GLOBAL LITHIUM WRAP: Global lithium market stable; low prices offered in China cloud market outlook

Global lithium battery-grade market stabilizes after prices decreased in recent weeks, producers and consumers’ price struggle persists due to unmatched price expectations between both sides of the market.

  • Global lithium market unchanged
  • Mismatch of price expectation between two sides of the market persists
  • Lithium producers expect prices and market activity to pick up
  • Downstream consumers wait for lower prices due to new production coming online in China, with new producers seeking battery-grade material qualification.

Chinese domestic spot battery-grade lithium carbonate prices were unchanged this week on downstream buyers’ muted purchasing.

The Chinese domestic spot battery-grade lithium carbonate price (min 99.5% Li2CO3) was assessed at 135,000-140,000 yuan ($21,140-21,923) per tonne, unchanged from the previous week, according to Metal Bulletin’s market assessment on Thursday May 24.

Most major lithium producers insisted on their current offering prices despite the flat market and hold a positive outlook on the market in the second half of 2018 against the less optimistic long-term price view in the downstream industry, which expects lower prices in the weeks to come.

“The Chinese domestic market remains typically slow with little spot activity being concluded,” a Chinese lithium producer told Metal Bulletin.

“We have achieved some sales this week within Metal Bulletin’s price range, however, small-sized companies or traders want to boost sales by trying to conclude deals below 135,000 yuan per tonne,” the producer added.

“We have been receiving many offers for material as low as 130,000 yuan per tonne, however, this is material that needs to be qualified by the major cathode makers in China and is not typically the battery-grade lithium carbonate you would buy,” a cathode producer told Metal Bulletin.

“The market remains at an average price of 135,000 yuan per tonne and above, but persisting lower prices offered at 130,000 yuan per tonne could push the battery-grade lithium carbonate price down in the following days,” the cathode manufacturer added.

Moreover, Metal Bulletin’ battery-grade lithium hydroxide monohydrate (min 56.5% LiOH.H2O) spot prices were reported steady this week after the decrease in prices a week ago.

A lack of concluded deals, due to a mismatch between producers’ and consumers’ price expectation within the Chinese domestic spot market, has slowed market activity and kept prices unchanged, while both sides of the market hold back on concluding deals.

Metal Bulletin assessed Chinese battery-grade lithium hydroxide monohydrate prices at 140,000-145,000 yuan per tonne on Thursday 24 May, unchanged week on week.

“We haven’t returned to the market this week and are still waiting to see if the spot market price in China falls again before purchasing more material,” a battery manufacturer told Metal Bulletin.

“We keep offering battery-grade hydroxide material between 140,000-145,000 yuan per tonne, however, the market remains quite slow and haven’t achieved any sale this week,” a third Chinese lithium producer told Metal Bulletin.

Seaborne hydroxide market stable
The Metal Bulletin cif China, Japan and Korean battery-grade carbonate and hydroxide spot prices sat unchanged week on week after lithium hydroxide market softened a week ago.

The battery-grade lithium carbonate (min 99.5% Li2CO3) prices on a cif China, Japan and Korea basis remained unchanged for the second consecutive week between $18-20 per kg on Thursday May 24, according to Metal Bulletin market assessment.

Metal Bulletin assessed the price for the battery-grade lithium hydroxide monohydrate (min56.5% LiOH.H2O) spot market at $19-20 per kg on Thursday May 24, unchanged week on week, stabilizing after falling a week ago.

The struggle between suppliers and consumers to obtain the best price has kept the seaborne market slow. With limited spot market activity making suppliers hold back on lowering prices to secure sales, while consumers bid for lower prices and hold back on procuring more material.

“The market remains quite slow this week and we have been more active within the Chinese domestic market,” a lithium supplier told Metal Bulletin. “Consumers and producers keep holding back on concluding deals due to the lower and higher offers respectively,” the supplier added.

“We have noted a significant deceleration of the seaborne cif China, Japan and Korean spot market over the past eight weeks,” a second lithium supplier told Metal Bulletin. “This is normal every year at this time of the year, and we expect activity to pick-up toward the summer,” the second supplier added.

Europe, US market stable

European and United States’ battery-grade lithium carbonate and hydroxide markets remained unchanged week on week, influenced by global depressed demand for lithium compounds alongside the traditionally less active spot market in this region.

Metal Bulletin’ duty-paid battery-grade lithium carbonate (min 99.5% Li2CO3) spot prices in Europe and the US were assessed at $17.50-20 per kg unchanged week on week, while battery-grade lithium hydroxide (min56.5% LiOH.H2O) on a duty-paid basis also kept stable at $19-20 per kg on Thursday May 24.

“The European and US battery-grade lithium carbonate and hydroxide spot markets remains traditionally slower with depressed spot market activity due to the scarce amount of battery makers in the region compared to China, Japan and Korea,” a third lithium supplier told Metal Bulletin.

“We keep focusing our activity in China, Japan and Korea, but the market has been rather depressed in that region too,” the lithium supplier added.

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