GLOBAL LITHIUM WRAP: Chinese carbonate tightness supports first Asian seaborne market move in 18 weeks

Tightness in the Chinese domestic battery grade lithium compound market drove further price upswings and supported a similar move up in the Asian seaborne lithium carbonate market in the week to Thursday January 21.

  • Producers in China’s battery-grade lithium carbonate and hydroxide markets cited low availability for raising their offers again.
  • Asian battery-grade lithium carbonate spot price moved for the first time since September 2020 on the back of positive sentiment in China’s domestic prices despite limited spot trading.
  • Technical and industrial prices in Europe and the United States rose, also amid tighter supply in both regions, while battery grade markets were steady week on week.

Most battery-grade lithium carbonate producers in China increased their offers this week to above 60,000 yuan per tonne ($9,263) due to tight supply. Suppliers said most of their stock at hand had been booked previously and they had limited spot supply for the rest of the first quarter.

Market participants reported hearing offering prices at 70,000-80,000 yuan per tonne but most downstream buyers were cautious over accepting such high prices.

“We basically have no battery-grade lithium carbonate stocks on hand for spot selling as most of our materials have been booked, and we don’t have any available materials until April this year. More prices are gradually moving to 70,000 yuan per tonne or above,” a producer told Fastmarkets.

As well, domestic logistics will gradually reduce from the end of January due to the Lunar New Year holiday on February 11-17.

Fastmarkets’ weekly price assessment for lithium carbonate, 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price range exw domestic China was 60,000-65,000 yuan per tonne on Thursday, up 9.6% from 54,000-60,000 yuan per tonne a week ago.

“Battery-grade lithium carbonate prices are above 60,000 yuan per tonne following continuously rising offer prices from producers due to tight supply. I think the concluded prices are in the range of 60,000-65,000 yuan per tonne, and I have no plan to purchase more materials before Lunar New Year,” a buyer said.

The battery-grade lithium hydroxide prices rose further this week also due to tight supply. Producers either insisted on higher offering prices or stopped offering this week on the expectation that prices will move higher if carbonate prices keep rising.

Fastmarkets assessed the lithium hydroxide monohydrate, 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price range exw domestic China at 50,000-54,000 yuan per tonne on Thursday, up from 46,000-50,000 in the previous week.

“Battery-grade lithium hydroxide are mostly in the range of 50,000-53,000 yuan per tonne, and some bullish suppliers give higher offering prices of 55,000-60,000 yuan per tonne this week,” a second buyer said.

Asian seaborne battery-grade lithium carbonate price moves up
The Asian battery-grade lithium carbonate spot price rose by 7.4% week on week on Thursday due to low availability despite thin spot trading. Following China’s domestic carbonate price surges, most global suppliers also raised their offers and insisted on higher prices. Suppliers also claimed most of their material was already booked under contracts and reduced supply pushed spot prices higher.

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 on Thursday, up from $6-7.50 per kg, a level it has maintained since September 17, 2020.

“There is limited carbonate available for spot trade as most is booked under contracts. So, currently more prices for battery-grade carbonate are above $7 per kg,” a distributor said.

In contrast, there was limited fluctuation in the corresponding battery-grade lithium hydroxide market, with most participants indicating prices within the current range.

This kept the lithium hydroxide monohydrate, 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price, cif China, Japan and Korea at $8.50-9.50 per kg on Thursday, unchanged since mid-September last year.

Europe, US technical-grade carbonate price hits eight-month high
The Europe, US technical-grade lithium carbonate spot price rose by 3.4% week on week to an eight-month high on Thursday on tightening spot availability in the assessed regions.

Fastmarkets’ weekly price assessment for Lithium carbonate 99% Li2CO3 min, technical and industrial grades, spot price ddp Europe and US was $7-8 per kg on Thursday, up from $6.50-8 per kg in the previous week. The market is trading at its highest since March 12 when it stood at $6.90-8.40 per kg.

“It is unlikely that Chinese sellers are offering lithium carbonate technical grade in Europe for less than $8 per kg, taking into account soaring prices in China,” a buyer of lithium technical grade said.

“We do feel the lithium carbonate market is further tightening and also see the first signs of lithium hydroxide market getting tighter,” a producer of lithium chemicals active in both Europe and Asia said.

Fastmarkets’ latest price assessment for lithium carbonate 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price ddp Europe and US was $7.50-9 per kg on Thursday, unchanged for the past two weeks but up from $7.50-8.50 per kg on January 7. The last time the assessment stood at $7.50-9 per kg was on September 17, historical pricing data shows.

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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