GLOBAL LITHIUM WRAP: China’s battery-grade prices weaken further on sufficient supply

Chinese domestic lithium prices fell in an otherwise flat market in the week to Thursday July 9, with producers forced to reduce offers to tempt buyers amid sufficient supply.

  • Ample supply offset slightly improved downstream operation rates in China, pressuring China’s battery-grade lithium carbonate price lower.
  • China’s industrial-grade lithium carbonate offers firmed with individual producers increasing prices.
  • China’s lithium hydroxide prices drifted lower due to cheaper offers on the spot market.
  • Asian lithium market still flat with thin spot trades.
  • Europe, US prices steady with participants seeing no short-term signs of recovery.
  • Lithium Americas temporarily halts onsite works at project in Argentina due to Covid-19 cases among workforce.

Sufficient spot supply and slow buying activity continues to plague the Chines domestic battery-grade lithium carbonate market, which fell by 1.3% week on week. Downstream operation rates in July have reportedly improved slightly compared with previous months, but this failed to provide support to the price this week.

Fastmarkets’ weekly price assessment for lithium carbonate, 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price range exw domestic China was 37,000-41,000 yuan ($5,291-5,863) per tonne on Thursday July 9, down from 38,000-41,000 yuan per tonne in the previous week.

“It is still a hard period for selling battery-grade lithium carbonate, and some eager sellers keep giving lower prices to boost sales, which continues bringing pressure to the whole market. Downstream operation rates seem to have improved a little since the end of June, but the overall market remains slow,” a producer said.

“Prices of above 39,000 yuan per tonne are becoming increasingly rare, and more prices are at around 39,000 yuan per tonne or even lower. Considering the sufficient supply, I think it will be hard for prices to move up,” a downstream buyer told Fastmarkets.

Meanwhile, technical and industrial grade lithium carbonate offers became firmer this week with some individual producers increasing offer prices due to slightly improved downstream buying. But no deals were concluded at higher levels within the assessment period, keeping the Chinese technical and industrial grade lithium carbonate spot price at 30,000-34,000 yuan per tonne on Thursday, unchanged from a week ago.

Continued weak buying interest from the downstream high-nickel ternary sector and lower prices reported on the spot market further eroded the Chinese battery-grade lithium hydroxide market this week.

Fastmarkets’ lithium hydroxide monohydrate, 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price range exw domestic China fell to 45,000-51,000 yuan per tonne on Thursday, down by 2% from 46,000-52,000 yuan per tonne last week.

“Buying activity for battery-grade lithium hydroxide remained slow with few buyers purchasing. Hydroxide prices keep softening as it is very hard to sell at higher level under the sluggish market,” a second producer said.

Thin trade keeps Asian seaborne markets static
There was little spot trading activity in the cif China, Japan and Korea battery-grade lithium spot market this week, keeping both spot compound prices unchanged at their current low levels.

Fastmarkets assessed the lithium carbonate, 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price cif China, Japan and Korea at $6.50-8 per kg on a basis, unchanged from a week ago.

The corresponding lithium hydroxide monohydrate, 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price was also unchanged week on week at $9-10 per kg.

“Downward pressure remains in the Asian seaborne market, but I am not seeing prices below $6.50 per kg at the moment. Some Japanese customers received offers of $6.50-6.70 per kg recently,” a distributor said.

Europe, US prices remain steady in a flat market
Europe and US lithium battery-grade spot prices remained steady week on week, with market participants not anticipating significant movement in a continually weak battery-grade lithium market.

Fastmarkets’ lithium carbonate 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price ddp Europe and US assessment was unchanged week on week at $8.9.50 per kg on Thursday.

The lithium hydroxide monohydrate 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price ddp Europe and US was at $9.75-11 per kg on the same day.

The more liquid technical grade lithium prices continued to be under pressure as demand has not fully recovered following Covid-19 disruptions and remains subdued.

Fastmarkets assessed the lithium hydroxide monohydrate min 56.5% LiOH.H2O technical and industrial grades, spot prices ddp Europe and US at $8-9 per kg on Thursday from $8-9.25 per kg the previous week.

Market sources reported material being offered at lower prices, bringing down the assessment range.

Elsewhere, Argentina, a country rich in lithium resources, is grappling with soaring numbers of Covid-19 cases.

Earlier this week, Canadian junior miner Lithium Americas reported that two workers tested positive for Covid-19 at the Cauchari-Olaroz project in Argentina.

As a result, construction of the pilot plant has been temporarily halted in line with the company’s Covid-19 health and safety protocol.

Lithium Americas is developing the Cauchari-Olaroz lithium project in Argentina on a 50/50 joint venture partnership with Chinese lithium manufacturer Ganfeng Lithium.

Livent, a key lithium incumbent in Argentina, told Fastmarkets in an email correspondence that it has implemented all necessary safety measures and their operations in the country are continuing to operate.

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 July 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.