Prices in most industrial mineral markets were
flat as the industry entered the second quarter of
The majority of suppliers have given up
predicting market recoveries but some positive sentiment was
garnered by the fact that most prices held steady in April.
This was a perhaps a particular surprise in the oilfield
mineral sector, where low oil prices and falling rig counts
continue to pose questions about future price trends for barite
(barytes) and bentonite.
Flame retardant chemical industry minerals,
antimony and bromine, remained under pressure from weak demand
over the last month, while in the refractories raw materials
market, fused alumina prices are reported to be benefitting
from reduced Chinese competitiveness.
Chemical minerals – bromine
Prices at the lower end of the antimony trioxide
price range slid again in early April by around $50/tonne, as
the market shows no sign of improving.
The latest slip puts the CIF Antwerp/Rotterdam
floor price of antimony trioxide (typically 99.5%
Sb2O3, 5-tonne lots) on a par with FOB
China prices for the same material (20-tonne lots) at
The top end of the ranges are assessed as
$7,050/tonne for CIF Antwerp/Rotterdam, and $7,000/tonne for
FOB China material.
Prices for ex-works US antimony trioxide remain
at $7,000-7,100/tonne, meanwhile. Prices for trioxide grade
antimony ingot (99.65% min Sb2O3) stand
at $7,750-7,850/tonne on both an FOB China and CIF Rotterdam
Metal Bulletin maintained its trioxide
grade ingot prices at a higher level, assessing values as being
in the $8,600-8,900/tonne range in mid-April. Industry sources
told IM that the market remains weak,
US chemicals producer Chemtura Corp. said in
April that it is increasing prices for new orders of selected
bromine-based flame retardants and brominated performance
products by up to $0.90/kg.
The increases will affect products sold in all
regions and take effect immediately, or as contracts allow.
Included in the increase are its
tetrabromobisphenol A (BA-59P), tribromophenol (PH-73FF), alkyl
bromides, HBr 48% and certain other products,
Philadelphia-based Chemtura said.
The company’s latest rise in prices
comes on top of a 20% hike in its bromine prices for the
Asia-Pacific region in February this year.
IM’s prices for
elemental bromine (purified, bulk, 99.95% Br, domestic
destination, tonne lot, ex-works US) stand at $1.6-1.75/lb
At the beginning of April, it was reported that
the government of Lengshuijiang city, Hunan province,
China’s largest antimony-producing centre, had
closed 11 antimony producers, including a 600-700 tpa antimony
mine, two ore-dressing plants and eight smelters with about
50,000 tpa combined capacity.
According to local sources, the production lines
may remain closed until September.
Yang Xueling, senior analyst at state-backed
research firm Antaike, said the closures of the other
businesses would reduce supply of antimony metal by at least
1,000 tpm, a figure which accounted for nearly 5% of
China’s production in December 2014.
In the bromine market, Chemtura took the unusual
step of giving a price/kg figure for its most recent increase,
rather than stating the rise in percentage terms. However, the
company did give the usual reasons for raising its prices,
namely the need to support increased investment and product
stewardship within its business.
Gulf Resources Inc., one of Asia’s
largest producers of bromine chemicals, has said that the
increase in list prices put forward in recent months by other
producers like Albemarle Corp. and Israel Chemicals Ltd (ICL)
for Asian customers is likely to boost bromine prices in
Albemarle Corp. said in March that it will
increase its prices for elemental bromine and bromine
derivatives by 30%. ICL raised its bromine prices for Far
East-based customers by 20% in November last year.
"The significant price increases by the two
largest companies in the bromine industry will have a positive
effect on the Chinese domestic bromine market," Xiaobin Lu, CEO
of New York-listed Gulf, commented.
"It is difficult to predict when these price
increases will be fully reflected in China. However, we believe
when customers work through their current inventories, we will
see significant increases in prices."
Liu’s comments hint at the
resistance to higher prices by Asian customers, as lately
remarked by both Albemarle and Chemtura. As well as price rises
for elemental bromine, companies have sought to introduce
higher priced flame retardant chemicals into Asian markets as
they manufacture new regulation-compliant brominated products
for consumer and industrial goods.
