GLOBAL LITHIUM WRAP: China’s carbonate price makes first move up in 17 months

The Chinese battery-grade lithium carbonate price rose for the first time since May 2019 after increased buying last month diminished the availability of cheaper material when market participants returned from the National Day holiday.

  • China’s battery-grade lithium carbonate price broke 13 weeks of stability by narrowing up by 1,000 yuan per tonne.
  • China’s lithium hydroxide market fell slightly after producers reduced offers to boost sales.
  • Europe, US lithium battery-grade carbonate spot market drifts lower.

Following weeks of producer resistance, the Chinese spot battery-grade lithium carbonate market narrowed up on Thursday October 15. Many producers spoken to by Fastmarkets said they were unwilling to lower their prices and insisted on higher offers due to falling stocks and a recent increase in orders from downstream buyers. Market participants reported cheaper materials as were hard to find after the National Day holiday (October 1-8).

Fastmarkets’ weekly price assessment for lithium carbonate, 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price range exw domestic China was 38,000-41,000 yuan per tonne ($5,671-6,118) on Thursday, up from 37,000-41,000 yuan per tonne in the previous week.

The Chinese domestic lithium carbonate price entered a period of stability in mid-July, supported by gradually increasing orders from buyers. Concluded prices started to show signs of firming at the beginning of September with some deals at the higher end of the range, but cheaper materials were still available from some suppliers. Market participants this week said prices below 38,000 yuan per tonne had disappeared after the public holiday and most producers were holding offering prices of up to 42,000 yuan per tonne.

“Our orders are full until the end of this year, and downstream buyers placed more orders before the public holiday. Currently we do not have more stocks, and we offer at 42,000 yuan per tonne for battery-grade lithium carbonate,” a producer told Fastmarkets.

“More deals are concluding at 39,000-41,000 yuan per tonne, and lower prices are really hard to acquire as most producers are unwilling to sell at much lower prices,” a buyer said.

In contrast, the battery-grade lithium hydroxide market fell this week, ending the steady streak held since mid-July with lower prices from producers keen to boost sales in a flat market characterized by weak demand.

Fastmarkets’ lithium hydroxide monohydrate, 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price range exw domestic China was at 44,000-50,000 yuan per tonne on Thursday, down from 45,000-51,000 yuan per tonne week on week.

“Amid more talks of saving production costs in batteries, the development of the high-nickel ternary sector is still slow in the domestic market which has not improved demand for lithium hydroxide. Prices are moving down slightly pressured by sporadic buying,” a second producer said.

Asian seaborne lithium market ‘sporadic’
The cif China, Japan and Korea battery-grade lithium spot market held flat with most prices heard within the current range.

Fastmarkets assessed the lithium carbonate, 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price cif China, Japan and Korea at $6 -7.50 per kg on Thursday, unchanged from the previous week.

The lithium hydroxide monohydrate, 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price, cif China, Japan and Korea was also steady at $8.50-9.50 per kg on Thursday.

“Current prices are quite different depending on the suppliers and the origin, and I hear of much more cheaper Chinese [prices]. Next year’s contract is still under negotiation, but nothing has been settled yet,” a second buyer said.

Europe, US battery-grade spot market remains under pressure
Europe and US spot lithium battery-grade chemicals prices posted fresh losses in the seven days to October 15 because demand remains subdued by uncertainty surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic.

Europe and US battery-grade lithium prices caught up with previous losses in technical-grade compounds and converging with cheaper prices in the more liquid seaborne Asian market.

Fastmarkets assessed the lithium carbonate 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price ddp Europe and US at $7.50-8.50 per kg on Thursday, down 1.8% from $7.50-8.80 per kg.

The lithium hydroxide monohydrate 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price ddp Europe and US was at $9-10 per kg on October 15, down 5% from $9.50-10.50 per kg. 

On the other hand, there were some higher offers for the lithium technical-grade spot price in Europe and the US although the mainstream market still remains in the $5.80-7 per kg range.

“It depends on the origin of the material,” a distributor of lithium technical-grade compounds said. “Lithium carbonate technical-grade sourced from China is getting more expensive as Chinese converters focused on producing battery-grade material lately due to improved demand and are left with less stocks available of technical-grade material.”

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 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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