GLOBAL LITHIUM WRAP: Lunar New Year production, logistics halts slow Asian market activity

All battery-grade lithium compound prices were steady week on week on Thursday January 16, with market activity thinning in Asia ahead of the Chinese New Year holidays while renewed demand supported prices in Europe and the United States.

  • Battery-grade lithium carbonate and hydroxide prices in the domestic China and seaborne Asia markets stood still on thin pre-holiday activity. 
  • Chinese transportation companies are starting to halt services this year ahead of Lunar New Year. 
  • Rest of the world spot prices were steady week on week amid improved sentiment at current levels.

Asian battery-grade lithium prices were rangebound this week due to suppliers holding offer prices in China and logistics companies winding down services for the week-long Lunar New Year holiday on January 24-30.

“We haven’t adjusted our lithium carbonate prices this week, and spot prices keep stable. We already stopped transportation of lithium from January 15,” a lithium producer said.

On the demand side, most domestic Chinese consumers have finished pre-holiday restocking and are said to be in no rush to procure additional material ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday.

“I haven’t purchased any materials this week as our factory stopped production for equipment maintenance, and we have no plans to purchase before the Lunar New Year holidays,” a cathode producer told Fastmarkets.

Fastmarkets’ weekly price assessment for lithium carbonate, 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price range was 45,000-51,000 yuan ($6,454-7,314) per tonne on Thursday, and the lithium hydroxide monohydrate, 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price range at 52,000-57,000 yuan per tonne on Thursday. Both assessments, which are done on a exw domestic China basis, were unchanged week on week.

The industrial-grade lithium carbonate market showed no fluctuation this week due to thin buying ahead of the holiday, staying at 38,000-41,000 yuan per tonne on Thursday.

The slowdown in China had a knock-on effect in the seaborne market, which was similarly stable. Chinese suppliers are gradually leaving the Asian market for the holidays, while spot buying appetite has also diminished.

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

Europe consolidates previous falls
The lithium carbonate 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price ddp Europe and US consolidated last week’s $1 per kg fall, maintaining level at $10-11.50 per kg on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the lithium hydroxide monohydrate 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price ddp Europe and US also remained steady at $11.50-12.50 per kg on Thursday, after previous week’s reduction.

General sentiment was more positive during the week with some market participants forecasting a more bullish outlook for the first half of the year.

The market still signals oversupply and sources do not expect price increases but the extra material is starting to be depleted since several consumers are reportedly in need to restock.

“It seems that the excess of stock within the system is easing, that material is gradually being sold at current price levels and hence the market shows stability,” a Europe-based trader said.

“We are the bottom of the market,” a producer source said. “Prices are steady, and we don’t expect any further falls… even though we are not coming back to the high levels we had last year, prices could start to firm up during the second half of 2020; we are optimistic,” he added.

The Europe and US lithium carbonate price was at $13-15 per kg a year ago, while the hydroxide price has fallen from $15-17 per kg over the same period.

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.