The Chinese New Year and accompanying Spring Festival
holiday which takes place in mid-February traditionally mutes
trading activity during the month, although suppliers in most
minerals and metals markets can usually expect higher prices
before and after the break, as buyers scramble to secure
material before the markets shut.
This year saw relatively few price appreciations in
industrial minerals markets, however. Antimony and fluorspar
prices saw some slight gains over the course of the month, but
industry observers generally agreed that these were temporary
Rare earths and graphite remained flat, meanwhile, and
refractory minerals saw little activity – although the
flat market did give these materials some respite from the
otherwise negative trend in selling values.
Price rises for lithium minerals and compounds were
potentially underpinned by higher than usual buying activity
before the Chinese holiday, but market participants and
commentators have warned that reported steep rises in the price
of material in the spot market are not representative of the
wider industry, where solid but modest increases have been
Elsewhere, prices for soda ash look likely to be mixed this
year, with some regions of the world facing overcapacity.
In the agriminerals sector, worrying signals from some of
the world’s largest producers and importers
indicate that prices could erode significantly over the course
Profit margins for andalusite remain healthy, despite waning
demand from the refractories sector, industry sources told
IM in February. "It’s not the
kind of industry where you can make huge margins, like precious
metals, but it’s a good business at the moment,"
one market participant said.
Industry observers are waiting to see whether market leader,
Imerys SA, will be allowed to take over South Africa-based
Andalusite Resources Pty Ltd – a deal that would give
Imerys an 82% share of the andalusite market and which the
South African Competition Commission believes could make the
mineral more expensive (see p9).
Prices for trioxide grade antimony ingot rose slightly in
China towards the end of January, before weakening again in
mid-February, with values for the finished chemical remaining
at weak levels below $5,000/tonne.
According to industry sources, the rally in ingot prices was
prompted by inventory run downs among buyers, after several
weeks of stagnant trading, but the resumption of transactions
following the Chinese New Year saw additional supply reach the
market, pulling prices down.
IM’s prices for antimony ingot
(99.65% min Sb2O3) stand at
$5,000-5,100/tonne FOB China and at $5,000-5,200/tonne CIF
Prices for standard grade II antimony ingot stood at
$5,275-5,485/tonne in mid-Febrary, according to Metal
Selling values for antimony trioxide (typically 99.5%
Sb2O3) stand at $4,600-4,800/tonne CIF
Antwerp/Rotterdam and $4,600-4,700/tonne FOB China.
Robust activity in the automotive sector has slowed the
decline in prices for foundry grade chromite, sources told
European traders that source material from South Africa and
sell it to Europe, North America and Asia, said that selling
values for foundry grade chromite had fallen less than expected
in the final quarter of last year.
Prices for refractory grade chromite remain under pressure,
however. Sources said that chromite consumption in the wider
metal casting segment remained on a downward trend, but that
production of automotive parts was preventing foundry demand
IM’s prices for foundry grade
chromite stand at $240-340/tonne for +47%
Cr2O3 material (dried, 1 tonne big bags,
FOB South Africa); at $225-280/tonne for 46%
Cr2O3 material (wet, bulk, FOB South
Africa); and at $220-250/tonne for 45.8% min
Cr2O3 material (wet, bulk, FOB South
Acid grade fluorspar (acidspar) prices showed some signs of
recovery in February, as consumers began negotiations for
Suppliers reported a slight upturn in enquiries for
acidspar, with an increasing number of deals being negotiated
at the higher end of existing ranges.
Acidspar prices reportedly rose by up to Chinese renminbi
(Rmb) 100/tonne ($15.35/tonne*) in the first half of the month,
owing to an increase in demand from refrigerant chemical
Sources said that Chinese port storage charges have also
increased, owing to tougher regulations and increased
surcharges, following the explosion at a chemicals warehouse in
the Port of Tianjin in August 2015.
