GLOBAL LITHIUM WRAP: Lithium hydroxide price in China steady; carbonate price retreats

The lithium hydroxide price in China was firm over the week to Thursday April 22 amid tight availability, while the carbonate price softened due to the restart and ramp-up of operations in Qinghai province.

  • Battery-grade lithium hydroxide prices remained firm in China, but the equivalent grade lithium carbonate price softened
  • The battery-grade lithium hydroxide price in the seaborne market rose amid tight availability
  • The battery-grade lithium hydroxide price in China remained steady amid tight supply, but the market has been broadly optimistic over the outlook of demand from nickel rich nickel-cobalt-manganese (NCM) batteries, which mainly use lithium hydroxide.

Fastmarkets’ price assessment for lithium hydroxide monohydrate 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price range exw domestic China was unchanged at 80,000-86,000 yuan ($12,312-13,235) per tonne on Thursday April 22. The price has been up by 14.48% from the start of April.

Tight availability, which is partially due to the limited number of accredited lithium hydroxide producers, has been the main driver for the price upturn, according to market participants.

Most consumers - namely, cathode materials producers - can only purchase lithium hydroxide from producers that have already had their sourcing supply chain accredited, leaving them smaller pool from which to restock, Fastmarkets understands.

“For some consumers, they can even count their suppliers on the fingers of one hand,” a trader said.

A consumer source told Fastmarkets it will take at least two months for it to complete the accreditation of a new supplier.

On top of all, the supply constraints are being caused by the tightness in the upstream spodumene feedstock market, which is capping the ability of lithium producers to meet the projected rise in demand from the electric vehicle (EV) battery sector, market participants said.

The battery-grade lithium carbonate price in China, in contrast, retreated for the first time since beginning an upward trajectory in mid-October 2020.

Fastmarkets’ price assessment for lithium carbonate, 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price range exw domestic China dropped to 88,000-91,000 yuan per tonne on April 22, down by 0.56% from 88,000-92,000 yuan per tonne on week ago.

The battery-grade lithium carbonate softness followed the weakness seen in its technical-grade peer after operations in Qinghai province either restarted or began to ramp up since the start of the second quarter, market participants told Fastmarkets.

Fastmarkets’ price assessment for Lithium carbonate 99% Li2CO3 min, technical and industrial grade, spot price range exw domestic China moved lower to 78,000-80,000 yuan per tonne, down by 1.25% from 79,000-81,000 yuan per tonne previously.

Supply tightness underpins Asian seaborne market
The persisting supply tightness continued to support the lithium prices in the seaborne Asian market.

Fastmarkets’ price assessment of the lithium hydroxide monohydrate 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price cif China, Japan & Korea rose to $11.5-13 per kg on April 22, up by 2.08% from $11.5-12.5 per kg one week ago.

Fastmarkets’ weekly assessment of the lithium carbonate, 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price cif China, Japan and Korea was steady at $11-12 per kg on Thursday, unchanged from previously.

“The tight situation has not resolved yet, it is rather getting worse,” a distributor said.

“No distributors have enough stocks to sell to the customers, especially those from South America, which most of the consumers of lithium carbonate in Japan are using and want,” he added.

Europe, US playing catch-up after steep gains in Asia
The lithium spot markets in Europe and the United States continued to play catch-up with the Asian market that originally led the market higher.

The spot lithium market for carbonate technical grade and battery grade remains tight in Europe.

“I’m sold out for the next three months and not making any offers at the moment. But we are getting a lot of inquiries from all over the world - [just] not selling right now. We will have material again at the end of May,” an upstream source active in both the European and seaborne Asian markets said.

“We source lithium from South America, which increased its prices following the tight situation in China,” a distributor of technical-grade lithium compounds in Europe said.

Fastmarkets’ latest price assessment for lithium carbonate 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price ddp Europe and US was $12-13 per kg on Thursday April 22, up 4.2% from $11.5-12.5 per kg a week earlier.

And Fastmarkets’ latest price assessment for lithium hydroxide monohydrate 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price ddp Europe and US was $13.5-15 per kg, up 5.6% from a week prior.

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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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