March was a month of mixed emotions for the industrial
minerals industry, as significant announcements in key
downstream markets pushed sentiments in opposite
Graphite and lithium producers were
buoyed by the news that demand from a new Tesla battery factory
could increase demand by 37% and 17%, respectively, (see
pp31-33), while the potash industry was rocked by the news
that India is to cut its potash subsidy by 18% from April.
Refractory mineral producers were
also left wondering what the quality over quantity strategy
being pursued by the likes of Vesuvius and Minerals
Technologies will mean for consumption volumes of materials
including bauxite and magnesia (see p11), while
uncertainty over 2014 production levels continues to weigh on
Titanium dioxide (TiO2)
producers were generally sanguine about an apparent
stabilisation of price volatility in pigments and feedstocks,
meanwhile, although early indications suggest values have
slipped further in Q1 (see p23).
Trioxide grade antimony prices rose
at the beginning of March as a reduction of supply on the
market helped to offset otherwise soft demand.
Chinese producers told
IM that top prices for antimony ingot (99.65%
min, FOB China) had tipped over the $10,000/tonne mark for the
first time since November 2013 to reach a range of
$9,800-10,100/tonne. FOB Rotterdam prices, meanwhile, were at
(MB) reported that prices for trioxide grade material
remained just below $10,000/tonne at the top end during the
first week of March, quoting a range of $9,700-9,950/tonne.
Standard grade II antimony was priced at $9,600-9850/tonne,
according to MBs prices, at the time of going to
The antimony market was boosted in
February by the news that Chinas Fanya Exchange is to
launch an antimony contract at an unspecified future date as it
moves to build its suite of traded minor metals.
The news was met by a warning from
Belgium-based antimony trioxide producer, Campine, that the
flame retardant industry, which consumes nearly 70% of global
antimony production, could substitute the mineral if prices
rise to $11,000/tonne.
Prices for drilling grade barite
(barytes) remained stable at strong levels in the first two
months of 2014 as robust demand from oilfields propped up
values while production volumes fell in some regions last year,
sources indicated to IM.
One source said that reduced
quantities of drilling grade barite from China meant that
prices held up pretty well last year, with this
positivity expected to continue during the first half of
China is always a problem [in
terms of supply reliability], the source said. It
depends on what kind of winter they have (...) and it seems
that last year volumes were way down, so prices held up,
However, some prices dipped
slightly in March, with values for Chinese barite (drilling
grade, API underground lump, SG 4.20, FOB China) narrowing to
$120-135/tonne from $120-140/tonne.
According to the latest US
Geological Survey (USGS) Mineral Commodity Summary for barite,
US producers of crude barite sold or used for grinding around
660,000 tonnes barite in 2013, at an estimated value of $78m
with average prices of $115/tonne, compared with $112/tonne in
US sources said that much depends
on prices decided through tenders for Indian barite later this
year, but said that Chinese values are expected to remain
Market indications suggest Indian
barite prices were slightly weaker in March. Values for Indian
material (API, ground, big bags, 1.5 tonnes, FOB Madras),
slipped to $140-160/tonne from $160-170/tonne, according to
Fluorspar prices were stable during
the first three weeks of March, according to analysis by
IM Data, although the pricing service said it
was moving to revise down its values for South African
In acid-grade fluorspar
[acidspar] markets, prices seem to have stabilised within our
ranges, said IM Data Analyst, Andy
Miller, adding that there were presently few signs of an upturn
We have not seen much
movement in the metallurgical grade fluorspar [metspar] market
throughout Q1, but this is something we are monitoring, with
changes likely if steel production growth continues outside
China, he added.
In graphite markets, there has so
far been little evidence of the anticipated increase in demand
for flake material.
We expect consumers to start
replenishing stocks early in Q2, so we are not anticipating
much movement in prices until then, IM
Datas Miller said.
IM Data has also
forecast that the new $5bn Gigafactory planned by
electric vehicle (EV) maker, Tesla Motors, could
expand the graphite market by 37%
by 2020, which may require as many as six new graphite mines to
open in order to meet demand.
However, other industry observers
have cautioned that the impact of Teslas plans may not
boost the graphite market to such an extent as it is not yet
clear whether the company will opt for natural flake material
or synthetic graphite to manufacture its batteries.
Additionally, Asbury Graphite
Mills CEO, Stephen Riddle, has pointed out that any new
flake graphite mines will have to develop processing
capabilities for spherical graphite in order to supply Tesla
and that these will need to be cost competitive with Chinese
producers if they are to be considered as economically viable
Price trends for synthetic graphite
are separating into two distinct tiers as values for high
purity powders climb on the back of increasing battery demand,
while graphite electrode prices suffer as a result of the
sluggish steel industry and increased competition.
Growing consumption of laptops,
smart phones and EVs, all of which use batteries with anodes
made mainly from synthetic graphite mixed with varying amounts
of natural flake material, is bolstering prices for synthetic
graphite powders (99.5% C), market participants told
for this material stand at between $7-20/kg in Europe, while US
prices are around $30-35/kg on a non-bulk, retail basis.
Sources told IM
that they were seeing stronger demand for battery
grade synthetic graphite, while manufacturers of graphite
blocks and electrodes were struggling.
Germanys SGL Carbon reported
a loss for full-year (FY) 2013 of Û396.4m ($550.1m*) in
March, compared to a profit of Û5.9m the previous year,
citing price weakness in graphite electrodes and cyclical
downturn in graphite specialties.