Although the recent surge in acidspar demand from Asian
economies could lead to higher prices moving into Q2 2016, a
significant rebound is not expected before 2017 due to ongoing
In mid-February, African operator Kenya Fluorspar announced
it was suspending operations at its Kimwarer mine and plant in
western Kenya, in response to shrinking demand and low prices
for fluorspar. The production halt takes more than 77,000 tpa
of material off the market.
Acidspar producers in Mongolia have managed to sell material
at levels higher than current Chinese prices, however, leading
to price disparity in the market.
Sources told IM that some producers in
Asia, whose high production and logistics costs mean they are
unable to offer material at prices competitive with China, were
trading at slim margins above consensus price ranges in the
first weeks of February.
Mongolia’s high cost position saw its fluorspar
exports fall 10% year-on-year in 2015 from the prior 12 months.
Suppliers in the country are reportedly securing deals at
$310-$320/tonne, down just 3% from 2014.
The price for acidspar (97% CaF2, wet filtercake,
FOB, China) currently stands at $240/tonne, after falling by 4%
in Q4 2015.
In the metallurgical fluorspar (metspar) market, prices have
stabilised owing to slow growth in the steel market.
Today’s price of metspar (min 80% CaF
2, FOB China) is between $200/tonne and
China’s graphite output resumed at slow pace
following the Chinese New Year holiday in early February, which
marked the culmination of a sluggish 12 months for the
Total exports of amorphous graphite from China last year
were around 115,230 tonnes, roughly flat with the previous year
when the country shipped around 114,000 tonnes. Mine production
was scaled down significantly throughout much of H2 2015, as
low sales and high stockpiles compelled the
market’s largest producer, South Graphite, to cut
its output forecast for the year.
Amorphous graphite is primarily used as a recarburiser in
the steel and lubricant markets and therefore demand is closely
tied to industrial activity.
A shortage of amorphous graphite supply during 2012 led to
it being substituted with products such as low sulphur
anthracite and coke in export destinations including Japan and
Prices remain rooted at their lowest point in two-and-a-half
years, with the CIF price of Chinese amorphous material (80-85%
C, -200 mesh into Europe) standing at $415/tonne.
Meanwhile, illegal graphite trading in China is reported to
be distorting the flake market, as small graphite producers
avoid taxes on products in order to compete with the low-priced
offers of larger companies.
The black market for graphite is a historical problem in
China, but in February this year, more producers than usual
were said to be seeking to dodge the 17.5% VAT by failing to
produce invoices on domestic transactions. Others were
sidestepping the 20% export tax on flake graphite sales by
mislabelling shipments, IM sources said,
undermining efforts by legal traders to increase prices.
The average FOB price of flake graphite (94-97% C, +100
mesh) from Qingdao stands at $750/tonne.
The CEO of Albemarle Corp., the world’s largest
producer of lithium compounds, used the company’s
2015 earnings call in February to criticise reports about high
lithium spot prices which have gained prominence recently
following an article published in UK newspaper, the
Economist, last month.
Luke Kissam, who heads up the US-based company, said that
Albemarle’s lithium prices rose by around 3% in Q4
across its entire lithium business, with battery grades
increasing slightly more.
Kissam emphasised that Albemarle, which produces its lithium
from brine operations in Chile and from spodumene in Australia,
would not increase the price of the battery mineral too rapidly
over the coming years. "We are going to price lithium so we get
value today and ensure continued growth. We are not going to
price lithium out of the market," he said.
IM’s prices for lithium
carbonate (min 99-99.5% LiC2O3, large
contracts, del continental US) currently stand at
Potash and phosphate
US fertiliser producer, The Mosaic Co., has said that
phosphate prices could fall by as much as 14.6% to $350/tonne
by the end of March while potash prices are liable to slump by
up to 21% to $200-230/tonne.
