Many industrial mineral markets are bracing themselves for a
challenging year in 2015, after prices for refractory, chemical
and pigment minerals saw out 2014 on a flat-to-weak note.
There was scant optimism for refractory grade
chromite as stagnant demand and increasing reclamation activity
continue to take a toll on prices.
Iodine producers, meanwhile, may take cold
comfort from predictions that prices will not go below $25/kg,
although margins are already either strained or non-existent in
For energy minerals, graphite is making the best
of a broadly flat market outlook, but lithium ended the year on
a high with prices regaining ground lost during a lull in the
battery demand hype at the beginning of Q4.
Rare earths, however, were just beginning to
settle when China revealed that it plans to increase taxes on
the minerals next year - a move that is likely to further spook
already jittery downstream buyers.
In other markets, kaolin and calcium carbonate
producers have been increasing list prices as they look to
cover rising operating and logistics costs.
Ceramic minerals - Imerys raises
Kaolin and ball clay
Imerys Ceramics North America announced in early
December that it plans to raise prices for US-produced ball
clay and kaolin products by 15% from 1 January 2015, or as
The hike in kaolin prices is double that
announced by rival suppliers, including US-based KaMin LLC,
which announced in early November that it will raise prices for
its paper and industrial grade kaolin products by 5-7% from 1
December, and its Brazilian affiliate company, CADAM SA, which
said it would simultaneously introduce increases of 6-8% for
paper grade kaolin.
Germany-headquartered chemicals company BASF also
said in November that it would increase its industrial grade
kaolin prices globally by up to 7%, with immediate effect.
Imerys said that the price increase "supports
investment in manufacturing, quality systems, maintenance,
environmental compliance and new product development".
The company also reiterated a warning it issued
in an earlier price increase announcement for its North
American calcium carbonate products, that customers should
expect to see costs rise due to volatile and increasing local
rail and truck freight rates.
Chemicals - iodine won’t
crash, antimony might
Prices for trioxide grade antimony ingot fell
victim to further declines after standard grade II material
dropped by $50/tonne in mid-December, to
IM’s prices for
antimony ingot (99.65% min) have been revised down to
$8,750-8,950/tonne from $8,900-9,000/tonne on an FOB China
basis. Prices for antimony trioxide (typically 99.5%
Sb2O3, 20 tonne lots) currently stand at
$7,700-7,900/tonne FOB China.
The price of iodine is unlikely to fall below the
$25/kg mark, industry observers have told IM,
despite indications that the market was sinking further at the
end of 2014.
IM’s prices for
iodine crystal (99.5% min, drums) stand at $31-37/kg on a
contract basis and at $31-35/kg on a spot basis.
Sources told IM in December that
antimony trioxide prices were flat, as the market for the flame
retardant chemical remains stagnant.
A report by Metal Bulletin said that
antimony ingot prices reached at their lowest point since
mid-2010 towards the end of last year and that it is unclear
where values will go from here, as prices are already below
China’s Fanya Exchange has been
credited with mitigating the fall in prices as it took material
out of the market to bolster its own reserves. The bourse is
now reported to have ceased buying antimony, however, and is
adopting new rules after an official probe into its market
For iodine, reports in late November suggested
that Chilean prices for the mineral had fallen to less than
$30/kg as a result of weak demand coupled with aggressive
marketing from suppliers, although this was thought to be
limited to very large contract orders.
One US-based market analyst told
IM they expected prices would slip into the
high $20s/kg range, but thought it was unlikely values would
fall much further.
Another source, whose company buys iodine from
Chile, said they thought the market would bottom slightly below
$30/kg in the next year, before rising to settle around
In Asia, iodine prices from Japan remain higher
than those in Chile while prices in India for re-exported
iodine are reported to vary, with prices of $29/kg or less
cited for some contracts.
Energy minerals - on the level as prices
Natural graphite prices are expected to remain
flat in 2015 with the potential for marginal increases in some
grades, delegates at the 4th IM Graphite and
Graphene Conference in Berlin, Germany, heard in December.
