GLOBAL ANTIMONY WRAP: China supply tightness pushes domestic, European prices higher

Spot antimony prices in Europe jumped last week as tight supply in China pushed replacement costs higher and some buyers brought forward their September requirements.

Metal Bulletin assessed MMTA Standard Grade II antimony prices at $8,100-8,450 per tonne on Friday August 4, in-warehouse Rotterdam, from $7,800-8,250 on August 2. Meanwhile, Trioxide grade antimony prices jumped to $8,150-8,450 per tonne, in-warehouse Rotterdam, up from $7,850-8,250 per tonne in the same comparison.

Offers for trioxide grade were heard as high as $8,750 per tonne as enquiries picked up.

“Some customers are fishing for prices now. I got calls from customers who don’t usually buy until September,” a trader said.

“Enquiries have increased a lot this week. People have seen the price increase and want to secure volume before prices go even higher,” a second trader said.

“In China, domestic suppliers are still not willing to offer their material at low prices,” a third trader said. “The value of the Chinese yuan is also increasing so people believe antimony market will continue to increase.”

“There’s also the lag effect of not producing properly earlier in the year, while the backlog of stock has now dwindled,” a fourth trader added.

The narrow differential between trioxide and standard grade prices held close to parity as trioxide grade buyers showed less urgency in their need to procure material, having fulfilled most of their requirements in the cif market.

“Standard grade buyers are living more hand to mouth, and often have to pay a premium for that,” the fourth trader said.

However, some are exercising caution, preferring to see if prices stabilise in the coming weeks.

“A lot of customers are still on holiday and the others who are around are careful of the price increase, unsure if it is going to last for much longer. They prefer to wait and see where the price is going to go,” a fifth trader said.

“The Chinese are artificially trying to increase the price and all of a sudden everyone is getting excited. But the true demand is still lagging behind and until we see a pick-up there, any price move will be unsustainable long term,” a sixth trader said.

In the Chinese market, antimony continued to tick higher owing to limited availability of spot material resulting from the low operating rates of producers in the provinces of Hunan, Yunnan and Guangxi – the country’s major antimony production hubs.

Metal Bulletin assessed China’s MMTA grade delivered duty paid antimony prices at 55,000-56,000 yuan ($8,185-8,333) per tonne on August 2, up from 55,000-56,000 yuan per tonne a week earlier.

A producer based in Yunnan has raised his quotation to 56,500 yuan per tonne. This source has reduced his operating rate to around 30% due to a shortage of antimony ore, and concluded a deal at 55,500 yuan per tonne in the past week.

The producer consumes low-grade lump ore, which is mainly imported from Myanmar, but importers refuse to sell at current “low” prices, so his monthly output of antimony ingot was typically around 100 tonnes over the past few months.

Another source in Hunan province also confirmed the tight supply of antimony and quoted a price of 56,000 yuan per tonne. “I sold a small volume at this price,” this source said.

Only one of the five privately-owned smelters halted in April in Lengshuijiang – the world’s antimony capital – has started trial operation since mid-July, while the other four plants in the area and most of the smelters shut in Hechi City, Guangxi, in January are still out of operation, so the tight supply in China’s antimony ingot market persists.

In addition, prices for antimony trioxide and concentrates have also increased, lending further support to antimony ingot prices.

Offers of antimony trioxide 99.8% and concentrates 40% were quoted at 50,000-51,000 yuan and 40,000-41,000 yuan per tonne, respectively, in the Chinese spot market, rising by 1,000 yuan from one week ago, Metal Bulletin has learned.