GLOBAL LITHIUM WRAP: Weak demand weighs on China’s battery-grade carbonate prices

China’s domestic spot battery-grade lithium carbonate prices fell further in thin buying this week but lithium hydroxide prices held steady.

Asian seaborne battery-grade lithium carbonate prices also edged down, reflecting the continued fall in Chinese prices.

  • A further fall in battery-grade lithium carbonate prices in China weighs on seaborne cif China, Japan and Korea market prices
  • Downstream consumers cautious about restocking, awaiting clearer direction from China’s 2018 NEV subsidy policy, which officially came into effect earlier this week
  • Lower battery-grade quality material from Qinghai still available
  • Battery-grade lithium hydroxide prices unchanged week on week, echoing stable trend in domestic Chinese price

The Chinese domestic spot battery-grade lithium carbonate dropped for the third consecutive week amid cautious purchasing from downstream cathode producers and after several lithium producers lowered their offer prices to boost cash flow.

Metal Bulletin assessed the Chinese domestic spot battery-grade lithium carbonate price (min 99.5% Li2CO3) at 120,000-125,000 yuan ($18,738-19,518) per tonne on Thursday June 14, down from 126,000-130,000 yuan per tonne in the previous week.

China’s new energy vehicle (NEV) subsidy policy for 2018 officially came into effect on June 12; most cathode producers had previously delayed making purchases for lithium because they had no immediate need for metal and were awaiting clearer direction on the market.

“As the transitional period just finished, most downstream buyers haven’t run out of their lithium carbonate stocks and are very cautious about restocking again while prices keep falling. Current demand is lower than expected and some small-sized companies keep lowering prices to boost sales in a quiet market,” a Chinese producer told Metal Bulletin.

“We haven’t started new purchasing this week as prices keep moving down… I am not quite sure about future direction and I will hold off, having no hurry to purchase large volumes,” a Chinese battery-cathode producer told Metal Bulletin.

The availability of lower-quality battery-grade material from Qinghai is also putting downward pressure on prices.

Despite the downward trend in battery-grade lithium carbonate and reduced consumption, the battery-grade lithium hydroxide monohydrate (min56.5% LiOH.H2O) price held at 140,000-142,000 yuan per tonne on Thursday.

Higher offers and concluded business at steady levels kept the battery-grade lithium hydroxide price unchanged, according to Metal Bulletin’s market assessment.

Asian seaborne market continues to drift lower
Cif China, Japan and Korea battery-grade lithium carbonate prices trended lower, pressured downward by falling Chinese prices.

Metal Bulletin’s battery-grade lithium carbonate (min 99.5% Li2CO3) price slipped to $18-19.5 per kg cif China, Japan and Korea on Thursday from $18-20 per kg a week earlier.

Meanwhile, a lack of activity and stable market conditions in China kept the lithium hydroxide (min 56.5% LiOH.H2O) price unchanged week on week at $19-20 per kg cif China, Japan and Korea. 

“The seaborne cif China, Japan and Korea market has seen softer prices on carbonate due to lower prices in China; however, lithium hydroxide battery compounds are unchanged,” a trader told Metal Bulletin.

Europe, US prices unmoved
European and US lithium battery-grade compounds are unchanged this week in thin buying – most consumers remain covered by long-term contracts.

Battery-grade lithium carbonate and hydroxide spot market prices were unchanged at $17.50-20 per kg and $19-20 per kg respectively on a delivered, duty-paid basis.

“The European and US markets remain unaffected by the Chinese domestic spot market but it’s a matter of time until Asian prices weigh on European and US spot market prices,” a second lithium producer told Metal Bulletin.

There was more activity in the technical and industrial lithium carbonate and hydroxide grades – typically, these are bigger spot markets in Europe and the United States – but prices remained fairly stable.

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

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