Graphite electrodes market faces rising costs in 2022

Fastmarkets’ graphite electrodes launch illuminates rising offer prices amid limited availability, according to market participants

Graphite ore in mine

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The first week of Fastmarkets’ coverage of China’s high power (HP) and ultra-high power (UHP) graphite electrodes prices examined a market in which prices were described as already high and expected to climb further, due to rising costs for raw materials, according to sources.

Fastmarkets’ initial price assessment for graphite electrodes, high power, fob China, was $2,990-3,150 per tonne on Thursday, January 19.

On the same day, Fastmarkets’ first assessed the price for graphite electrodes, ultra-high power, fob China, at $3,460-3,940 per tonne.

Data submitted for both high power and ultra-high power electrodes showed that prices had been on an upward trend since earlier in January on increasing costs for needle coke, according to sources.

Needle coke is one of the main raw materials used in graphite electrodes manufacturing, and its price has surged by 16-17% over the past fortnight, the sources said.

The latest price for needle coke was quoted around 3,250 yuan ($512) per tonne.

“Prices of needle coke have been rising since the start of 2022,” a producer source in China said. “While graphite electrodes might have been mostly stable stepping into the year, there is going to be an upward price adjustment in the run-up to China’s lunar new year holiday [January 31-February 4].”

The strong rise in feedstock costs resulted in a wide price range for graphite electrodes, especially for UHP material.

Information that Fastmarkets received for 450-650mm UHP graphite electrodes pricing over the past week ranged from $3,305 to $4,720 per tonne, showing a spread of $1,415 per tonne.

The data reported on the upper end could be a reflection of the use of imported needle coke, which is more expensive than material produced domestically in China.

Higher estimates in the past week could also indicate suppliers’ positive outlook for the near term, given the supply issues caused by environmental controls in China during the yearly closures imposed in the winter months, and rising costs for raw materials, processing and shipping.

Supply-side factors could also keep prices supported despite low activity in the market over the new year holiday.

Furthermore, inland logistics within China have been problematic. Sources in contact with Fastmarkets said that it was increasingly difficult to ship material out of warehouses inland due to a new round of Covid-19 outbreaks in the north of China. This has led to reduced numbers of drivers available to truck material to Tianjin port, and a rise in transport costs.

The price of needle coke was expected to remain high in response to strong demand from the anode battery sector, which also requires the material in the production process of synthetic graphite.

Graphite electrodes for steel production vie with synthetic graphite for anodes for supplies of needle coke as well as for graphitization capacity.

“Despite possible slow demand in the first quarter [of 2022], the outlook for graphite electrodes could still be positive in the near term,” a second producer in China said. “There’s the robust growth of the anode sector, which also uses needle coke as the raw material, and has been experiencing tight graphitization capacity during the past year. This means that higher costs will add support to electrodes prices.”

This competition was likely to remain supportive for the electrodes market, according to sources.

“Offer prices are definitely rising and there is not much material available,” a distributor said. “At the same time, some electrodes producers are trying to switch over to material geared toward the anode sector, but this takes time to achieve.”

Launch of electrodes pricing

Fastmarkets has expanded its existing graphite pricing coverage into the electrodes market following an extensive consultation with the industry and in response to feedback from market participants about the significance of third-party price assessments for graphite electrodes.

The newly launched graphite electrodes prices, which Fastmarkets will assess on a fortnightly basis, complement our existing market-leading coverage of the steel market, its feedstocks and the metals associated with it.

Graphite electrodes are used in electric-arc furnaces for the production of steel as well as in other molten metal processes. They are a key cost component of metal production, and have in the past shown wide price fluctuations and volatility.

Initially, we will assess two grades of HP and UHP on an fob China basis, because these make up the largest part of the market. But our coverage may develop to include cif Europe or other incoterms if this were considered to be of value to the market.

Extensive preparatory work has preceded this week’s official price launch.

We have been covering developments in the sector for some time with standalone stories, and looking at the crossover with the steel market and at developments in the battery sector, including a preview for 2022.

We have also been following pricing and market trends since 2018, most recently in October 2021, publishing interviews with key market participants.

Our coverage of the electrodes market will provide insights into key themes such as sustainability and decarbonization because they increasingly shape the way the steel and metals sectors operate.

In addition, our coverage will offer new insights into processes and cost components for synthetic graphite employed in battery anodes. The feedstock and production processes for graphite electrodes - needle coke and Acheson furnaces - have a lot in common with the manufacture of synthetic graphite.

Fastmarkets already provides pricing and coverage of the natural graphite market supplying the battery industry.

This addition of graphite electrodes will increase our exposure to movements in the synthetic graphite market for batteries, and expand our existing coverage of this fast-growing sector.

Please get in contact if you would like to participate in exchanging information on this market. Our primary reporters on graphite and graphite electrodes will be Jon Stibbs and Sybil Pan, who can be reached at jon.stibbs@fastmarkets.com and sybil.pan@fastmarkets.com.

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