GLOBAL LITHIUM WRAP: Battery-grade carbonate prices soften in China; other global prices unchanged

Battery-grade lithium carbonate prices have softened week on week due to cheaper material entering the market and because of downstream consumer expectations for lower prices; lithium prices in other regions were unchanged due to sluggish spot market activity.

  • Battery-grade lithium carbonate prices in China weaken
  • Lower battery-grade quality material available in the market drag down assessment
  • Smaller lithium producers willing to reduce prices to achieve sales
  • Downstream consumers willing to wait before procuring more material, anticipating further falls in prices in the weeks to come

Chinese domestic spot battery-grade lithium carbonate market prices fell on Thursday May 31 due to persistently slow trading activity and lower sales prices achieved.

Metal Bulletin assessed the Chinese domestic spot battery-grade lithium carbonate price (min 99.5% Li2CO3) at 130,000-135,000 yuan ($20,290-21,070) per tonne on Thursday, down by 5,000 yuan per tonne week on week.

Most Chinese lithium producers spoken to by Metal Bulletin said they are monitoring the market and expect a rebound in lithium market prices during the third or fourth quarters of this year. But thin buying in quiet market conditions has forced some smaller lithium producers in the country to cut their prices to secure sales.

Meanwhile, downstream consumers are waiting on the sidelines and remain optimistic that the market in China will keep falling in the coming weeks.

“The cheaper material made available in the market is currently looking for battery qualification and we are not sure if it will suit all downstream consumers’ requirements,” a Chinese lithium producer told Metal Bulletin.

“We are waiting to buy more material,” a cathode producer told Metal Bulletin.

“There is the belief that the more we wait the better prices we get. Therefore, there is no rush to buy material,” he added.

Battery-grade lithium hydroxide monohydrate (min 56.5% LiOH.H2O) spot prices were unchanged week on week in Thursday’s assessment, following the lithium carbonate trend this week.

Battery grade lithium hydroxide prices were at 140,000-145,000 yuan per tonne on Thursday, according to Metal Bulletin market assessment.

Although producers in China remain positive on outlook and expect a rebound in prices, the possibility of more lithium compounds becoming available in China due to producers’ expansions plans and increase of conversion capacity is dampening outlook. As a result, some downstream consumers are said they expect lower prices in the weeks to come.

Seaborne market unmoved on lack of activity
The cif China, Japan and Korea battery-grade lithium carbonate and hydroxide markets were also steady week on week.

Market participants attributed the stable market to lower prices within the Chinese domestic market because consumers are pressuring for lower prices cif China, Japan and Korea.

Metal Bulletin’s battery-grade lithium carbonate (min 99.5% Li2CO3) and hydroxide (min 56.5% LiOH.H2O) quotations were at $18-20 per kg and $19-20 per kg on a cif China, Japan and Korea basis respectively on Thursday May 31.

“We have been selling material mostly to Europe and the United States this week as the cif China, Japan and Korean seaborne markets have started to be affected by the lower domestic Chinese prices,” a lithium trader told Metal Bulletin.

“We are not willing to sell material as low as $18-19 per kg as some of the downstream consumers are bidding for battery grade lithium compounds; therefore, we have been more focused in Europe and the US by selling technical and industrial grade lithium compounds,” he added.

Europe, US prices unmoved
European and US markets remained sluggish in the weekly assessment due to their traditionally lower lithium battery related compounds spot market activity.

Market participants told Metal Bulletin that prices were unchanged across the region, with activity mostly centered on technical and industrial grade lithium compounds.

This meant prices were less affected by the recent softening of the Chinese domestic markets. European and US battery-grade lithium carbonate and hydroxide spot market prices stood at $17.50-20 per kg and $19-20 per kg respectively on a delivered, duty-paid basis, according to Metal Bulletin’s Thursday market assessment.

“We have kept our prices unchanged week on week but have not been able to sell any battery-grade material,” a second lithium producer told Metal Bulletin.

“Our offers remain close and above $19 per kg for the whole region but no luck so far with selling material over the past days,” a second trade told Metal Bulletin.

See the Metal Bulletin trade log for battery-grade lithium carbonate in China including trades, bids and offers reported to Metal Bulletin.

Learn more about Metal Bulletin’s lithium pricing methodology here and see the lithium price spotlight here.

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