GLOBAL LITHIUM WRAP: Chinese carbonate sellers target higher prices but continue to face resistance
Overall demand for battery-grade lithium remained weak in all global markets, with buyers resisting attempts from sellers to push up deal prices in China in the week to Thursday August 6.
- China’s battery-grade lithium carbonate producers targeted higher prices but sellers’ resistance kept the market stable week on week.
- China’s industrial-grade lithium carbonate price consolidated at current levels following earlier increases.
- Asian lithium spot market muted by downward pressure.
- Europe and United States battery grade markets continued to be subdued.
Offer prices for Chinese domestic battery-grade lithium carbonate remained firm in the week to Thursday August 6, with producers citing slightly improved demand and supportive industrial-grade carbonate prices as reasons to raise their quotations. But buyers were unwilling to accept an increase, and these opposing views kept the assessment flat on a weekly basis.
Fastmarkets’ weekly price assessment for lithium carbonate, 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price range exw domestic China stood at 37,000-41,000 yuan per tonne ($5,324-5,900) on Thursday.
“This week I haven’t seen any fluctuation on the lithium carbonate market, and most [market estimates] are still stable within the current range. Overall demand from the battery cathode sector is still weak in my opinion,” a buyer told Fastmarkets.
“I keep hearing talk on intentions to increase lithium prices and have also seen some higher offers around 40,000 yuan per tonne, but I am not that optimistic on prices increasing. Recently, other battery raw materials such as cobalt and nickel have been on an upward trend, so lithium is eager for some action. But whether prices can really increase depends on the actual market situation,” a second buyer said.
The lithium carbonate index, min 99.5% Li2O3, battery grade, exw China fell by 0.5% week on week to 38,419 yuan per tonne on Thursday from 38,593 yuan per tonne on July 30, due to more data points at the low end of the carbonate assessment range.
China’s technical and industrial grade lithium carbonate price held steady this week following previous increases. Fastmarkets assessed the Chinese technical and industrial grade lithium carbonate spot price at 31,000-34,000 yuan per tonne on Thursday. The weekly assessment had risen from 30,000-34,000 yuan per tonne on July 16.
“This week we haven’t seen higher offers for industrial-grade carbonate and most prices are firm at current range. I heard that new shipments of import industrial-grade materials will arrive soon to China. Even though the cargoes were reportedly booked at cheaper prices before, it might slow down the industrial-grade price increase in the domestic market to some degree,” a third buyer said.
Meanwhile, Fastmarkets’ lithium hydroxide monohydrate, 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price range exw domestic China was rangebound at 45,000-51,000 yuan per tonne on Thursday.
“Lithium hydroxide prices are basically stable this week. There is a pick-up in demand from some key downstream buyers, and I think demand will continue to increase amid possible tight supply for hydroxide in the fourth quarter this year,” a producer said.
Asian seaborne lithium market flat while downward pressure lingers
The seaborne cif China, Japan and Korea battery-grade lithium market was flat this week, under continued pressure from low utilization rates among cathode makers in Japan and South Korea. As a result, buyers refused to accept higher prices on the spot market.
Fastmarkets assessed the lithium carbonate, 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price at $6.50-8 per kg on a cif China, Japan and Korea basis, unchanged from a week ago.
The seaborne battery-grade lithium hydroxide monohydrate, 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price was assessed at $8.80-10 per kg on a cif China, Japan and Korea basis, unchanged from the previous week.
“An increasing number of Asian buyers are unwilling to accept higher prices of $8 per kg for battery-grade lithium carbonate, and currently most offers I see are in the range of 6.50-7.50 per kg,” a second producer said.
Europe, US lithium hydroxide technical-grade spot prices continue to slide
The European and the US lithium hydroxide technical-grade spot price dropped for a third consecutive week in a flat market with demand expectations for the remainder of the peak summer holiday period in Europe and the US slack.
Fastmakets assessed the lithium hydroxide monohydrate 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, technical and industrial grades, spot price ddp Europe and US at $7.50-8.50 on Thursday, down on the top end from $7.50-9 per kg a week prior due to resistance for higher prices.
A distributor active in Europe said prices for lithium hydroxide for technical applications fell to a lesser extent than the carbonate equivalent during the Covid-19 pandemic due to the limited availability of the material and the wide range of usage spanning from grease lubricant in the automotive industry to agricultural applications.
The lithium hydroxide spot price for technical-grade applications has fallen by 20% in the year to date, while lithium carbonate for technical grade applications fell by 27% over the same period, Fastmarkets’ historical assessment data shows.
With regards to the hydroxide battery-grade market in Europe, the same distributor said: “Availability of that material is limited compared with the carbonate battery grade equivalent. While there are expectations of growth in Europe for the hydroxide battery grade market, there are also higher production costs for that material. that’s why the bearish trend has been limited there.”
Fastmarkets assessed the price of lithium hydroxide monohydrate 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price ddp Europe and US at $9.75-10.50 on Thursday, unchanged over the past fortnight but down by 22% from the beginning of 2020.
On the other hand, the lithium carbonate spot market for technical and battery-grade applications has remained static over the past seven days after depreciating in July.
The lithium carbonate 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price ddp Europe and US has lost around 24% of its value since the beginning of the year and was most recently at $8-9 per kg.
Fastmarkets’ trade log for battery-grade lithium carbonate in China for August 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.