Glencore reports 40% cobalt output increase in 2022

Glencore achieved a 40% year-on-year increase in cobalt output during 2022 to a total of 43,800 tonnes, the company said in its annual production report published on Wednesday February 1

Cobalt output from Glencore’s copper assets in Africa, which include Katanga, Mutanda and Mopani, increased by 45% year on year to 40,200 tonnes. The increase in volume for cobalt, as well as copper, in Africa was driven by Mutanda’s return to full operation.

Glencore decided to halt production at Mutanda for the whole of 2020 due to weak demand and pricing for cobalt. Total cobalt production at Mutanda in 2021 was 3,900 tonnes, due to a limited restart of production in the same year.

“The main reason that Glencore reported the 40% year-on-year cobalt production growth in 2022 was the return to full operating activity at its Mutanda site,” Robert Searle, Fastmarkets battery raw materials analyst, said.

“The return to close to full operation in 2022 with production of 14,700 tonnes of cobalt contained in hydroxide led to a re-balancing of the market, which we believe led to a small surplus in 2022,” he added.

Fastmarkets’ cobalt hydroxide payable indicator, min 30% Co, cif China was 55-57% of the standard-grade cobalt price (low end) on February 1, down from 55-58% on January 27.

“There is decent inventory on the hydroxide side, which is always building up, so the price will keep seeing the present pressure for now,” a trader told Fastmarkets.

“Copper prices are quite good at the moment, so there is no incentive to lower production there, which means cobalt units will keep appearing,” they added.

In contrast, cobalt metal production from the company’s Integrated Nickel Operations (INO), such as Sudbury, Raglan and Nikkelverk, decreased by 45% to 600 tonnes, year on year. The decline in volume for cobalt — as well as nickel — was partially due to mine industrial action from May to September 2022 and a short industry-based strike at Nikkelverk.

But cobalt production at Murrin Murrin increased by 20% year on year, to 3,000 tonnes, which offset the decrease in volume at INO. The total annual cobalt production volume from Glencore’s nickel department remained flat in 2022, at 3,600 tonnes.

The company has outlined plans to reduce its global cobalt production for 2023, based on expectations of sluggish demand and pricing, and reported a 2023 guidance of 38,000 tonnes (± 5,000 tonnes).

“Despite this pullback, we still believe that capacity additions and expansion in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Indonesia will grow the [cobalt] surplus in the market this year,” Searle said.

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