GLOBAL LITHIUM WRAP: Year-end destocking keeps China’s carbonate price weak

China’s domestic lithium carbonate price weakened in the week to Thursday December 12, while the rest of the world’s battery-grade lithium prices held steady due to thin buying activities on the spot market.

  • China’s battery grade lithium carbonate prices fell due to lower prices achieved for materials produced from mica. 
  • Chinese technical and industrial grade lithium carbonate prices eased further this week. 
  • There was thin spot buying activity in the seaborne Asian lithium market.

Market participants reported lower offers in the battery-grade lithium carbonate spot market on Thursday from producers who are seeking to boost sales and cash flow near the year-end.

Fastmarkets’ assessment of the lithium carbonate, 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, exw domestic China, spot price fell to 47,000-53,000 yuan ($6,688-7,541) per tonne on Thursday from 48,000-53,000 yuan per tonne in the previous week as a result.

“Prices of 47,000-48,000 yuan per tonne were seen for battery-grade carbonate produced from mica, and other low prices of below 50,000 yuan per tonne require delivery after payment,” a producer told Fastmarkets.

The Chinese technical and industrial grade lithium carbonate spot price also fell further to 40,000-43,000 yuan per tonne on Thursday, down from 41,000-44,000 yuan per tonne a week ago. Market sources said this was due to sporadic buying from downstream lithium manganese oxide (LMO) and lithium iron phosphate (LFP) battery manufacturers this week. Producers in Qinghai lowered prices under a sluggish market.

Meanwhile, the Chinese domestic battery-grade lithium hydroxide price was rangebound on scarce demand from the high-nickel ternary sector, although price sentiment remains soft due to a poor short-term demand outlook.

Fastmarkets assessed the lithium hydroxide monohydrate, 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, ex-works, spot price at 52,000-57,000 yuan per tonne on Thursday.

Asian lithium seaborne prices unmoved
The seaborne cif China, Japan and South Korea battery-grade lithium spot market stood still at current level in a week characterized by limited spot buying. Most buyers said they are still in negotiations for 2020 contracts.

Fastmarkets’ lithium carbonate, 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery-grade cif China, Japan and Korea spot price stood at $8.50-10 per kg on Thursday, while the lithium hydroxide monohydrate, 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery-grade cif China, Japan and Korea spot price held at $10.50-12 per kg on Thursday. Both prices have held for three consecutive pricing sessions.

“Most distributors and the users still have too much stock in warehouses, and they are not in a hurry to purchase. I haven’t seen lower spot prices this week,” a distributor told Fastmarkets.

Europe, US spot markets stagnate
There was little activity reported in the European and United States spot markets in the week to December 12.

The lithium carbonate 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price ddp Europe and US held at $10-12.50 per kg on very thin liquidity. The assessment range has not moved since the end of November when it widened downward by 50 cents from $10.50-12.50 per kg.

“The market is stable, we did not have any inquiries and we do not expect any changes in spot prices until January 2020 at least,” a trader said.

Another trader agreed that activity has been slow. “[European] buyers are watching prices go lower in China, so they don’t want to make the first move,” he said. 

Lithium hydroxide monohydrate 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price ddp Europe and US also remained steady during the week at $12.50-13.50 per kg on Thursday. The hydroxide market has maintained this range for three months since September 12.

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 December 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.