While there remains a plentiful supply of
bromine, buyers in lower-cost regions like Asia are reluctant
to pay more for the products.
Liu said that efforts by the Chinese government
to boost the country’s economy could increase
demand for bromine, which is linked to construction and
consumer markets through its use in insulation foams, textiles
Energy minerals – rare earths
prices hold on
Prices for rare earths seemed to have stopped
falling in April, with industry sources indicating relative
stability and even some price rises for the first quarter of
Prices for neodymium oxide (min 99%, FOB China,
bulk), used in neodymium-iron-boron (NdFeB) magnets have
remained steady since the end of 2014 at $58-68/kg.
The price of dysprosium oxide (min 99%, FOB
China, bulk) has increased, meanwhile from around $320-370/kg
at the beginning of this year to $360-400/kg at the end of
Prices for all other rare earth oxides have
stayed within IM’s published
ranges, according to market sources.
The news of price stability for rare earths comes
as some consolation for dismal full year price trends in 2014,
both for producers in China and the few non-Chinese companies
operating in the sector.
Recent data from Chinese customs showed that even
though rare earths export volumes grew 27.3% to 28,000 tonnes
last year, the average export price of rare earth products,
which include oxides, metals, mixed oxide compounds and
magnets, fell to Chinese renminbi (Rmb) 83,000/tonne
($13,000/tonne*) – down around 48% on
The largest Chinese producer of rare earths,
China North Rare Earth High-Tech Group Co. Ltd, formerly known
as Baotou Steel Rare Earth Hi-Tech Co. Ltd, which produces
mainly light rare earths from Inner Mongolia, recorded a 57%
year-on-year fall in annual profits last year to Rmb 643m
Latest figures for exports of magnet materials
from China showed an easing of the traditional decline in
February shipments, which occurs every year as a result of the
Chinese Spring Festival holiday in the middle of the month.
In February 2014, exports of rare earth magnets
fell by 821,412 kg; in the same month in 2015, this drop
narrowed to 305,688 kg.
Industry observers have expressed confidence in a
resurgence of demand for rare earths used in magnets.
One industry participant said that government
attempts to consolidate the Chinese rare earths sector are
taking effect, with many small producers being absorbed by
larger companies or forced out of the market, giving the
remaining companies more pricing power.
Sources said that the fight to tackle illegal
mining and smuggling in the country is only having a limited
impact, however, and that this activity would continue to
keep a lid on prices even as producers try to push values for
legal contracts higher.
Oilfield minerals – barite and
Prices for Indian barite have been confirmed as
stable within IM’s current
ranges, despite ructions in Andhra Pradesh over
government-published prices for the oilfield mineral, which
many claim make exports from the state too expensive and are
putting off buyers.
According to the Andhra Pradesh Mineral
Development Corp.’s (APMDC) tender document,
bidders are required to quote for a minimum quantity of 100,000
tonnes 4.20 SG drilling grade barite at a minimum price of
Indian rupee (INR) 6,750/tonne ($107/tonne) and 40,000 tonnes
4.10 SG drilling grade barite at a minimum price of INR
IM’s prices for
Indian barite (drilling grade, underground lump, OCMA/API,
bulk) stand at $138-145/tonne for SG 4.20 material and
$110-125/tonne for SG 4.10 material, on an FOB Chennai
Prices for ground barite (API, big bags 1.5
tonnes) are $158-175/tonne FOB Chennai.
Drilling grade bentonite prices have likewise
remained stable within IM’s
published ranges, despite the ongoing weakness in the oil
market, according to industry sources.
