GLOBAL LITHIUM WRAP: Seaborne Asian hydroxide price falls; European, US prices tumble but ‘close to bottom’

Previous weakness in the Chinese battery-grade lithium markets travelled through into the seaborne lithium hydroxide market which fell by 4.7% week on week on Thursday January 9, while the delivered, duty-paid Europe and United States compound prices both fell on the availability of cheaper spot material.

  • Asian seaborne battery-grade hydroxide price fell by 50 cents per kg, while the carbonate price held steady. 
  • European and US prices fell on competitive offers and slow market activity. 
  • Domestic Chinese prices were unmoved with limited transaction heard. Markets are winding down ahead of the Lunar New Year on January 25.

The battery-grade lithium hydroxide monohydrate, 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price, cif China, Japan and Korea ended three weeks of stability on Thursday, falling by 4.7% to $9.50-11 per kg from $10-11.50 per kg previously.

Market participants attributed the fall to lower offering prices from suppliers under pressure from the low domestic Chinese price.

“I heard lower offer prices for battery-grade hydroxide in the Asian seaborne market as higher prices are hard for buyers to accept since China’s domestic prices are at a low level. I think Asian seaborne prices will become softer later,” a distributor told Fastmarkets.

The Chinese battery-grade lithium hydroxide market was stable week on week but has been on a steady downtrend for the past year. The assessment stood at 52,000-57,000 yuan ($7,482-8,202) per tonne on Thursday, compared with 60,000-68,000 yuan per tonne at the start of the fourth quarter 2019.

Meanwhile, Fastmarkets’ lithium carbonate, 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price cif China, Japan and Korea was stable week on week at $8-9.50 per kg on Thursday.

Chinese market quiet ahead of holiday
Chinese spot battery-grade lithium markets held steady this week. Most major producers insisted on their offer prices while market participants were beginning to wind down activities ahead of the week-long Lunar New Year holiday on January 24-30.

“We have already stopped production this week for equipment maintenance, and I only purchased small quantities of lithium carbonate in case of emergency,” a cathode maker told Fastmarkets.

“More companies will gradually enter into holiday from next week, and there will be limited [price] fluctuation ahead of the holiday due to limited transactions,” a lithium producer said.

Fastmarkets’ weekly price assessment for lithium carbonate, 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price range exw domestic China was 45,000-51,000 yuan per tonne on Thursday, unchanged from the previous week.

Meanwhile, the lithium carbonate index, min 99.5% Li2O3, battery grade, exw China dipped by 0.6% week on week to 48,000 yuan per tonne on Thursday from 48,300 yuan per tonne on January 2, driven by more data points at the lower-end of the carbonate assessment range.

The industrial-grade lithium carbonate market was unchanged this week as well at 38,000-41,000 yuan per tonne on Thursday.

The battery-grade lithium hydroxide market was stable week on week amid continued low downstream demand in the domestic market. The assessment has been unchanged since January 2.

European, US prices soften but near a bottom
European and United States’ battery-grade lithium carbonate and hydroxide spot prices fell in the past week amid slow trading for battery business and the availability of material at competitive prices, market sources 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, 4.4% lower than the previous week at $10-11.20 per kg.

Fastmarkets’ assessment of the lithium hydroxide monohydrate, 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery-grade spot price ddp Europe and US was at $11.50-12.50 per kg on the same day. The price was down 7.7% week on week from $12.50-13.50 in the previous week.

“It’s not possible to sell material at prices above $11.50 per kg and you can buy [lithium carbonate] way lower if you look for it,” a Europe-based trader told Fastmarkets. “There is little activity, but no one would accept these higher prices in the European market.”

But market participants added that prices are starting to stabilize and have reached a bottom this week.

“I don’t see big drops beyond this point but before Christmas there were some competitive offers and they still remain… the market is stabilizing at current levels and reaching the bottom after the latest falls,” the same trader said.

“Prices are bottoming out and we see the current trend for the next three months or so, we don’t expect big surprises or [price] disruptions during the first quarter.” an Indian consumer said.

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.