GLOBAL LITHIUM WRAP: Seaborne Asian carbonate price rises on tight availability

The battery-grade seaborne Asian lithium carbonate market continued to post gains over the week on Thursday May 6 amid tight spot availability.

  • Battery-grade lithium carbonate price cif China, Japan and Korea widened upward.
  • Lithium prices in China steady following Labor Day holiday.
  • Europe/US lithium hydroxide prices rose for both battery-grade and technical grade material.

Lithium prices in Asia remained broadly steady this week with the seaborne Asia battery-grade lithium carbonate price outperforming others with notable gains despite holidays in both China and Japan.

Fastmarkets’ weekly assessment of the lithium carbonate, 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price cif China, Japan and Korea was at $11.50-13.50 per kg on Thursday, up by 4.17% from $11.50-12.50 per kg in the prior week.

An Asian distributor told Fastmarkets that some of his peers were unable to provide lithium carbonate to their customers at least until summer – and in some extreme cases until autumn – since producers could not deliver cargoes to them on time.

“We haven’t made any offers since we don’t have any availability for the spot market,” a second Asian distributor said. “But buyers might even be willing to take cargoes around $14 per kg.”

Fastmarkets’ price assessment of the lithium hydroxide monohydrate 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price cif China, Japan & Korea was steady week on week at $12.50-13.50 per kg on May 6.

China markets flat following holiday
Lithium prices in China were stable due to a thinly traded market during the Labor Day holiday (May 1-5). Fastmarkets’ assessment for the lithium hydroxide monohydrate 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price range exw domestic China held firm at 82,000-86,000 yuan ($12,669-13,287) per tonne on May 6, flat from the prior week.

Sporadic business was concluded at around 90,000 yuan per tonne, according to market participants, adding that mainstream sales prices are likely to catch up with those for lithium carbonate shortly.

Market sources also said they anticipated a further rally for battery-grade lithium hydroxide as a result of ongoing tightness.

Fastmarkets’ assessment for the lithium carbonate, 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price range exw domestic China was 88,000-90,000 yuan per tonne on Thursday, unchanged from a week ago. Prior to that, the price had dropped marginally for two consecutive weeks from 88,000-92,000 yuan per tonne in mid-April.

The battery-grade lithium carbonate price has held a premium over the equivalent grade lithium hydroxide price since December 2020 against a backdrop of robust demand to produce lithium cobalt oxide (LCO) batteries used by consumer electronics and a strong rally in the technical-grade lithium carbonate price amid active buying from the lithium iron phosphate (LFP) battery sector, which supplies electric vehicles (EVs). Prior to that, it had been traditionally traded at a discount to lithium hydroxide, according to Fastmarkets data.

“The lithium hydroxide price still has space to edge higher, while lithium carbonate price momentum has faltered,” a producer said.

Some market participants are eyeing the restart of operations in Qinghai province, wary of further downward pressure the increased output of technical-grade lithium carbonate in the summer would bring to the price of its battery-grade peer.

“It is the peak production season for technical-grade lithium carbonate in July and August,” a trader said. “We might see some more impact during that time.”
The output for technical-grade lithium carbonate produced from brine in salt lake areas, such as Qinghai province, is higher in the summer as opposed to winter when salt lakes are frozen.

Fastmarkets’ assessment for lithium carbonate 99% Li2CO3 min, technical and industrial grade, spot price range exw domestic China was 78,000-80,000 yuan per tonne on May 6, flat for the second consecutive week after dropping by 1.25% from 79,000-81,000 yuan per tonne previously.

Lithium hydroxide prices in Europe, US rise tracking global upward trend
Lithium hydroxide spot prices for both battery-grade and technical-grade applications continued to move upward over the past seven days in Europe and the United States.

This followed previous gains in the carbonate technical grade equivalent – a feedstock used in lithium hydroxide production – and the ongoing bullish trend in the seaborne Asia lithium hub.

The lithium hydroxide monohydrate 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price ddp Europe and US was at $14-15 per kg on Thursday, narrowing upward by 1.8% from $13.50-15 per kg a week ago.

Fastmarkets assessed the lithium hydroxide monohydrate 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, technical and industrial grades, spot price ddp Europe and US at $12.50-14 per kg on the same day, narrowing up 8.16% from $12.00-13.50 per kg a week prior.

“We have received several requests, but we do not have any material; we are sold out until June,” a producer of both lithium carbonate and hydroxide in Europe said.

Two market participants also emphasized that shipping delays have intensified in recent weeks, with metal and minerals companies transporting material in containers facing a second round of the havoc that first hit logistics out of China last October and November, namely a shortage of containers, vessel space and vessels altogether.

This situation could increase an existing tightness, especially within the lithium hydroxide market, because material is already scarce in Europe and consumers actively looking for units.

Meanwhile, the lithium spot carbonate battery technical grade markets in Europe and the US held steady following previous increases although sources reported that availability remains tight on the spot market for players that had not secured material on a long-term basis previously.

the lithium carbonate 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price ddp Europe and US price stood at $12-13 per kg, while lithium carbonate 99% Li2CO3 min, technical and industrial grades, spot price ddp Europe and US held at $11.50-12.50 per kg.

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 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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