GLOBAL LITHIUM WRAP: China battery-grade lithium carbonate hits new low, EU automaker closures to add pressure

The Chinese domestic spot battery-grade lithium carbonate price fell by 2.1% on Thursday March 19 hitting a new low, with more European carmakers closing production due to the spread of the coronavirus (2019-nCoV) and market participants feeling increasing pressure on the whole market.

Global lithium market price

  • China’s battery-grade lithium carbonate prices fell further to a new low.
  • China’s industry-grade lithium carbonate currently steady with producers maintaining prices.
  • China’s lithium-hydroxide market rangebound at current range.
  • Asian seaborne market flat with rare spot activity.

Domestic Chinese battery-grade lithium carbonate spot prices declined again this week amid remaining weak trading activity and sufficient material after a week of stabilization following the previous prices decrease on March 5.

Fastmarkets’ weekly price assessment for lithium carbonate, 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price range exw domestic China was 43,000-49,000 yuan ($6,060-6,905) per tonne on Thursday March 19, down from 44,000-50,000 yuan per tonne from the previous week.

“Battery-grade lithium carbonate has been under downward pressure and lower prices started to appear this week. Material produced from brine or mica attracted lower prices of 43,000-44,000 yuan per tonne, while spodumene-produced battery-grade carbonate prices are around 45,000 yuan per tonne or higher,” a buyer told Fastmarkets.

“Lithium prices have been weaker recently, but the current lithium price is close to production cost for many producers. We see limited space for the price to go down later this year,” a producer said.

Many automotive manufacturers in Europe announced temporary production shutdowns because of the measures taken by governments to restrict the spread of coronavirus, while market participants worried about adding more pressure to the lithium market as a whole.

“Few expected the coronavirus to spread so fast globally, with the whole battery supply chain sluggish amid the coronavirus. I think this year will definitely be a tough year,” a downstream cathode maker said.

“The coronavirus threat is leading global automakers to suspend production. The short-term impact is a delay to the rollout of some electric vehicles. I think China and other countries will come up with some incentive or package, especially for the automobile industry, with a long industrial chain and strong driving capabilities,” the same cathode producer said.

Relative demand from lithium manganese oxide (LMO) and lithium iron phosphate (LFP) battery manufacturers has brought some support to the technical and industrial-grade lithium carbonate market, with prices steady at current level.

Fastmarkets assessed the Chinese technical and industrial-grade lithium carbonate spot price at 38,000-41,000 yuan per tonne on Thursday March 19, unchanged from a week ago.

The battery-grade lithium hydroxide market has not changed significantly over the week, while some market participants sensed signs of weakness, with some lower offering prices appearing in a flat market.

Fastmarkets’ lithium hydroxide monohydrate, 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price range exw domestic China was stable week on week at 52,000-57,000 yuan per tonne on Thursday.

“Battery-grade lithium hydroxide prices are mostly stable this week, but some lower offers are being heard on the spot market. I’m holding a watchful attitude to see whether prices will fluctuate more next week,” a second buyer said.

Asian seaborne prices rangebound amid rare spot activities
The battery-grade lithium spot market, cif China, Japan and Korea remained quiet over the assessment week with prices in the current range temporarily with no fluctuation.

Fastmarkets assessed the lithium carbonate, 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price at $8-9.50 per kg, while Fastmarkets’ assessment of the lithium hydroxide monohydrate, 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price was at $9.50-11 per kg, both on Thursday March 19, a cif China, Japan and Korea basis and unchanged week on week.

“We’re still working from home in South Korea, while most production here is running normally. Many EU carmakers shut production due to the coronavirus and I’m worried whole market demand will become weaker because of this issue,” a distributor said.

Europe, US lithium battery-grade spot prices steady despite coronavirus spread
Lithium carbonate and hydroxide battery-grade spot prices in Europe and the United States remained unchanged in the week to Thursday March 19 despite the intensification of the coronavirus across Europe, which forced most automakers to temporarily halt production until further notice.

“The [lithium] battery-grade market in Europe is still relatively small…. the impact on demand would be minor,” a European distributor said.

Fastmarkets assessed the lithium carbonate 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price ddp Europe and US at $9.50-10.50 per kg on March 19, unchanged from the previous week.

Although, sources reported producers’ willingness to drop offers for lithium carbonate technical-grade material.

Fastmarkets assessed the lithium carbonate min 99% Li2CO3 technical and industrial grades, spot price, ddp Europe and US at $6.90-8.10 per kg on Thursday, down on the high end from $6.90-8.40 per kg last week.

Elsewhere, lithium hydroxide battery-grade availability is worsening while demand is starting to pick up in China following the passing of the peak phase of the coronavirus pandemic in the country, a producer said.

“There is a time gap now between China and Europe [where the coronavirus is starting to significantly disrupt supply chains],” another source added.

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.