Prices for synthetic graphite have also levelled
out, with industry participants tentatively suggesting that
prices for electrodes have now bottomed and should see some
recovery in line with an improving global steel market next
Prices for lithium hydroxide (LiOH) and lithium
carbonate were reported to have increased slightly at the end
of November, following a period of gradual decline which began
in the middle of 2014.
Sources reported that lithium spot prices had
improved but that demand had not increased significantly,
saying that consumption remains strong but steady.
IM’s prices for
lithium hydroxide (56.5-57.5% LiOH, large contracts, packed in
drums or bags, del. Europe or US) have been increased to
$7.5-8.5/kg from $7.2-8/kg.
Prices for lithium carbonate (large contracts,
del. continental US) have been raised to $6-6.5/kg from
The Chinese government’s proposal to
impose new resource taxes on rare earths is likely to add
premiums to future contract prices for the minerals as
suppliers seek to incorporate the additional costs, market
Plans announced in November for a 22% tax on
light rare earths and a 35% tax rate on heavy rare earths from
ionic clays in southern China are expected to be passed in the
coming months as the country seeks to claw back revenue from
China’s resource tax on light rare
earths, including bastnaesite and monazite ores, has been at
Chinese renminbi (Rmb) 60/tonne ($9.60/tonne*) since April
2011, with tax on medium and heavy rare earths amounting to Rmb
Taxes aside, dysprosium traders were reported to
be restricting the flow of material to the market in late
November the hope of pushing up prices. Prices for dysprosium
oxide (99% min) were reported to be $240-250/kg on an ex-works
China basis, while FOB prices stand at $320-375/kg, and
remained within these ranges towards the end of the year.
Weak physical demand for rare earth minerals
continued to characterise the wider market, meanwhile, with
most prices flat or declining marginally in December.
Praseodymium-neodymium oxide compound prices were said to have
weakened slightly to around $44/kg in line with soft
the neodymium-iron-born (NdFeB) magnet
In a keynote presentation delivered at the
IM meeting in Belin, Stephen Riddle, president
of US-based Asbury Graphite Mills, said that there is more than
enough worldwide production capacity to meet demand for most
grades of flake graphite today.
"The battery market isn’t here yet,
in terms of demand growth," he said and urged junior graphite
developers to use "realistic" price projections to assess the
economics and profitability of their various projects.
Gerry Hand, vice president for marketing at
Superior Graphite, said that pricing for flake graphite has
been "basically flat" in the last year and is likely to remain
stable or increase slightly in 2015.
He said that despite the current global
oversupply situation, there is still room for an additional
30,000 tpa of "good quality, reasonably priced graphite" in the
market, preferably from less risky Chinese sources.
analyst, Andy Miller, said that while the industry continues to
face pricing challenges linked to oversupply and flat demand at
weak levels, near term consolidation in Chinese supply and
longer term growth from batteries for the electric vehicle
market offer some justifiable hope of the market achieving
sustainable price levels in the coming years.
For lithium, one US source speculated that the
recent decision by FMC Corp. to increase its list prices for
LiOH and lithium carbonate from 1 December had prompted
producers to try introducing higher offers into the market and
that these will have been accepted by buyers as there is not a
great deal of slack in the supply market.
Industry reports also suggest that Chinese buyers
may have upped orders to tide over manufacturing during the
Christmas period, although this theory has been questioned by
others who said that buying activity in China remains weak.
News that construction of Tesla
Motors’ lithium-ion (Li-ion) Gigafactory in
Nevada, US, is running approximately a year ahead of schedule
has also stirred some interest in the lithium market towards
the end of the year, although the completion date for the
facility is still set for 2017.
In the current rare earths trading environment,
Chinese dysprosium prices were reported to be continuing their
positive trend in December, which began at the beginning of the
previous month, after the launch of a dysprosium contract on
China’s Fanya Exchange on 31 October created a
frisson in the market.
Speaking at the 10th International
Rare Earths Conference in Singapore in November, Scarlett
Zhang, vice president of the Fanya Exchange, said that the
bourse had no plans to list any more rare earths in the near
The prospect of increased volatility in 2015 is
likely to quell already lacklustre demand further, as
downstream consumers prefer to use substitute technologies than
be at the mercy of supply uncertainty.