IM’s prices for
bentonite (API grade, bagged, rail car, ex-works Wyoming) stand
The APMDC, which controls the barite deposits in
the state, put the rights to mine the oilfield mineral up for
tender on 13 March, but so far no qualified company has
submitted an offer for the licences, local sources told
One would-be exporter of Indian barite said that
the APMDC tender contained a number of "impractical
conditions", including: a reduction in the base specific
gravity (SG) quality for drilling grade barite from 4.23 to
4.20; an unrealistically high floor price; and a clause
providing for monthly variation in prices, which the source
said ran contrary to international practice for barite
However, APMDC denied that these clauses were the
probable reasons for the lack of bids. APMDC executive
director, H D Nagaraja, told IM that the
pricing methodology used to fix the barite floor price was not
unrealistic and that the monthly variation clause was designed
to offset the impact of currency fluctuations.
Industry observers believe that the main concern
for Indian exporters is that they are unable
to compete with Chinese suppliers at APMDC’s
stated prices, meaning that they will lose market share to
their lower cost competitors.
Prices for Chinese barite (drilling grade, API,
underground lump) stand at $109-113/tonne for SG 4.10 material
and $110-123 for SG 4.20 material.
Locally-based sources in Andhra Pradesh said that
the ongoing hiccups in the tender process means that there is
no barite available from India at present. However, market
participants in North America and Asia confirmed that list
prices for Indian barite have been kept consistent with
IM’s published ranges and are
likely to remain so until the supply situation changes.
In the bentonite market, oilfield service
companies, which supply bentonite to drilling companies for use
in muds, are reportedly being asked to reduce their offers in
response to lower oil and gas prices. However, supply-side
businesses are standing firm.
"Some end users are beginning to ask for price
concessions, believing that the price of bentonite should go
down with the price of energy," one North America-based source
They added that the widely held
assumption by operators further down supply chains, that
those further up "must be making more than us", is unfounded
Margins are reported to be under pressure for
bentonite producers, as operating costs for the clay
One buyer told IM that it did
not expect to pay less for its bentonite this year on a per
tonne basis, but added that they may be buying lower volumes as
a result of the softness in the oil market.
A slump in demand could lead to producers cutting
their prices later this year.
Refractory minerals – fused
alumina creeps up
Prices for fused alumina are gradually edging up,
despite global overcapacity for the material, as
China’s dominance as a low cost supplier begins to
IM’s current prices
for fused alumina stand as follows: brown, 94%
Al2O3, FEPA 8-220 mesh refractory (mm),
FOB China, $755-850/tonne; white, 25kg bags, CIF Europe,
€840-900/tonne ($906-971/tonne); 94%
Al2O3, FEPA grits, acid washed, Chinese,
$700-760/tonne; brown, 95.5% min, Al2O3,
refractory sized, FOB China, $695-740/tonne; and brown, 95%
min, Al2O3, FEPA F8-220 grit, FOB China,
Sources told IM that prices for
white and brown fused alumina were "increasing very
"This is not because [industry] competitors are
putting up prices, but because China is becoming less
competitive," one Europe-based source said.
Industry participants said that some customers
were prepared to pay a premium for quality and consistency of
product, particularly in the refractories and ceramics markets,
as well as security of supply across all consuming sectors,
which includes abrasives.
However, Chinese prices are still used as a
benchmark, which other suppliers have to negotiate up from.
"China is the major player in the white and brown
fused alumina market," one source said.
Market insiders said that while the fused alumina
industry is in an oversupply situation on the whole, there is
supply tightness for some products, although this varies by
market and none were prepared to divulge where shortages
On the raw materials side, European fused alumina
suppliers told IM that they are paying higher
prices for dollar-denominated shipments of non-metallurgical
bauxite, owing to the weakness of the euro against the US
dollar. Underlying prices for non-metallurgical bauxite, which
is mainly sourced from China, are reported to be stable,
The decline in the value of the euro has
generated increased demand for European-manufactured fused
alumina, meanwhile, as buyers transacting in dollars seek to
take advantage of the currency-led price differential.
See p67 for magnesia prices.
Full information on all
IM’s prices can be
found on the IM Prices Database
online at www.indmin.com/pricesdatabase. For fluorspar and
graphite prices, please visit the IM
Data mineral tracker pages at
www.indmin.com/fluorspar and www.indmin.com/graphite.
*Conversions made April 2015