GLOBAL LITHIUM WRAP: Slow buying, good supply continue to pressure China’s battery-grade carbonate prices

China’s domestic battery-grade lithium carbonate prices fell again on Thursday August 30 amid continued slow demand and cheap offers from sellers needing to lock in cash, while the lithium hydroxide market resisted further declines, though cheaper prices were reported for lower quality units.

  • Lithium carbonate prices fall again in China with sellers facing greater competition to sell units
  • Lithium hydroxide prices steady after lessening pressure on sellers to cut their offers, though lower prices heard for off-grade material.
  • Battery-grade carbonate produced from brine and industrial-grade carbonate materials prices drift lower.
  • Heavy rain in Qinghai last week does not affect local production.
  • Cif China, Japan & Korean lithium carbonate prices follow domestic Chinese market down.

Spot battery-grade lithium carbonate prices fell again on bids at lower levels after most buyers said they were reluctant to accept higher prices. Prices have fallen by nearly 50% since the start of 2018 to the lowest level this year compared with 158,000-160,000 yuan per tonne on January 4.

Metal Bulletin’s Chinese domestic spot battery-grade lithium carbonate (min 99.5% Li2CO3) price stood at 80,000-90,000 yuan ($11,706-13,170) per tonne on Thursday, down from 85,000-95,000 yuan per tonne the week before.

“Lower prices of 80,000 yuan per tonne are mostly for material produced from brine, but we do not offer that low and insisted on offering above 85,000 yuan per tonne for battery-grade carbonate materials produced from spodumene,” a producer told Metal Bulletin.

“Mainstream concluded prices for battery-grade lithium carbonate are in the range of 80,000-85,000 yuan per tonne, and higher prices of 90,000 yuan per tonne are rare as no one is willing to accept such high prices,” a downstream buyer said.

Industrial grade material produced from brine in the Qinghai region softened to 70,000-75,000 yuan per tonne on Thursday. Prices below 70,000 yuan per tonne have not been heard so far. There was heavy rain in Qinghai late last week, and a lake in Qaidam Basin overflowed its banks. However, the heavy rain did not affect local lithium production.

Meanwhile, battery-grade lithium hydroxide (min 56.5% LiOH.H2O) prices were unchanged this week in a stagnant market at 115,000-130,000 yuan per tonne, according to Metal Bulletin’s market assessment.

“Lithium hydroxide prices are relatively stable compared with carbonate prices. Though lower prices of 100,000-110,000 yuan per tonne are reported, I think these materials with such low prices are of poor quality,” a producer said.

Asian seaborne carbonate prices fall
Battery-grade lithium carbonate prices also fell in the seaborne market this week, facing pressure from cheaply-priced Chinese units.

Metal Bulletin assessed battery-grade lithium carbonate (min 99.5% Li2CO3) cif China, Korea and Japan prices at $15.50-17.50 per kg on Thursday.

Market participants reported a wide range of prices for carbonate, with the cheapest units comprising Chinese material from a producer seeking an international outlet for its units.

Meanwhile, battery-grade hydroxide (min 56.5% LiOH.H2O) cif prices held at $19-20 per kg on a cif China, Japan and Korea basis on Thursday.

Hydroxide prices remain comparatively well protected from market weakness because battery-grade units, which carry a complex manufacturing process, are in tighter supply.

Lithium sellers in the seaborne market also face less pressure to sell and are happy to hold their offers at higher level.

“We have some inventory bought at higher price, and we don’t see any urgency to sell,” a distributor in Asia said.

Europe, US prices stable
Prices in Europe and the United States continued to be protected from market weakness elsewhere, underpinned so far by the end of the summer season and anticipated return of demand.

Metal Bulletin assessed battery-grade lithium carbonate (min 99.5% Li2CO) spot prices at $16-18 per kg on a delivered duty-paid Europe and US basis on Thursday, stable week on week.

Battery-grade lithium-hydroxide monohydrate (min 56.5% LiOH.H2O) spot prices were also stable week on week at $18.50-20 per kg on delivered duty-paid to Europe and the US on the same day.

“[Europe is] insulated from the price pressure in Asia for the moment,” a producer said.

Buyers are nonetheless looking at activity further afield before committing to new spot purchases and contract prices.

“When things stabilize, then we’ll start to buy,” a consumer said.

Metal Bulletin’s trade log for battery-grade lithium carbonate in China for August includes all trades, bids and offers reported to Metal Bulletin.

Learn more about Metal Bulletin’s lithium pricing methodology and read the latest lithium price spotlight here.

All lithium carbonate, hydroxide and spodumene prices are available in our Battery Raw Materials Market Tracker. Get a sample of the report here.