GLOBAL LITHIUM WRAP: China rally slows, buyers show resistance

The lithium price rally in China has broadly tempered in the past week after consumers showed resistance to digesting further upturns, however, supply remained tight across the lithium complex, sources said on Thursday March 11.

  • Battery-grade lithium carbonate price in China continued to post slight gains while battery-grade hydroxide paused following the sharp rally in the prior pricing session.
  • The battery-grade lithium carbonate price in the seaborne Asian market continued the uptrend, while the equivalent grade hydroxide price kept firm.
  • European and United States’ battery prices were firm on support from supply tightness and a good level of demand.

Battery-grade lithium carbonate producers managed to translate their higher offers into business amid generally tightened spot availability while downstream consumers have kept producing at full operational rates.

“Battery producers are operating at full capacity because demand, especially from the overseas market, is robust,” a consumer said.

That said, the pace of the rally slowed when consumers found it difficult to pass on the price upturns to their customers at the same rate as they were increasing, sources said.

Fastmarkets’ weekly price assessment for lithium carbonate, 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price range exw domestic China was 85,000-90,000 yuan ($13,084-13,854) per tonne on March 11, up 2.94% from 82,500-87,500 yuan per tonne previously. Prior to this, the price increased by nearly 10% week on week for two consecutive pricing sessions.

“Battery producers can acknowledge that raw material costs are rising, but they couldn’t digest the upturns so quickly,” the first consumer said. “Roughly speaking, battery producers might have only digested 10% of the increase on battery raw materials costs.”

“On a broader macro level, sales prices for electric vehicles [EVs] are dropping while subsidies are being phased out,” a producer said.

The technical-grade lithium carbonate market in China remained firm against a backdrop of decent buying appetites from leading consumers, sources said.

Fastmarkets’ price assessment for lithium carbonate 99% Li2CO3 min, technical and industrial grade, spot price range exw domestic China was 79,000-81,000 yuan per tonne on March 11, flat week on week.

“Leading lithium-iron phosphate (LFP) producers held on to robust demand, but smaller producers can barely accept any increases in raw materials costs,” a second producer said.

Technical-grade lithium carbonate is widely used in the production of LFP batteries.

Asian seaborne prices firm on limited supply
The Asian battery-grade lithium carbonate continued to rise quickly amid limited spot availability and a strong performance in the domestic Chinese market.

Fastmarkets’ assessment of the lithium carbonate, 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price was at $9.50-11.00 per kg on a cif China, Japan and Korea basis on Thursday, up 17.14% from $8.00-9.50 per kg the week before.

Fastmarkets’ assessment for equivalent technical-grade material rose to $8.50-9.50 per kg on March 11, up 5.88% from $8-9 per kg during the last pricing session.

“Technical-grade carbonate suppliers in Asia allocated more supply to Europe instead of Asia, which created supply tightness in the seaborne Asia market,” a trader said. “The demand for technical-grade lithium carbonate in Europe is better than that in Asia.”

Europe, US spot market buoyed on severe tightness
The European and US battery-grade lithium carbonate spot price continued rising in the week to March 11 on scarce supply and subsequently higher offers from producers.

Fastmarkets’ lithium carbonate 99% Li2CO3 min, technical and industrial grades, spot price ddp Europe and US stood at $9.50-11.00 per kg on March 11, up from $8.50-10.50 per kg the prior week.

Some offers were heard as high as $11.50 per kg but these are yet to be accepted, one source told Fastmarkets.

Similarly, Fastmarkets assessed the lithium carbonate 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price ddp Europe and US at $10-11 per kg on Thursday, up from $9.50-11.00 per kg the previous week.

“For now there’s very reduced availability and offers below $10 per kg have vanished, with the market closer to $11 per kg,” a trader said. “I don’t see a big difference between grades or type of material, [the price] depends more on the negotiation terms which each specific client.”

Material tightness in the carbonate market continued to filter through to the lithium hydroxide technical-grade segment.

Fastmarkets assessed the lithium hydroxide monohydrate 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, technical and industrial grades, spot price ddp Europe and US at $10.00-11.50 per kg on Thursday, up from $9.50-11.00 per kg a week prior.

For now, however, and due to limited liquidity reported, Fastmarkets’ assessment for lithium hydroxide monohydrate 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price ddp Europe and US remained stable week on week at $10.50-12.00 per kg on March 11.

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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