GLOBAL LITHIUM WRAP: Stock availability, low-cost materials push Chinese prices lower; other markets steady

China’s domestic spot battery-grade lithium carbonate prices remained under downward pressure this week due to availability of stock and cheaper low-production cost materials produced from brine, while lithium hydroxide prices were hit by sluggish trading.

  • Lithium carbonate prices soften due to availability of stock alongside cheaper low-production cost materials produced from brine. 
  • Lithium hydroxide prices follow the downtrend in the carbonate market and stagnant downstream demand. 
  • Slow consumption and lower prices for non-battery grade lithium carbonate compound produced from brine remain two other important factors adding pressure to the overall market. 
  • Seaborne Asian, European and US spot market prices unchanged on slow market activity.

The Chinese spot battery-grade lithium carbonate market softened on Thursday September 13 due to the availability of stock, with most buyers holding back from making large purchases in case of further price falls.

Meanwhile, some producers told Metal Bulletin the market was close to reach a bottom and insisted on maintaining their current offer prices.

Metal Bulletin assessed the Chinese domestic spot battery-grade lithium carbonate price (min 99.5% Li2CO3) at 80,000-85,000 yuan ($11,647-12,375) per tonne on Thursday, down 0.6% from 80,000-86,000 yuan per tonne from previous week.

“We have heard of lower prices at 75,000-78,000 yuan per tonne for battery-grade lithium carbonate produced from brine, but our material produced from spodumene hasn’t edged down to such low levels yet,” a producer told Metal Bulletin.

“More producers have been selling their material at prices close to their production costs due to the continuously decreasing lithium prices this year. [As a result,] they have started negotiating with their spodumene suppliers to get cheaper prices to lower their production cost,” a trader told Metal Bulletin.

Most battery-grade consumers confirmed that their concluded prices were around or above 80,000 yuan per tonne for material produced from spodumene.

Moreover, technical and industrial grade lithium carbonate prices produced from brine in China, with typically lower production costs, have moved down to 60,000-70,000 yuan per tonne from 70,000-75,000 yuan per tonne in the week.

Battery-grade lithium hydroxide monohydrate spot prices have followed the downtrend in lithium carbonate prices due to slow consumption and deals concluded at lower levels.

Metal Bulletin’s battery-grade lithium hydroxide monohydrate (min 56.5% LiOH.H2O) prices moved down to 110,000-130,000 yuan per tonne on Thursday, down from 115,000-130,000 last week.

“Our high-purity battery-grade lithium hydroxide remains as high as 130,000 yuan per tonne, but existing stocks and availability of lower-purity battery-grade lithium hydroxide is being sold in the market at 115,000 yuan per tonne or even lower,” a second producer told Metal Bulletin.

“We have sold lithium hydroxide battery-grade this week at 110,000 yuan per tonne due to slow consumption,” a third producer told Metal Bulletin.

Asian seaborne market in wait-and-see mode
Metal Bulletin’s cif China, Japan and Korea battery-grade lithium carbonate prices were unchanged week on week $15.5-17.5 per kg on Thursday due to limited market activity.

Most buyers remain well stocked and covered by long-term contracts. Others are holding back from procuring material on a seaborne basis, preferring to adopt a wait-and-see position in anticipation that prices will follow the downward trend in China and pressing suppliers for lower contract prices in 2019.

The lithium hydroxide monohydrate (min 56.5% LiOH.H2O) quotation held steady too, at $19-20 per kg both on a cif China, Japan and Korea basis on Thursday.

European, US lithium prices unchanged
The European and US battery-grade lithium carbonate and hydroxide markets were unchanged week on week on a lack of spot market activity despite ongoing spot and contract price negotiations between producers and consumers.

Metal Bulletin assessed prices for battery-grade lithium carbonate (min 99.5% Li2CO) at $16-18 per kg, delivered duty-paid to Europe and the United States. The lithium hydroxide monohydrate (min 56.5% LiOH.H2O) spot price stands at $18.50-20 per kg, delivered duty-paid to Europe and the US.

“We have received price offers close to $20 per kg this week for lithium carbonate battery-grade, but we find this an unrealistic price if we look at the offers from China that are way below this price level,” a downstream consumer told Metal Bulletin.

“The global market is quite slow due to the current downward price trend in Asian and level of material stock,” a fifth producer told Metal Bulletin.

“In Europe and the US we remain mainly active with technical and industrial grade, but it is harder to conclude spot deals for lithium carbonate and hydroxide in Asia due to the amount of material available,” the producer added.

Metal Bulletin’s trade log for battery-grade lithium carbonate in China for September 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.