GLOBAL LITHIUM WRAP: China domestic prices move in opposite directions

Battery-grade lithium carbonate and hydroxide prices in China diverged over the week ended Thursday May 20, with the latter underpinned by persistent tight availability and robust demand in Asia.

  • The lithium hydroxide price exw China edged higher on tight supply and robust buying appetite, while the lithium carbonate price softened.
  • Seaborne lithium prices held steady amid supply tightness.
  • Europe and US lithium carbonate markets gained in both the battery-grade and technical-grade markets.

The battery-grade lithium hydroxide price in China nudged higher amid decent buying interest and amid supply tightness.

Fastmarkets’ weekly assessment for the lithium hydroxide monohydrate 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price range exw domestic China rose to 86,000-90,000 yuan ($13,364-13,986) per tonne on May 20, up by 1.15% from 85,000-89,000 yuan per tonne previously.

Consumers consistently said they have found it difficult to secure decent volumes, while some producers – especially those who have received accreditation from consumers – even requested premiums for large-tonnage sales.

“There is a strange phenomenon in the market nowadays – the prices for large sales are higher than those of small sales,” a producer said.

“Large [accredited] producers don’t have enough units to sell, while small [unaccredited] producers can’t find enough buying interest,” he added.

“Some producers told me they could supply more to me on the condition that I pay an additional premium of 10,000 yuan per tonne,” a consumer said.

By contrast, the regional lithium carbonate price weakened due to sluggish demand in the past week and a generally weaker tone in the lithium cobalt oxide (LCO) battery supply chain, according to market participants.

Fastmarkets’ assessment for the lithium carbonate, 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price range exw domestic China dropped to 87,000-90,000 yuan per tonne on Thursday, down by 0.56% from 88,000-90,000 yuan per tonne one week ago.

“The trading for LCO cathode materials in May has been thin so far,” a second consumer noted.

Seaborne Asian market steady
Lithium prices in the seaborne Asian market held firm amid tight supply with sporadic aggressive offers regularly emerging in the spot market.

Fastmarkets’ weekly assessment for lithium carbonate, 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price cif China, Japan and Korea was flat at $12-14 per kg on May 20. The assessment for the equivalent lithium hydroxide also held at $12.50-14 per kg on the same day, unchanged from previously.

A distributor told Fastmarkets desperate buyers are trying to grab whatever they can secure in the market.

“Previously, buyers refused to take cargoes with damaged packages; but now they are more than happy to take them all,” the same distributor said.

“We are not declining anything on a contract basis, but we are not able to supply any additional volumes,” a second distributor said.

Impacted by the tight availability of lithium hydroxide in China, the supply in seaborne Asian market is also squeezed.

“Some lithium hydroxide producers are heard to buy from their competitors in order to meet the commitments to their customers,” the second distributor noted.

Lithium carbonate prices in Europe, US make new gains
Lithium carbonate spot prices in Europe and the United States continued to move on an upward trajectory over the week to Thursday May 20 while lithium hydroxide spot prices remained steady following previous increases.

A source active upstream in Europe said that most sellers of technical-grade compounds were sold out and even buyers covered by long-term agreements were not allocated the full amount contracted and had to resort to the spot market to cover their needs.

A second source echoed the same view saying that glass and ceramics producers in EU are having trouble securing spot supplies in a very tight market.

Fastmarkets’ assessment for lithium carbonate 99% Li2CO3 min, technical and industrial grades, spot price ddp Europe and US was at $12-13 per kg on Thursday May 20, increasing by 2.04% from $11.50-13.00 per kg the previous week.

Fastmarkets’ last assessment for lithium carbonate 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price ddp Europe and US was $12.50-14.00 per kg, up 6% from $12-13 per kg week on week.

The lithium hydroxide monohydrate 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price ddp Europe and US was steady from a week ago at $14-15 per kg on Thursday. The assessment range had narrowed up from $13.50-15.00 on May 6.

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 May 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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