GLOBAL LITHIUM WRAP: Seaborne Asia prices play catch-up

Battery-grade lithium prices in the seaborne Asian market broadly continued to follow the strong momentum previously seen in the domestic Chinese market, although upward movement there has been tempered since mid-March.

  • The battery-grade lithium hydroxide price in the seaborne Asian market jumped by 9.5% week on week due to increasingly tight supply and firm demand.
  • Both lithium carbonate and hydroxide prices in China took a break from the rally, but buyers are still battling tight spot availability.
  • European and US battery-grade lithium suppliers maintained high offers.

The seaborne Asia battery-grade lithium hydroxide price was the biggest gainer in the pricing session ended Thursday March 18, with suppliers, who are eyeing upturns in the Chinese lithium hydroxide market in the past two months, continuing to raise their expectations in the context of tighter spot supply.

Fastmarkets’ lithium hydroxide monohydrate 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price cif China, Japan & Korea was $11-12 per kg on Thursday, up 9.52% from $10-11 per kg last week.

A Japanese trader source told Fastmarkets lithium supply to the Japanese market has become progressively tighter and buyers are concerned about a bottleneck in vessel space seen in the import and export markets in most of Asia and elsewhere in the world.

“Most of the importers can’t receive enough quantities to meet their customers’ requests,” the trader said, adding that he has received more inquiries from desperate buyers recently.

Market participants also pointed out that the lithium hydroxide price upturn in the seaborne Asian market, that became notable in mid-February, is catching up with that seen in the carbonate market, which started to emerge as early as late January.

Fastmarkets’ weekly assessment of the lithium carbonate, 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price was unchanged at $9.50-11 per kg on a cif China, Japan and Korea basis on Thursday.

“The South Korean and Japanese lithium import market is trying to keep in alignment with the Chinese market, but so far we have seen prices are comparatively more aligned in the carbonate market,” a second Japanese trader said.

The battery-grade lithium carbonate price in the seaborne Asian market has risen by nearly 52% so far this year, while the equivalent grade hydroxide has gained about 28%, according to Fastmarkets’ data.

China rally stalls
Meanwhile, upturns in both battery-grade lithium carbonate and hydroxide markets in China were capped in the past week amid slower spot trading while cathode materials producers focus on negotiating prices with battery producers for the second quarter, sources said.

Fastmarkets’ assessment for lithium carbonate, 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price range exw domestic China was 85,000-90,000 yuan ($13,056-13,824) per tonne on Thursday, unchanged from last week.

Fastmarkets assessed the lithium hydroxide monohydrate 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price range exw domestic China at 70,000-75,000 yuan per tonne on March 18, also flat week on week.

Producer sources acknowledged greater difficulty in translating higher offers into business, citing falling nickel-cobalt-manganese (NCM) cathode materials prices in China recently, which partially resulted from the price softness in cobalt and nickel.

Fastmarkets’ assessment for nickel sulfate min 21%, max 22.5%; cobalt 10ppm max, exw China was 35,000-37,000 yuan per tonne on March 12. Though the latest assessment was up by 1.41% from 35,000-36,000 yuan per tonne on March 5, it was down by 500 yuan per tonne from 35,000-38,000 yuan per tonne on February 26.

Fastmarkets’ assessment for cobalt sulfate 20.5% Co basis, exw China was 85,000-87,000 yuan per tonne on March 17. The cobalt salt price has dropped by 9.7% from 94,000-96,500 per tonne on March 3 when it had climbed to the highest level since August 2018.

That said, market participants told Fastmarkets it is likely there will be space for lithium prices to post further gains in the future in light of supply tightness.

“It is still hard for any buyers to secure decent volumes in the spot market,” a Chinese trader said.

Europe, US spot market continues to climb on tight availability
The European and US spot lithium complex continued its rally in the week to March 18, with sellers citing tight supply of technical grade lithium carbonate and subsequently higher offers across the whole lithium complex.

Tightness and higher prices from the lithium carbonate market continue to filter through to all parts of the lithium market, an upstream source active in Europe said.

Fastmarkets assessed the lithium carbonate 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price ddp Europe and US at $10-11.50 per kg on Thursday March 18, up 2.38% week on week.

Similarly, Fastmarkets assessed the lithium hydroxide monohydrate 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price ddp Europe and US at $11-12.50 per kg on March 18, up 4.44% week on week.

On the other hand, the lithium carbonate 99% Li2CO3 min, technical and industrial grades, spot price ddp Europe and US remained steady at $9.50-11 per kg for two consecutive weeks following sharp increases since the beginning of the year.

The price stood at $6.50-7.50 per kg on January 7, according to Fastmarkets’ historical data.

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.

What to read next
This development has led to a tightening market supply and bullish sentiment among traders, despite the immediate aftermath not showing a price hike
Read the full transcript from episode one of Fast Forward podcast with Andrea Hotter, where she interviews Helaina Matza, Special Coordinator for Global Infrastructure and Investment at the US Department of State
The battery recycling market is witnessing a dynamic evolution, marked by eight key trends shaping the industry's landscape
A number of hurdles are still hindering the development of a Western battery supply chain, despite support from the US Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), according to Kevin Chan, US-based spodumene and lithium producer Albemarle’s vice president of the Asia Pacific region
The publication of Fastmarkets’ lithium, iron ore and Chinese ferrous prices for Monday April 22 were delayed because of technical issues.
Chinese rare earth magnetic materials prices edged up this week after suppliers stood firm behind higher offer prices, market sources told Fastmarkets