GLOBAL LITHIUM WRAP: Seaborne Asia markets drop 5% after three months of stable prices

The Chinese domestic spot battery-grade lithium carbonate price fell by 2.7% on Thursday April 16 after suppliers dropped offers again to stimulate a reluctant market, while the Asian seaborne market finally ended its steady streak.

  • China’s battery-grade lithium carbonate price resumed trending downward due to weak buying appetite.
  • The price of Chinese industry-grade lithium carbonate, produced using brine, also fell on lower offer prices issued to boost sales.
  • The Asian seaborne spot market ended its three-month streak to fall by an average of 5.3% week on week.
  • Lack of activity in the battery-grade carbonate market kept US, European prices steady.

The downtrend in the domestic Chinese battery grade lithium carbonate spot price resumed on Thursday, after holding steady the week before. Continuous weak demand from downstream cathode makers is weighing on the lithium market and pushing more producers to lower their prices to boost sales, market sources said.

Fastmarkets’ weekly price assessment for lithium carbonate, 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price range exw domestic China was 42,500-46,000 yuan ($6,004-6,499) per tonne this week, down from 43,000-48,000 yuan per tonne on April 9.

“Currently, the big cathode makers have limited orders for raw materials, and no matter how low the prices are, demand just has no improvement. Some buyers’ stocks can even support their production until May,” a producer in China told Fastmarkets.

“Some producers are willing to lower prices to boost sales under the flat market, but We haven’t purchased any battery-grade lithium carbonate recently,” a buyer said.

“Prices above 46,000 yuan per tonne are disappearing [from the spot market], and no one would accept those higher prices. Prices of 44,000-45,000 yuan per tonne are mostly [for deals that include an] accounting period, if it is paid in cash, prices will be lower,” a second buyer said.

In the technical and industrial grade market, China’s brine producers have lowered their lithium carbonate prices to boost sales. Fastmarkets assessed the Chinese technical and industrial grade lithium carbonate spot price at 35,000-38,000 yuan per tonne on Thursday, down from 37,000-40,000 yuan per tonne a week ago.

Meanwhile, China’s battery-grade lithium hydroxide price held at the current level this week without any significant fluctuation reported on the spot market. But demand remains quiet and prices are under pressure, according to market participants.

Fastmarkets’ lithium hydroxide monohydrate, 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price range exw domestic China was at 50,000-55,000 yuan per tonne on Thursday.

Asian seaborne market tumbles
The cif China, Japan and Korea battery-grade lithium spot market fell this week after over three months of steady prices.

Fastmarkets assessed the lithium carbonate, 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price at $7.50-9 per kg on a cif China, Japan and Korea basis, down from $8-9.50 per kg a week ago and the first decrease for 16 weeks.

The lithium hydroxide monohydrate, 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price was at $9-10.50 per kg on a cif China, Japan and Korea basis, down from $9.50-11 per kg from the previous week. The price had been flat for 14 weeks prior to this week.

Market participants attributed the fall to buyer reluctance to accept the earlier spot prices any longer because of weak trading conditions amid Covid-19 related disruptions.

“Current trading activities remain slow, but prices of $7.50-8 per kg for battery-grade lithium carbonate are starting to be seen in South Korea, and prices of above $8 per kg are not widely accepted,” a seaborne Asia lithium buyer said.

“As for battery-grade hydroxide prices, we are unwilling to accept higher cif prices above $9.50 per kg for spot buying,” a second buyer said.

Already slow purchasing from Japan has been reduced further since the Japanese government declared a state of emergency due to the spread of the virus. Most companies in Japan will be suspended between April 29 and at least May 6.

“We will be a week-long holiday from April 29 to May 6 in Japan, and some companies will take a longer one from April 26 to May 10. I heard some lower offering prices, but at this stage there is little spot trading, and I feel the market will become more active after May 10,” a distributor said.

Europe, US lithium prices remain steady amid quiet spot market
The Europe and US battery-grade lithium carbonate price remained unchanged in the seven days to Thursday. Sources spoke of a spot market “paralyzed” by the global health crisis triggered by the Covid-19 virus and its economic fallout.

Fastmarkets assessed the lithium carbonate 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price ddp Europe and US at $8.90-10.10 per kg, unchanged over the past fortnight but down from $9.50-10.50 per kg on April 2.

A producer told Fastmarkets that the spot market is quiet at present for the carbonate technical grade as well. “Very little new inquiries, a lot of companies are holding back and purchasing at the minimum level, they [customers] consume stocks that have already ordered,” the same producer said.

Another source active in the upstream supply chain in Europe said: “Both the spot and contract markets are quiet at present, offtakes from regular contracts are also slower than usual.”

“Customers are waiting for the current situation to improve,” another source said, adding that manufacturers have stocks in their warehouses.

Fastmarkets assessed the lithium carbonate 99% Li2CO3 min, technical and industrial grades, spot price ddp Europe and US at $6.90-8.10 per kg, unchanged over the past five weeks but down from $6.90-8.40 on March 12.

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 April 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.