GLOBAL LITHIUM WRAP: Tight supply underpins strong Asian seaborne prices

Concerns over South American producers' capacity to meet demand expectations for 2021 aggravated the lingering tight availability of battery-grade lithium compounds in the Asian seaborne market in the week to Thursday April 15.

  • Buyers in the seaborne Asian lithium carbonate market reported increasing difficulty securing feedstock amid tight supply.
  • The battery-grade lithium hydroxide price in China jumped by 3.75%, while the equivalent grade lithium carbonate price held despite slower trades.
  • The Europe, US lithium spot complex continued to post sharp gains on the global bullish trend and tight supply.

Anticipation of lingering spot supply constraints for 2021 continued to lend support to lithium prices in the seaborne Asian market. A few buyers in the region said they had been warned by some producers that they are unlikely to meet buyers’ demand expectations.

Fastmarkets’ weekly assessment of the lithium carbonate, 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price cif China, Japan and Korea rose to $11-12 per kg on Thursday, up by 2.22% from $10.50-12.00 per kg previously.

Fastmarkets’ assessment of the lithium hydroxide monohydrate 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price cif China, Japan & Korea was firm at $11.50-12.50 per kg on Thursday, unchanged from one week ago.

“The production ramp-up South American producers previously planned has been delayed this year due to Covid-19 pandemic,” a distributor source said.

Some desperate consumers have even gone to their competitors for spare feedstock, consumer sources told Fastmarkets.

“Some buyers are panicking because [certain producers] have nothing to offer,” a trader said. “Therefore, if you have prompt materials, you can get a good premium over the market.”

In addition, logistics bottleneck for lithium from South American countries is expected to persist for a while due to recent tightened restrictions in Chile following a surge in infections in the country.

Lithium hydroxide price in China surges
Contrary to the Asian seaborne market, where the supply tightness is more notable in the lithium carbonate market, China’s domestic cathode materials producers have struggled to secure lithium hydroxide, whose supply is quite concentrated in the country.

Fastmarkets assessed the lithium hydroxide monohydrate 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price range exw domestic China at 80,000-86,000 yuan ($12,248-13,166) per tonne on April 15, up by 3.75% from 78,000-82,000 yuan per tonne in the prior week.

The price for battery-grade lithium hydroxide in China has edged up for three consecutive weeks with an increase of nearly 15% since the start of April, while the equivalent grade lithium carbonate price has lost momentum higher, according to Fastmarkets’ data.

Fastmarkets’ assessment for the lithium carbonate, 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price range exw domestic China was at 88,000-92,000 yuan per tonne on April 15, flat for the second consecutive week.

“Producers basically have nothing to offer to the spot market when they are even struggling to meet their contractual commitments; meanwhile, traders’ stocks are being depleted,” a second trader said.

In addition, the market is broadly optimistic that there will be a meaningful demand ramp-up of nickel-rich battery materials from the third quarter, resulting in appetite to restock lithium hydroxide, the lithium feedstock for this type of cathode material, market participants told Fastmarkets.

As a result, some producers have made aggressive offers close to 90,000 yuan per tonne recently, though consumers have yet to digest the acute rally, according to market participants.

Europe, US lithium spot complex rides on global upward trend
The Europe and US lithium spot complex continued to post sharp gains over the past week amid the ongoing global bullish trend and tight availability, sources said.

“At the moment I don’t see a big difference between technical grade and battery grade, Europe is lagging a bit behind Asia in terms of price increases but I see prices moving upward and increasing on a weekly basis,” a trader told Fastmarkets.

“I’m trying to buy lithium carbonate to use as a feedstock in hydroxide production but I’m struggling to find units available,” an upstream source said.

Fastmarkets assessed the lithium carbonate 99% Li2CO3 min, technical and industrial grades, spot price ddp Europe and US at $10-11 per kg on Thursday April 15, up 2.44% from $9.50-11.00 per kg, a level it had held for the past five weeks.

The lithium carbonate 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price ddp Europe and US was at $11.50-12.50 per kg on Thursday, up 2.13% week on week from $11-12.50 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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