GLOBAL LITHIUM WRAP: Chinese carbonate prices drop for second week; seaborne market resists lower bids

Domestic Chinese battery-grade lithium carbonate prices fell again this week due to lackluster demand from consumers, while hydroxide prices stayed firm although lower offers were reported to Metal Bulletin.

  • Chinese battery-grade lithium carbonate prices continued to fall while hydroxide prices were stable on weak demand. 
  • Ample availability and lower prices for battery-grade and technical & industrial carbonate grades from Qinghai region also weighed on the quotations. 
  • Seaborne China, Japan and South Korean markets resisted lower domestic Chinese prices but consumers kept on bidding at lower prices while producers refused to sell at those levels 
  • European and US spot market prices softened slightly

The Chinese spot battery-grade lithium carbonate market fell for the second consecutive pricing session on limited trading activity coupled with weak demand from downstream buyers. Some lithium producers have kept prices low to boost sales.

Metal Bulletin assessed the Chinese domestic spot battery-grade lithium carbonate price (min 99.5% Li2CO3) at 113,000-118,000 yuan ($16,936-17,686) per tonne on Thursday July 12, down from 115,000-120,000 yuan per tonne in the previous week.

“Demand from cathode makers has not picked up and battery-grade lithium carbonate compounds consumption remains quite slow in the spot market,” a producer told Metal Bulletin.

“Major producers are reaching deals around 115,000 yuan per tonne [for minimum 20 tonne lots],” the producer added. “Meanwhile, prices below 110,000 yuan per tonne are being heard in the spot market but we will not sell any material below 115,000 yuan per tonne for the time being.”

Additionally, Cheaper battery-grade and technical & industrial grade material produced and sold from the Qinghai region of China, which is typically of lower quality than that from the main Chinese lithium producers, keeps weighing on the battery-grade lithium carbonate market, market participants said.

Some sources in the market told Metal Bulletin that prices for non-standard battery-grade lithium carbonate produced in Qinghai region, which typically cannot be used by all cathode and battery makers in China and overseas, is being offered in the market at around 105,000-110,000 yuan per tonne. Technical & industrial grade carbonate is being offered at 85,000 yuan per tonne, according to sources.

So far, no deals have been confirmed at these lower price levels.

Metal Bulletin last assessed Chinese domestic technical and industrial-grade lithium carbonate prices (min 99% Li2CO3) at 90,000-95,000 yuan per tonne on Thursday July 5, down from 95,000-100,000 yuan per tonne from previous week.

Chinese battery-grade lithium hydroxide spot prices were steady on Thursday due to limited deals which were all concluded within Metal Bulletin’s spot market range. But market participants reported lower offer prices this week. 

Battery-grade lithium hydroxide monohydrate (min 56.5% LiOH.H2O) prices stood at 130,000-135,000 yuan per tonne on Thursday.

“We have heard of lower offering prices at 125,000-128,000 yuan per tonne in the spot market for battery-grade lithium hydroxide, but all deals we have seen concluded remain between 130,000-135,000 yuan per tonne,” a battery-cathode maker told Metal Bulletin.

“Demand for lithium hydroxide hasn’t picked up yet after the start of the new [government electric vehicle] subsidy policy in mid-June but I think spot market activity will pick from the end of the third quarter 2018 onward as it typically does every year when battery-cathode producers and new energy vehicle manufacturers have to fulfil their production quotas to receive the subsidies,” the battery-cathode maker added.

Seaborne Asian sellers resist attempts to bring down prices
In the seaborne markets, Metal Bulletin’s cif China, Japan and Korea battery-grade lithium carbonate (min 99.5% Li2CO3) price was unchanged at $18-19 per kg, while hydroxide (min 56.5% LiOH.H2O) prices were also steady at $19-20 per kg on Thursday.

“The market has held unchanged week on week despite the bids by some consumers in the market as low as $15 per kg, a quite unrealistic price if someone [attempts] to buy material in the spot market,” a trader told Metal Bulletin.

“Consumers are trying to nudge prices down opportunistically as prices in China are going down, but I wouldn’t sell any battery-grade lithium carbonate or hydroxide in the spot market below $19 per kg [cif China, Japan and Korea] for the time being,” the trader added.

“We have achieved sales this week at $18-20 per kg for battery-grade lithium carbonate compounds and higher if we talk about battery-grade lithium hydroxide, but we are aware consumers want to push prices as low as $16 per kg, a very low price for the current spot market in the region,” a second producer told Metal Bulletin.

European, US producers lower offers to secure deals
European and US prices softened slightly on Thursday, attributed to lower market activity and the fall in Chinese domestic spot prices over the past few weeks.

Metal Bulletin assessed battery-grade lithium carbonate prices at $17-19 per kg on a delivered duty-paid in Europe and the United States on Thursday, down 50 cents on the high end of the range from $17-19.50 kg.

Battery-grade lithium hydroxide prices also fell slightly week on week to $18.50-20 per kg from $19-20 per kg.

“The European and US spot market for lithium battery compounds remains quite small and activity slow specially if from China consumers can obtain slightly lower prices,” a third producer told Metal Bulletin.

“We keep on offering material but have decided to lower our prices this week for both of the compounds by $0.50 per kg in order to see if we can secure some sales,” the producer added.

Metal Bulletin’s trade log for battery-grade lithium carbonate in China for July includes trades, bids and offers reported to Metal Bulletin.

Learn more about Metal Bulletin’s lithium pricing methodology and read the latest lithium price spotlight.

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