GLOBAL LITHIUM WRAP: China’s uptrend continues but buyers retreat ahead of CNY holiday

The rally in China’s domestic lithium prices continued to influence markets in the rest of Asia in the week to Thursday January 28, but trading has thinned in the run-up to the Lunar New Year holiday in mid-February.

  • China’s battery-grade lithium prices rose again due to limited spot availability and because some producers had stopped offering ahead of Chinese New Year.
  • Asian battery-grade lithium carbonate spot prices continued to be driven by tight spot supply and surging domestic China prices despite thin trade.
  • European and US lithium hydroxide price rallied by 7.5% amid market tightness and improved demand for technical grade.

China’s battery-grade lithium carbonate price continued to be pushed up further this week due to scarce spot availability. Most producers had little to no material for spot sales and have gradually stopped offering from this week, two weeks ahead of the Chinese New Year holiday (February 11-17).

“Our materials are booked out in the first quarter due to increasing demand and we do not offer spot materials now,” a producer said.

Fastmarkets’ weekly price assessment for lithium carbonate, 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price range exw domestic China was 63,000-68,000 yuan ($9,750-10,524) per tonne on Thursday, up 4.8% from 60,000-65,000 yuan per tonne the previous week.

A number of market participants told Fastmarkets they predict the battery-grade lithium carbonate price will remain firm on tighter supplies in the first quarter because most material has been booked out over the period. Meanwhile, more buyers chose to hold watchful attitudes for now and wait to see the market post-holiday when more trades are expected.

“Market sentiment remains bullish for lithium carbonate. We received offering prices at above 70,000 yuan per tonne this week, but we are unwilling to purchase at such high prices. Domestic logistics will gradually stop ahead of Lunar New Year, [so] we will restart purchasing from the end of February,” a buyer said.

The battery-grade lithium hydroxide price continued on its uptrend that began in mid-January, following the surge in the carbonate price, also due to reducing supply. But spot trades were limited and most buyers hesitated in placing orders.

Fastmarkets’ lithium hydroxide monohydrate, 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price range exw domestic China was at 52,000-56,000 yuan per tonne on Thursday January 28, up from 50,000-54,000 from previous week. 

“Battery-grade lithium hydroxide offering prices are mostly in the range of 55,000-60,000 yuan per tonne, but there are limited spot trades, and we will see what the prices will be at the end of February,” a second buyer said.

The lithium carbonate 99% Li2CO3 min, technical and industrial grade, spot price range exw domestic China price also surged this week, reaching 60,000-65,000 yuan per tonne on Thursday compared with 50,000-58,000 yuan per tonne a week earlier. The assessment has climbed rapidly since the start of the year when it stood at 42,000-48,000 yuan per tonne on January 7.

The spodumene 6% Li2O min, cif China price also rocketed by 15.2% in the latest monthly assessment to $450-460 per tonne from $390-400 per tonne in December.

Chinese rally drives Asian seaborne battery-grade lithium carbonate price 
The Asian battery-grade lithium carbonate spot price climbed by 3.4% this week, with market participants reporting higher offer prices because of tight supply at most suppliers and rising prices in China, although spot trades were still limited.

Fastmarkets assessed the lithium carbonate, 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, cif China, Japan and Korea spot price at $7-8 per kg on Thursday, up from $6.50-8 per kg in the previous week.

“Spot prices for battery-grade lithium carbonate are also seen higher in the Asian seaborne market due to tight availability. We have even started to hear offering prices of around $9 per kg and I think second-quarter prices will be even higher impacted by rising Chinese prices,” a trader said.

The lithium hydroxide monohydrate, 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price, cif China, Japan and Korea held at $8.50-9.50 per kg on Thursday in a thinly traded market, although there were more offering prices at the top end of the current range, reflecting bullish sentiment.

“Some pick-up in battery-grade lithium hydroxide is seen in China, but the Asian seaborne market hasn’t been affected that fast. With Chinese New Year up ahead, I think prices will not increase too much in the short term, but I will hold watchful attitudes on the coming market,” a distributor said.

Europe, US spot lithium market moves up
Th Europe and US battery-grade lithium hydroxide spot price rose by 7.5% week on week on Thursday due to a rally across most lithium prices for the Europe, US regions amid tighter availability and increased demand of technical grade compounds, sources said.

The lithium hydroxide monohydrate 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price ddp Europe and US rose to $10-11.50 per kg on Thursday, up from the range of $9-11 per kg that had held unchanged for eight weeks.

Meanwhile, the technical grade lithium compounds in Europe continue their progressive upward move on tighter availability of both technical-grade lithium carbonate and hydroxide.

“I couldn’t find anyone willing to sell [lithium carbonate technical grade] on a spot basis at the moment,” a seller of lithium hydroxide technical grade active in Europe said.

He added that he is sold out [for selling lithium hydroxide technical grade on a spot basis] at the moment and thinks that the surge in hydroxide technical grade prices is due to surging lithium carbonate technical grade prices.

Fastmarkets assessed the lithium carbonate 99% Li2CO3 min, technical and industrial grades, spot price ddp Europe and US at $7-8.50 per kg on Thursday, up from $7-8 per kg a week prior. The price has been increasing steadily over the past three weeks.

Fastmarkets assessed the lithium hydroxide monohydrate 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, technical and industrial grades, spot price ddp Europe and US at $9-10.50 per kg on Thursday, up from $7.50-9 per kg, where it had remained for seven weeks prior.

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 January 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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