GLOBAL LITHIUM WRAP: China, cif Asia prices hit fresh 2019 low

China’s domestic and cif China, Japan and Korea battery-grade lithium compound prices all fell to fresh 2019 lows on Thursday November 21, which market participants attributed to subdued downstream demand and a negative short-term outlook.

  • Battery grade lithium prices in China’s domestic and Asian seaborne markets have fallen to their lowest in the year to date.
  • Battery grade lithium carbonate spot price range in China fell by 1,000 yuan per tonne.
  • The price gap between China’s battery grade lithium carbonate and hydroxide prices is narrowing to just 3,000 yuan at the midpoints.
  • Seaborne Asian markets end nine weeks of stability with falls of 50 cents across the board.
  • Europe and US hydroxide prices unchanged but signals of weakness appear.

The domestic Chinese battery grade lithium carbonate spot price fell to 52,000 yuan per tonne on the low end of the range for the first time this year. There is weaker demand from downstream cathode makers who cited sufficient stocks.

Fastmarkets assessed the lithium carbonate, 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, exw domestic China, spot price at 52,000-55,000 yuan ($7,392-7,819) per tonne on Thursday, down from 53,000-56,000 yuan per tonne in the previous week. The price stood at 75,000-83,000 yuan per tonne on January 3, 2019.

“More producers who are eager to sell under the sluggish market continue to lower prices to boost cash flow near the year-end, which has led to a new low of 52,000 yuan per tonne this year. But big producers still insist on around 55,000 yuan per tonne and are unwilling to follow lower prices,” a buyer told Fastmarkets.

“Downstream cathode producers slowed their purchasing as most of them are reducing their outputs due to the sluggish new energy vehicles supply chain for the moment. I am not optimistic for the short-term market,” a producer said.

The Chinese domestic battery-grade lithium hydroxide price also fell to a fresh 2019 low of this week after producers lowered offer prices amid subdued downstream demand from the high-nickel ternary sector.

Fastmarkets assessed the lithium hydroxide monohydrate, 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, ex-works, spot price at 54,000-59,000 yuan per tonne on Thursday, down from 55,000-60,000 yuan per tonne previously and 99,000-109,000 yuan per tonne at the start of the year.

The price gap between battery-grade lithium carbonate and hydroxide in China has narrowed to 3,000 yuan per tonne this week compared with 25,000 yuan per tonne in early January 2019, according to Fastmarkets’ historical price data.

“Due to the slower progress in the development of the high-nickel ternary sector, It has been quite hard to sell battery-grade lithium hydroxide materials over this period in China. At the same time, there is surplus supply which puts more pressure on the price,” a second China’s lithium producer said.

Seaborne Asian lithium prices end stable streak
Seaborne Asian battery-grade lithium spot prices fell this week after nine weeks of stable assessments with the continued weight of falling domestic Chinese prices finally having an effect on the cif Asia market.

Fastmarkets’ lithium carbonate, 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery-grade cif China, Japan and Korea spot price fell to a fresh 2019 low of $8.50-10.50 per kg, down 5% from $9-11 per kg previously and 29.6% from 12.50-14.50 per kg on January 3, 2019.

The corresponding lithium hydroxide monohydrate, 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery-grade cif China, Japan and Korea spot price fell to $10.50-12.50 per kg on Thursday, down 4.2% week on week from $11-13 per kg, and 28.1% in the year to date from 15-17 per kg on January 3.

“The continuously falling China’s prices keep putting pressure on Asian seaborne prices, and lower prices are now being seen on the spot market,” a third producer told Fastmarkets.

Lack of deals in Europe, US but prices under pressure
The European and US spot prices were the only battery grade lithium prices to hold week on week, with no deals concluded because several participants were reportedly covered until 2020.

Fastmarkets assessed the lithium carbonate 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price ddp Europe and US at $11-13 per kg, unchanged from the previous session in a quiet trading environment.

The lithium hydroxide monohydrate 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price ddp Europe and US remained steady on last week at $12.50-13.50 per kg on Thursday, with several market participants estimating the market at around $13 levels. This could indicate that market is under pressure and prices are at risk of softening in December.

For the time being no material has been booked at cheaper prices.

“I have heard there are lower offers approaching the market since we are at year-end and [producers] have to close their books… there is a lot of talk but eventually our costumers accepted higher prices. We are not in a rush to sell and we do not need to cut our offers,” a European producer said.

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 November 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.