GLOBAL LITHIUM WRAP: China’s battery-grade lithium prices move sideways; VAT cut, new subsidy weigh on markets

Chinese domestic lithium spot prices held in the week ended Thursday March 28 with most producers resisting consumer expectations for lower prices from the reduced value-added tax (VAT) and the latest Chinese new energy vehicles (NEVs) subsidies.

  • Battery-grade lithium prices held steady in China this week despite consumer pressure for lower prices following Chinese policy changes, such as the VAT cut and the new NEV subsidies for 2019. 
  • Global battery-grade lithium hydroxide prices softened week on week on slow demand. 
  • Global battery-grade lithium carbonate prices were steady.

Chinese domestic spot battery-grade lithium carbonate prices were unchanged in the latest assessment this week. Most producers refused to lower their offer prices despite pressure from consumers to decrease prices on the expectation that production costs will fall when VAT rates for the manufacturing sector drop to 13% from April 1.

“The VAT cut from April 1 is putting downward pressure on domestic lithium prices in China,” a trader told Fastmarkets.

Fastmarkets assessed the Chinese domestic spot battery-grade lithium carbonate price (min 99.5% Li2CO3) at 72,000-80,000 yuan ($10,696-11,884) per tonne on Thursday March 28, unchanged from previous week.

Meanwhile, the Chinese central government released the new 2019 NEV subsidy policy earlier this week, which has reduced the value of the subsidy paid to NEV manufacturers and tightened the requirements on last year. Reduced subsidies could result in lower consumption of lithium compounds used in the production of NEV batteries in China, but producers and consumers remain uncertain about the impact of the new policy on domestic demand, they told Fastmarkets.

“The reduction in subsidies to the NEVs sector in China could add additional downward pressure as some consumers of lithium compounds in China might not receive subsidies this year, affecting their ability to consume this battery material,” the above trader added.

The battery-grade lithium hydroxide monohydrate (min 56.5% LiOH.H2O) price was also unchanged week on week at 93,000-98,000 yuan per tonne on Thursday, on slow demand after producers held back from decreasing their prices.

“Demand remains sluggish and we are not willing to decrease our battery-grade lithium hydroxide prices despite consumer pressure,” a producer told Fastmarkets. “We are yet to see the effect of the new subsidies but this could reduce demand in the following weeks.”

Asian lithium hydroxide seaborne price softer
The cif China, Japan and Korea battery-grade lithium carbonate price held steady this week, while the hydroxide price softened on very slow demand.

Fastmarkets’ battery-grade lithium carbonate (min 99.5% Li2CO3) price remained at $11.50-13.50 per kg on a cif China, Japan and Korea basis on Thursday

In contrast, the battery-grade lithium hydroxide (min 56.5% LiOH.H2O) price fell to $15-16 per kg on a cif China, Japan and Korea basis on Thursday, from $15-16.50 per kg a week ago.

“Spot demand remains muted in the region and prices above $16 per kg for battery-grade lithium hydroxide seem quite high according to the current market conditions,” a second producer told Fastmarkets.

“Lithium carbonate prices are close to their bottom but we are yet to see the effect of the VAT cut and new Chinese subsidy policy. Prices could soften in the weeks to come as a consequence,” the producer added.

Europe and US see softer hydroxide prices
The European and United States battery-grade lithium hydroxide spot price fell this week on quiet demand, while the lithium carbonate price was stable.

Fastmarkets assessed the battery-grade lithium hydroxide monohydrate (min 56.5% LiOH.H2O) price at $15-16 per kg on a duty-paid Europe and US basis on Thursday, compared with $15-16.50 per kg the previous week.

The battery-grade lithium carbonate (min 99.5% Li2CO3) spot price remained stable at $12-14 per kg on Thursday, on a duty-paid Europe and US basis.

“The carbonate spot market in Europe and US remains very stable close to the bottom of the market price. However, scarce demand and lower prices from China have made us lower our battery-grade lithium hydroxide price,” a third producer told Fastmarkets.

“The market has been very slow and prices above $16 per kg in the spot Europea and US markets seem very high due to the current low demand,” a second trader told Fastmarkets. 

Fastmarkets’ trade log for battery-grade lithium carbonate in China for March includes all trades, bids and offers reported to Fastmarkets.

Learn more about Fastmarkets’ lithium pricing methodology here and read the latest lithium price spotlight here.

All lithium carbonate, hydroxide and spodumene prices are available in our Battery Raw Materials Market Tracker. Get a sample of the report here.