GLOBAL LITHIUM WRAP: Asian seaborne market firm on aggressive offers from China

Battery-grade lithium prices in both Asian seaborne and domestic China markets were firm this week, with the former receiving aggressive offers from Chinese suppliers, market participants told Fastmarkets.

  • Asian seaborne lithium prices were steady against a backdrop of tight availability and firm demand; meanwhile Chinese suppliers have made aggressive offers for battery-grade lithium carbonate.
  • Spot trades in domestic Chinese market remained slow with consumers conducting “hand-to-mouth” purchases, but supply continued to be tight.
  • Europe, US battery-grade lithium spot prices continued to trend higher with deals reported at higher levels.

Fastmarkets’ weekly assessment of the lithium carbonate, 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price cif China, Japan and Korea was $9.50-11.00 per kg on Thursday March 25, unchanged from the prior week.

Spot availability remained tight and sources told Fastmarkets offers from Chinese suppliers climbed up to as high as $14 per kg, but these offers had not yet translated into business within the assessment period.

“When overall supply for lithium carbonate is still tight, Chinese suppliers will only sell cargoes to where they can make more profit,” a consumer said.

“Cargoes are traded comparatively higher in the domestic Chinese market, and therefore it is not difficult to understand why Chinese suppliers are hiking their offers in the seaborne Asian market,” he added.

Fastmarkets’ assessment for lithium carbonate, 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price range exw domestic China was 85,000-90,000 yuan ($12,998-13,752) per tonne on Thursday, unchanged from last week at its highest in more than two and a half years.

The battery-grade lithium hydroxide import price in the seaborne Asian market was also steady, though unlike the lithium carbonate market, there has been no notable sign of offers of hydroxide drifting higher in the past week.

Fastmarkets’ lithium hydroxide monohydrate 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price cif China, Japan & Korea was $11-12 per kg on Thursday.

Since the Chinese domestic lithium hydroxide price is still lower than its equivalent in the Asian seaborne market, it is easier for consumers to battle with higher offers for hydroxide compared to carbonate, according to market participants.

Fastmarkets assessed the lithium hydroxide monohydrate 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price range exw domestic China at 70,000-75,000 yuan per tonne on Thursday, maintaining since the start of March at the highest since August 2019.

Elsewhere in the domestic Chinese market, the entire lithium complex continued to stay firm. That said, consumers – who intended to do minimal restocking per purchase – have been resistant to higher offers, capping the rally seen in China ahead of early March.

The battery-grade lithium carbonate price in China has been unchanged for the second consecutive pricing sessions, while equivalent grade lithium hydroxide price has been stable for three week, according to Fastmarkets’ data.

“It is natural for the Chinese lithium price momentum to slow,” a producer said. “Consumers had restocked considerably ahead of Chinese New Year holiday [February 11-17], as a result, they have managed to hold back from purchase.”

That said, supplier sources are anticipating further upturns in the near future, citing squeezed spot supply and more strength in lithium hydroxide markets.

“The premium for lithium carbonate above hydroxide needs to be narrowed,” the same producer said. “After all, the production cost for lithium hydroxide is higher than carbonate.”

Battery-grade lithium carbonate has traded at a premium above hydroxide in China since early December last year. Traditionally, carbonate has traded at a discount to hydroxide, as had been the case for the prior two to three years, according to Fastmarkets data.

Europe, US battery-grade prices gain on firm technical grade prices
Europe and US lithium battery-grade spot prices continued to rise in the seven days to Thursday March 25, boosted by firmness in the technical grade equivalent material amid tight supply.

Fastmarkets assessed the lithium carbonate 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price ddp Europe and US at $10.50-11.50 per kg on Thursday, up 2.30% week on week.

Similarly, Fastmarkets assessed the lithium hydroxide monohydrate 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price ddp Europe and US at $11.50-13.50 per kg, up 6.40% week on week.

The battery-grade hydroxide price moved up to catch up with previous gains in the technical grade equivalent, with sources reporting in recent weeks deals as high as $13.50 per kg for battery-grade hydroxide spot material in Europe.

Learn more about Fastmarkets’ lithium pricing methodology here and read the latest lithium price spotlight here.

Fastmarkets’ trade log for battery-grade lithium carbonate in China for March includes all trades, bids and offers reported to Fastmarkets.

All lithium carbonate, hydroxide and spodumene prices are available in our Battery Raw Materials Market Tracker. Get a sample of the report here.

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