GLOBAL LITHIUM WRAP: China’s hydroxide price breaks steady streak

The Chinese domestic spot battery-grade lithium hydroxide price fell by 3.7% on Thursday March 26 after nearly four months' stability, while markets in the rest of the world were subdued due to the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

  • China’s battery-grade lithium hydroxide price fell by 3.7% on lower reported prices.
  • The domestic Chinese lithium carbonate price stabilized week on week.
  • There were limited transactions in the Asian seaborne market and in Europe.

China’s battery-grade lithium hydroxide market dropped after nearly four months of stable prices due to weak domestic downstream demand from the high-nickel ternary sector and general inertia in the market.

Fastmarkets’ lithium hydroxide monohydrate, 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price range exw domestic China fell to 50,000-55,000 yuan (7,055-7,478) per tonne on Thursday, from 52,000-57,000 yuan per tonne a week ago. The price had stood at 52,000-57,000 since late November 2019.

“The battery-grade lithium hydroxide market showed weaker performance this week, and lower prices started to be seen on the spot market as a result of weak demand. Some small-sized producers even sold below 50,000 yuan per tonne, but lower prices of below 50,000 yuan per tonne are still rare,” a buyer told Fastmarkets.

Micro-grade hydroxide prices also softened this week with more prices at 60,000 yuan per tonne reported, down from 63,000-65,000 yuan per tonne previously when most had producers insisted on higher prices due to higher transportation fees during the height of the virus in China in mid-February.

Usually, micro-grade lithium hydroxide trades at a 5,000-10,000 yuan premium over the Fastmarkets battery-grade price range.

Meanwhile, Fastmarkets’ weekly price assessment for lithium carbonate, 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price range exw domestic China stabilized week on week at 43,000-49,000 yuan per tonne, although most trades were at the lower end of the range. Demand from cathode makers remains slow, putting pressure on prices.

“Downstream demand from cathode makers is very weak, which continuously puts pressure on lithium prices. But I think there are little room for prices to move down further, and prices are near the bottom line,” a producer told Fastmarkets.

The domestic Chinese carbonate price hit a new annual low last week, having fallen from 44,000-50,000 yuan per tonne.

Despite stability in the battery-grade price, the technical and industrial grade lithium carbonate market weakened this week after some brine producers lowered prices to boost sales.

Fastmarkets assessed the Chinese technical and industrial grade lithium carbonate spot price at 37,000-40,000 yuan per tonne on Thursday, down from 38,000-41,000 yuan per tonne from a week ago.

There was no increase in spot buying in the cif China, Japan and Korea battery-grade lithium spot market this week, keeping prices rangebound.

Fastmarkets assessed the lithium carbonate, 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price at $8-9.50 per kg, and lithium hydroxide monohydrate, 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price at $9.50-11 per kg, both on a cif China, Japan and Korea basis.

“There are not many fluctuation seen on prices in Asian seaborne market this week. But considering the current coronavirus situation, I think seaborne prices will weaken as well [in the near term],” a distributor said.

Europe, US lithium markets at a standstill in quiet market
Lithium carbonate and hydroxide battery-grade spot prices in Europe and the United States were unchanged in the week to Thursday because the global spread of the Covid-19 virus continues to deter spot trading activity.

A number of sources told Fastmarkets they have seen weakening demand.

On the other hand, a Europe-based supplier of lithium carbonate and hydroxide technical grade chemicals said they are still receiving customers’ inquiries and orders, although “the market is slower”.

Fastmarkets assessed the lithium carbonate 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price ddp Europe and US at $9.50-10.50 per kg on Thursday, unchanged for a third consecutive week.

Fastmarkets also assessed the lithium carbonate 99% Li2CO3 min, technical and industrial grades, spot price ddp Europe and US as unchanged at $6.90-8.10 per kg.

A supplier of lithium chemicals in Russia said he does not believe prices can go down any further as the market remains well supplied. “It will also depend on the situation in South America,” he said referring to the lockdown measures imposed by a raft of South American governments in a bid to slow the spread of the deadly virus.

The same source added :“If the lockdown measures [in countries such as Argentina] last for a long period of time, there could be disruptions in supply during the third quarter.”

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.