more offers from the trade and end users are coming out [with any surplus material] at the end of the month, but the numbers are still proud. Traders are sellers, not buyers, but their offers aren’t desperate,” a trader source said.

“No one is urgently wanting to sell, so you end up having to pay $44-44.50 for the most part,” a second trader said.

Market participants also commented on some uncertainty over the direction of the market, while cobalt metal prices dipped in China over the second half of April.

Metal Bulletin’s cobalt price assessment for the Chinese market stands at 635,000-655,000 yuan ($100,250-103,400) per tonne, down from a peak of 675,000-690,000 yuan per tonne on April 13.

“If you’re dealing with a trader who’s got exposure to China maybe they could be a bit more bearish or cautious,” a third trader said.

“In China the price is undervalued. The Chinese are starting to speculate [that the market is weaker] but there is not so much metal being produced; there is still a metal shortage,” a consumer added.

Therefore, the flurry of month-end destocking and respite in demand is believed to be disguising the underlying tightness that persists in the market

“It’s relatively quiet but also relatively tight behind the scenes… if you have to buy, it’s probably from the trade,” a fourth trader said.

“There’s a little bit less demand for metal maybe, but in any case the market is tight,” a second consumer said

While spot demand has subsided, the number of forward and fixed-term inquiries remains robust.

“What would have been spot has now been done forward,” the third trader said

Furthermore, sellers are not sitting on plentiful stocks, and bar some more competitive offers as the end of the month approaches, market participants reiterated that there was no evidence of a rush to reduce stock levels.

“What is around is held tightly – it’s not like the old days when you’d see mines cashing in. They’re comfortable that even if the price goes down a bit it’s not going to plummet,” the third trader said

“The fundamentals are strong and material is tight. We’re not sitting on large stocks like we used to,” a producer source said

Yet despite a slower week in the spot market, there has been no change to the strong fundamental picture for cobalt, leaving prices underpinned for the time being.

“It’s business as usual: metal is still tight internationally,” a final trader said “There is weakness in sentiment but no proof in reality,” he added.