China is expected to announce its export plans
for the first half of 2015 at the turn of the year.
Mineral sands - zircon recovery six
Prices for zircon are not expected to rise for at
least the next six months, sources told IM at
the beginning of December.
Prices for standard grade zircon (min 65.5%
ZrO2, bulk) stand at $1,080-1,100/tonne on a CIF
China basis, while premium grade material (min 66.5%
ZrO2, bulk) is priced at $1,050-1,150/tonne CIF
Industry insiders canvassed by
IM said that currently published price ranges
for zircon are "ballpark correct", but that they see no
prospect of a market recovery until at least the middle of
"It’s a tough time for many at
present," one Australia-based source said.
In September, IM published
analysis by Roskill Information Service which
suggested zircon markets were on track to stabilise and begin
to recover by the end of 2014, although this was not expected
to lift prices immediately.
Earlier this year, sources told
IM that zircon prices were being undermined by
substitution and thrifting of zircon by downstream
Buyers are also reported to be
angry that miners appear to have been using
zircon prices to recoup losses sustained on sales of other
mineral sands such as rutile and ilmenite.
Oilfield minerals - Indian barite prices
The government of Andhra Pradesh in India has
cancelled 32 barite (barytes) mining leases that were issued in
Mangampeta, Kadapa district in 2004 and has said that fresh
licences will be issued by global tenders.
Sources contacted by IM said
that Indian barite prices are expected to jump by 30% once
tenders to mine barite in Andhra Pradesh have been completed
next year, although no material is expected to be mined before
Indian newspaper The Hindu reports that
the value of Mangampeta’s barite reserves stands
at INR 500bn ($8.07bn) and that the cost of 'A
grade’ material from the deposit is around INR
4,457/tonne ($72/tonne) at site, with an export selling price
of INR 9,112 ($147/tonne) FOB Chennai.
IM’s prices for
OCMA/API grade material currently stand at $110-150/tonne FOB
Chennai, depending on grade.
One US source told IM in
December that Indian barite was "completely off the table" and
that it was unclear how the situation would develop.
Barite prices increased by an average of 70%
following the last Indian tender in 2011. If contracts to mine
barite in Andhra Pradesh are put out to global tender as
suggested, India could see an influx of international miners
into the sector, which could increase competition and force
down the price of barite, although growing demand from the oil
and gas industry is likely to support the market for drilling
Refractory minerals - crunch time for
Refractory and foundry grade chromite prices are
set to face challenging market conditions in 2015, market
insiders have told IM.
Prices were reported to have softened in the
fourth quarter of 2014, with further weakness expected in the
IM’s prices for
foundry grade +47% Cr2O3 material (dried,
1 tonne big bags, FOB South Africa) and 45.8% min
Cr2O3 material (wet bulk, FOB South
Africa) have been revised to $300-380/tonne from $340-420/tonne
and $280-340/tonne from $280-360/tonne, respectively.
Refractory grade 46% Cr2O3
material (wet bulk, FOB South Africa) has been adjusted to
250-280/tonne, down from $300-330/tonne.
One global supplier of non-metallurgical grade
chromite said that they had observed price decreases in Europe,
Asia, South America, China and Australia.
"The situation is tough everywhere at the moment.
Our global customer base are all reclaiming
and switching to greener alternatives. Investment
in mining is at an all-time low and foundries are
not busy at all," they said, adding that demand
was almost 50%
down on previous yearly averages in 2014.
"In general, it will be a very tough market in
2015," the source said.
One North American source said that their
negotiations suggest that prices are currently stable, although
they explained that they were only selling limited inventory in
a few regions.
Sources disagreed over market conditions in
India, with some reporting low consumption which they believe
is likely to be a permanent market adjustment, while others
said that demand is likely to recover from the present weakness
in foundry and refractories.
Full information on all
IM’s prices can be
found on the IM Prices Database
For fluorspar and graphite prices, please visit the IM Data
mineral tracker pages at
*Conversions made December 2014