GLOBAL LITHIUM WRAP: Hydroxide market moves down on recent fall in carbonate prices, consumer pressure for lower prices

Global battery-grade lithium hydroxide spot price fell on Thursday May 17, influenced by the recent softer lithium carbonate markets as well as consumer expectations for lower prices.

  • Chinese lithium carbonate prices stable 
  • Chinese lithium hydroxide spot price down on a lack of buying activity and consumer expectation for lower prices 
  • Seaborne lithium hydroxide market softened on slow demand 
  • European and US hydroxide battery-grade prices fall, carbonate prices stable

The domestic Chinese spot battery-grade lithium carbonate price (min 99.5% Li2CO3) remained unchanged week on week at 135,000-140,000 yuan ($21,214-22,000) per tonne on Thursday, according to Metal Bulletin market assessment.

Confirmed trades and offers were reported within Metal Bulletin’s current price range, while producers and consumers said the Chinese spot battery-grade lithium carbonate market has found some price stability over the past two weeks because suppliers are resisting selling material below 135,000 yuan per tonne.

“Demand for battery-grade lithium carbonate has remained depressed week on week, with few sales being concluded over the course of the week despite the separate ongoing negotiations with our customers,” a Chinese producer told Metal Bulletin.

“Chinese producers and suppliers have resisted the slow market and are not willing to decrease their prices below 135,000 yuan per tonne,” he added. “Suppliers in China are hoping to see a pick-up in demand in the coming weeks.”

“We are increasing our offering prices to 142,000 yuan per tonne for lots of 20 tonnes, but the market has remained rather slow and we wouldn’t be surprised to see confirmed deals being traded as low as 135,000 yuan per tonne,” a trader told Metal Bulletin.

Meanwhile, Metal Bulletin’s battery-grade lithium hydroxide monohydrate (min 56.5% LiOH.H2O) spot prices registered new falls this week, influenced by a lack of buying interest, recent falls in lithium carbonate prices and consumer expectations for lower prices.

Metal Bulletin assessed Chinese battery-grade lithium hydroxide monohydrate prices at 140,000-145,000 yuan per tonne on Thursday, down 4.4% from 148,000-150,000 yuan per tonne the week before.

“Downstream demand for battery-grade lithium hydroxide hasn’t picked up and we have started seeing the lithium hydroxide prices follow the decrease in prices seen recently in the battery-grade lithium carbonate prices,” a second Chinese producer told Metal Bulletin.

“Consumers’ perception of lower prices is making it hard for lithium hydroxide prices to hold stable,” he added.

“The lithium carbonate battery-grade market softened some weeks ago and we believe the lithium hydroxide battery-grade price is now following this trend,” a Chinese cathode marker told Metal Bulletin.

“We anticipate a further decrease in prices in the months to come due to the possible oversupply situation within the Chinese market,” he added.

Slow downstream demand for lithium compounds continues, with cathode manufacturers pausing purchases while they adjust their battery production technology to benefit from the new 2018 government subsidies, as Metal Bulletin reported earlier in the month.

Meanwhile, some other consumers in China are holding off lithium compound purchases while they negotiate more favorable prices for cobalt, another battery raw material.

Seaborne hydroxide market softens
Metal Bulletin’s cif China, Japan and Korean battery-grade lithium hydroxide monohydrate (min 56.5% LiOH.H2O) spot prices moved down on Thursday to $19-20 per kg from $20-21 per kg due to a lack of market activity based on slow consumer demand.

“We aimed to sell lithium hydroxide battery-grade material as high as $20 per kg [for 20 tonne lots], but demand remains slow and consumers expect lower prices,” a third lithium producer told Metal Bulletin.

“Despite the higher offering prices we are placing in the market [as high as $21 per kg], realistically the market is as low as $19 per kg as consumers expect to pay below $20 per kg,” a second trader told Metal Bulletin. 

Battery-grade lithium carbonate (min 99.5% Li2CO3)prices on a cif China, Japan and Korea basis were unmoved week on week at $18-20 per kg on Thursday on subdued seaborne market activity.

Europe, US hydroxide prices decrease
Lithium hydroxide on a duty-paid spot price basis to Europe and the United States moved down week on week to $19-20 per kg on Thursday from 19-21 per kg previously on a lack of transactions and continuous depressed demand.

“We have not sold any hydroxide battery-grade this week on a spot basis within Europe or the US as this remains quite a slow market with few market participants,” a lithium producer told Metal Bulletin. “We are trying to sell the majority of our material to Asia, but even there the market has been slow.”

Meanwhile, Metal Bulletin’s duty-paid lithium carbonate (min 99.5% Li2CO3) spot prices in Europe and the US were steady at $17.5-20 per kg on Thursday.

“The battery-grade lithium compounds market has remained quite stable week on week,” a producer that supplies Europe and the US told Metal Bulletin. “We had no sales but we hope prices will pick up in the following weeks as soon as the downstream producers return to the spot market.”

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