Analysts commenting on the results
noted that profits remain capped by rising competition and the
absence of price discipline among rival electrode manufacturers
as they attempt to capture market share in the muted steel
for synthetic graphite on a CIF Asia basis stand at $950-1,450
for 97-98% C material and at 1,000-1,500/tonne for 98-99% C
Iodine prices fell further in
March, market participants told IM.
Some Europe-based sources which
import and resell both crude iodine and iodine chemicals said
that they were selling iodine (99.5% min, drums) for prices of
between $43-48/kg. Others in the region said that these prices
were optimistic and that prices of $39/kg were
being offered to attract buyers.
South American sources reported
that values had slipped to $42-47/kg for both spot and contract
According to the USGS latest
mineral commodity summary for iodine, the average price of
iodine imported into the US in 2013 was $43/kg on a CIF
Chilean miner Sociedad Quimica y
Minera (SQM) predicted in early March iodine demand would grow
by 3-4% in 2014, a figure also predicted by the USGS, which
anticipated increasing consumption from liquid crystal display
(LCD) and x-ray contrast media manufacturers.
Lower value applications such as
biocides, which reduced their iodine usage when prices climbed
to historically high levels of over $90/kg, are beginning to
resume their consumption in response to softer prices.
SQM also said in its FY 2013
results that it had seen a 12% average increase in lithium
prices last year, with overall demand growth throughout 2013
The company predicted strong growth
in the industry in 2014 - a forecast which was given added
weight by the news that Teslas new North American battery
facility could consume up to 17% of current global lithium
for lithium carbonate (large contracts, del US) currently stand
at $2.90-3.10/lb ($6.40-6.80/kg). Lithium hydroxide (56.5-57.5%
LiOH, large contracts, packed in drums or bags, del Europe or
US) prices are in the $6.40-6.75/kg range, meanwhile.
India is to cut its potash
subsidies by nearly one fifth from April, demolishing hopes for
a resurgence in domestic demand and global prices for the
Indias fertiliser ministry
set the subsidy at Indian rupee (INR) 9,300 ($150)/tonne for
the next financial year down from INR 11,300 ($182)/tonne for
the twelve months ending 31 March 2012.
The withdrawal of support will make
the cost of potash more expensive for domestic potash consumers
in India and is therefore likely to scupper consumption
A report released by financial
forecasters, TD Economics, predicted that prices for potash are
unlikely move above $320/tonne for at least the next two
We expect international
potash prices will hover close to the current level of
$305-320/tonne, on a CFR basis, over the next two years,
the report said.
Although TD Economics expects
prices to remain range bound, it said that this will mask a
bumpy and volatile market profile over the coming
Prices of some rare earths
appe-ared to be firming in March, reversing the weakening trend
seen throughout the first two months of 2014.
Praseodymium oxide reportedly saw
notable gains of between 5-10% during the first two weeks of
the month as supplies of the element have recently been tighter
than for other rare earths.
This is because producers have not
been separating praseodymium from praseodymium-neodymium
(Pr-Nd) oxide, which is used in magnets for electric vehicle
motors, as this mixed oxide has seen an uptick in demand.
China-based sources have suggested
that some rare earths producers have raised their prices in
anticipation of an imminent round of buying by the
countrys State Reserve Bureau, although there are rumours
of discounts being given to some buyers, which previously
pushed down FOB prices seen by IM to below
Chinese domestic values.
Even the lowest value light rare
earths, cerium and lanthanum, appear to be stabilising,
although it is unclear how long this will last.
TiO2 prices trended
downwards in Western European markets during the first quarter
of 2014, according to a report by Europischer
Wirtschaftsdienst GmbH (EUWID) (see p23).
The report said that demand for
TiO2 has picked up after a slow start in January,
with the mild winter in Western Europe meaning that paint and
varnish producers experienced good demand for building coatings
and paints from the building and construction industry.
Paints manufacturer AkzoNobel NV
said in March that it experienced a stabilisation of
TiO2 prices during the final months of 2013, helping
the company to control input costs.
Speaking during a corporate
presentation in London, Ruud Joosten, international marketing
manager for decorative paints at AkzoNobel, indicated that the
Dutch chemicals producer had seen prices for TiO2 of
approximately Û2,200-2,300 ($3,050-3,200)/tonne in Q4
These values are roughly equivalent
to levels seen in Q1 2011 before prices peaked during the
second half of that year and remained high into the early part
Joosten also said that AkzoNobel
had felt the impact of TiO2 price volatility in
recent years but was benefitting from a steadying of the market
as it pursues a 7.5% return on sales and a 12% return on
investment by 2015.
Kronos Worldwide Inc. and Kenmare
Resources Ltd also released results for the full year 2013 in
March, which showed the impact of a weak pricing environment
for both TiO2 and feedstocks.
*Conversions made March 2014
If you wish to discuss any of the prices or grades listed
in IM, please contact Laura Syrett, Prices Editor, at firstname.lastname@example.org
ONE TO WATCH
Prices for Indian drilling grade barite appeared to weaken
slightly in March and future price movements will hinge on
tenders from Indias major producers later this year.
ONE TO WATCH
The top TiO2 producers, with the
exception of Kronos, have said that they expect prices to
stabilise in 2014, but market analysis so far this year
suggests that values could sink further before reaching a
ONE TO WATCH
A relative shortage of praseodymium oxide in March saw
prices begin to reverse a downward trend for the light rare
earth. Market indications suggest that other rare earths were
also beginning to regain value, although market observers are
hesitant about calling a recovery after upticks in late 2013
proved to be short lived.