Global lithium carbonate prices rise on limited availability
Lithium carbonate prices in China continued to trend upward in the week to Thursday December 16 amid lingering tight availability of spot units and year-end restocking among buyers, while prices in East Asia, Europe and the United States also edged up.
- Lithium carbonate prices in China continue to rally on tight supply and robust demand, while lithium hydroxide prices stabilize.
- Seaborne East Asian battery-grade lithium carbonate price rises on tight availability and gains in China.
- Tight spot availability propels spot lithium prices in Europe and the US higher.
Battery- and technical-grade lithium carbonate prices in China trended upward for the fourth consecutive week on Thursday, with the latter accelerating at a quicker pace and significantly narrowing the price gap between battery-grade and technical-grade lithium carbonate.
Fastmarkets’ assessment of lithium carbonate, 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price range exw domestic China, was 230,000-245,000 yuan ($36,112-38,468) per tonne on Thursday, up by 15,000 yuan per tonne from 215,000-230,000 yuan per tonne a week earlier.
Fastmarkets’ assessment of the lithium carbonate 99% Li2CO3 min, technical and industrial grade, spot price range, exw domestic China, was 230,000-240,000 yuan per tonne on Thursday, up by 30,000 yuan per tonne from 200,000-210,000 yuan per tonne a week earlier.
Basis the midpoint, the premium held by the battery-grade lithium carbonate price in China over that for technical-grade units shrank to 2,500 yuan per tonne this past week, down from 17,500 yuan per tonne a week earlier.
Market participants broadly reported tight supply of both grades of lithium carbonate, while technical-grade units were said to be even harder to secure in the spot market, which contributed to the quicker rise in the technical-grade lithium carbonate price.
“Technical-grade lithium carbonate is extremely tight in the market and there is hardly any offers heard. Brine production from salt lakes in China’s Qinghai province was already cut during winter. Chinese brine producers are holding their units in tight hands, expecting the price [of technical-grade lithium carbonate] to go even higher,” a Chinese lithium producer source said.
Meanwhile, the battery-grade lithium carbonate price continued to pick up, albeit at a slower rate, amid tight supply and firm demand.
Multiple lithium producers have already started annual maintenance of their factories, a time when their production was usually halved for a month, market participants told Fastmarkets.
Due to the optimistic outlook of lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP) batteries, production of LFP batteries has been ramped up, increasing demand for battery-grade lithium carbonate that LFP batteries typically feed on. But supply of battery-grade lithium carbonate could hardly keep up with demand, even before the factory maintenance of lithium producers, multiple market participants told Fastmarkets.
Demand has also picked up while consumers continued to restock their inventories before transportation in China begins to slow in mid-January and comes to a complete standstill in late January when the Lunar New Year holiday starts, to ensure sufficient materials to sustain production over the seven-day holiday (January 31-February 6).
Battery-grade lithium hydroxide prices in China were stable this week, but multiple market participants expected the price to rise soon amid similarly tight conditions.
Fastmarkets’ assessment of the lithium hydroxide monohydrate, LiOH.H2O 56.5% LiOH min, battery grade, spot price range, exw domestic China, was 195,000-205,000 yuan per tonne on Thursday, unchanged from a week earlier.
“Because the lithium carbonate price is rising fast, it will eventually drive the lithium hydroxide price to go up, since [battery-grade] lithium hydroxide can be converted to [battery-grade] lithium carbonate with a processing fee of approximately 15,000 yuan per tonne. So the prices of these two lithium compounds will always be on an equilibrium,” a second Chinese lithium producer source said.
“Battery-grade lithium hydroxide is also very tight in the spot market,” a Chinese trader said.
Seaborne East Asian battery-grade lithium carbonate price plays catch-up with China
Market participants in the seaborne East Asian market continued to feel the constrained spot supply of lithium salts, while the seaborne battery-grade lithium carbonate price edged higher with additional support from the price gains in China.
Fastmarkets’ assessment of the lithium carbonate, 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price, was $32-34 per kg on a cif China, Japan and Korea basis on Thursday, up by $1 per kg from $31-33 a day earlier. Prior to this, the price had held at $31-33 per kg since December 7.
“The tightness could bring the spot market price to such level and it is understandable,” a Japanese trader said.
“Our production [of battery-grade lithium carbonate] can barely meet the demand from the domestic Chinese market. We don’t have any spare units for the seaborne East Asian market,” a third Chinese lithium producer source said.
“The Chinese price [of battery-grade lithium carbonate] is rising fast. If we have spare units, we would not export them… since we could make more gains in the domestic market,” a fourth Chinese lithium producer source said.
The seaborne East Asian battery-grade lithium hydroxide price remained steady amid a quiet spot market and stable Chinese price.
Fastmarkets’ assessment of the lithium hydroxide monohydrate, LiOH.H2O 56.5% LiOH min, battery grade, spot price was $30-32 per kg on a cif China, Japan and Korea basis on Thursday, unchanged since December 1.
European, US prices rally on tight availability
Spot lithium prices rose across the board in Europe and the US this past week.
Sources said the technical-grade market for carbonate remains tight and that they continued to receive spot inquiries, but the limited availability of material means some buyers have struggled to secure units for early next year and they are instead taking a wait-and-see stance to track the spot pricing trends.
Fastmarkets’ assessment of the lithium carbonate 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price ddp Europe and US, was $31.50-33.50 per kg on Thursday, up by $1-2 per kg from $30.50-31.50 per kg a week earlier.
Fastmarkets’ assessment of the lithium hydroxide monohydrate 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price ddp Europe and US, was at $32.50-33.50 per kg on Thursday, up by $1 per kg from $31.50-32.50 per kg a week earlier.
“I still see some busy days ahead of us in the runup to the Christmas break compared with the previous year when we had a quiet end of the year. This year, due to the rally seen in spot lithium prices more buyers continue to inquiry for delivery in the first quarter as some buyers decided to wait a bit and do some double checks on prices… however, it is more and more clear that the current prices for lithium are reflecting fundamentals,” a brine-based producer source in South America said.
Another source commented that finding available spot units of technical grade carbonate is difficult and he does not expect the situation to improve in the first quarter of next year.
Spot technical-grade lithium prices also continued to post gains week on week due to extremely tight availability.