GLOBAL LITHIUM WRAP: Global lithium market flat, wary of economic slowdown

Chinese domestic spot battery-grade lithium carbonate prices stabilized temporarily on Thursday March 12 after a slight decrease last week, market in other regions remained flat with market participants worrying about an economic slowdown due to the spread of coronavirus (2019-nCoV) globally.

Global lithium market price

  • China’s battery-grade lithium carbonate prices stabilized this week after a decrease last week.
  • China’s lithium hydroxide market held firm at current range
  • Production not greatly affected in Japan and South Korea, while market sources expect the economy to slowdown amid the spread of coronavirus (nCoV-2019).
  • Coronavirus leaves European, US prices at a standstill

Domestic Chinese battery-grade lithium carbonate spot prices briefly stabilized this week after declining last week, while downstream demand remained poor because most cathode producers were not purchasing large amounts in a flat market.
Fastmarkets’ weekly price assessment for lithium carbonate, 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price range exw domestic China was 44,000-50,000 yuan ($6,281-7,138) per tonne on Thursday March 12, unchanged from the previous week.

“The battery-grade lithium carbonate price was mostly stable this week but remains under pressure while downstream purchases are still not up to expectations,” one producer said.

“We’re starting to receive lower offers of 46,000-47,000 yuan per tonne for battery-grade lithium carbonate materials produced from spodumene recently, down from a previous level of 48,000 yuan per tonne. I think battery-grade lithium carbonate prices will find it hard to move up short term,” a buyer said.
The battery-grade lithium hydroxide market did not fluctuate, with prices static while most producers insist on offering current prices.

Fastmarkets’ lithium hydroxide monohydrate, 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price range exw domestic China was stable week on week at 52,000-57,000 yuan per tonne on Thursday.

“Demand for hydroxide is expected to increase, which would support the current price range, with most producers unwilling to lower prices,” a second buyer said.

Asian market flat, market participants wary economy slowdown
Rare spot transactions were made in the battery-grade lithium spot market cif China, Japan and Korea this week, sources said.

With the coronavirus still spreading in Japan and South Korea, most market participants are worried that the economy will slow down, although current production is mostly still running normally, Fastmarkets heard.

Fastmarkets assessed the lithium carbonate, 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery-grade, spot price at $8-9.50 per kg on Thursday, while Fastmarkets’ assessment of the lithium hydroxide monohydrate, 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price at $9.50-11 per kg on March 12 - both on a cif China, Japan and Korea basis and both unchanged week on week.

“There is no big problem producing at the moment in South Korea, but we are worrying about lower demand as a result of economic slowdown,” a distributor said.

“Considering the spread of the virus in Japan, the economy will slow soon. For most companies in Japan, April is the beginning of the fiscal year so we will wait to see,” a second distributor said.

Europe, US lithium prices flat amid uncertain short-term outlook
Lithium carbonate and hydroxide battery grade spot prices in Europe and the United States remained unchanged in the week to Thursday March 12 while the coronavirus spread intensifies across continental Europe, deterring market participants from taking positions amid a weak price environment.

Sources told Fastmarkets that the coronavirus outbreak across Europe - and the government lockdown measures to stem the spread - are yet to affect the supply chain although it looks set to dent demand from end-consumer markets.

“Before the coronavirus [outbreak] I was expecting lithium prices to recover in the second half of the year…in the third quarter, precisely. I believe everything has been pushed forward by at least one quarter….now I think there will be a recovery in prices in the last quarter of the year,” a producer in the European market said.

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 March 12, unchanged from the previous week.

Similarly, Fastmarkets’ assessment of the lithium hydroxide monohydrate 56.5%LiOH, H2O min, battery grade, spot price ddp Europe and US held steady from the previous week at $10.50-11.50 per kg on Thursday March 12.

“We’re close to reaching the bottom of the cycle but I don’t expect any [price] increases any time soon,” a second source said.

Lithium prices have declined over the past two years after additional capacity expansions outstripped demand growth, while the virus outbreak has added further bearish pressure over the first quarter of this year.

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.

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