The Plymouth, Minnesota-based company is the
world’s largest producer of finished phosphate
products and released its full year and fourth quarter 2015
results at the end of February, showing that its Q4 net
earnings fell to $155m from $360.7m a year earlier, while net
sales fell 9% to $2.16bn – largely due to lower
Mosaic’s warning came within a few days of
India announcing that it has halted its potash imports until
the end of March, as droughts have significantly reduced demand
in the country. The Indian government has also delayed
negotiations for 2017 potash purchases until at least June and
said that imports are unlikely to top 4m tonnes.
According to Reuters, spot prices for potash
currently stand at around $230/tonne, an eight-year low and
down more than a quarter since last year.
The Jiangxi, China-based Ganzhou Rare Earth Industry
Association cancelled out the 8-9% price increases it posted
for rare earths in early January by lowering its guidance
values for the end of the month by roughly the same amount.
The association posted its revised guidance figures on 25
January, showing cuts of between 7.8% and 9.1% across the suite
of minerals it prices.
The Chinese Spring Festival kept the rare earths market at a
standstill throughout the first half of February, with traders
reporting flat prices. Sources in China said they thought that
buying of magnet feedstock rare earths would pick up towards
the end of the month.
IM’s prices for cerium oxide
stand at $1.70-1.90/kg; dysprosium oxide at $215-240/kg;
europium oxide at $120-160/kg; lanthanum oxide at
$1.80-2.30/kg; neodymium oxide at $39-42/kg; praseodymium oxide
at $53-58/kg; and samarium oxide at $1.90-250/kg.
All prices are for minimum 99% material sold in bulk on an
FOB China basis.
Turkish-owned US soda ash producer Ciner Resources LP
reported a 4.7% increase in soda ash production for the full
year 2015, to 2.66m s.tons (2.93m tonnes), up from 2.54m s.tons
(2.79m tonnes) last year.
The company said that average
sales prices for soda ash fell by 4.4%
on a domestic US basis last year
to $227.78/s.ton ($250.56/tonne), from $238.20/s.ton
(262.02/tonne) in 2014. International sales prices increased by
3.8%, however, to $162.11/s.ton ($178.32/tonne) from
$156.16/s.ton (171.78/tonne), on average, over the same
US soda ash producers reportedly secured a $5/s.ton
($5.50/tonne) increase in contract soda ash prices for 2016
compared to last year, which was less than they had hoped.
Kirk Milling, Ciner Resources’ CEO, said the
company is expecting to produce higher volumes this year, but
that gains in sales may be offset by softer international
pricing and higher freight and royalty costs.
Mineral sands miners with operations on three different
continents have were forced to review their production
rates in February, as oversupply, weak demand and falling
prices for titanium dioxide (TiO2) minerals and
zircon continued to weigh on the sector.
ASX-listed Base Resources Ltd is facing an oversupply burden
of 20,000 tonnes of high grade TiO2 feedstock over
the next financial year, as one of its long term contracts has
decided to reduce its rutile intake.
The company did not give any indication that it plans to
rein in production, however, saying that it believed it would
be able to sell the additional capacity on the spot market.
Market leader Iluka Resources Ltd announced shortly
afterwards that it would suspend operations at its
Jacinth-Ambrosia mine in South Australia from 16 April this
year for between 18 months and two years in a bid to draw down
global inventories and restore healthy macroeconomics for the
mineral sands industry, in response to indications that the
market would take longer than expected to recover.
Thirdly came an announcement by US mineral sands producer
Southern Ionics Minerals LLC, which operates titanium mineral
mining and processing plants in Georgia, where the company said
it would cut staff and output at is facilities, although it did
not give a figure for the reduction in volumes.
Ilmenite market prices are $110-120/tonne FOB Australia,
while rutile values stand at $790-890/tonne, according to the
IM Prices Database. Zircon prices for standard
grade material are at $1,000-1,050/tonne FOB Australia.
Analysts at research group Jefferies expect TiO2
prices to remain under pressure in the first half of 2016,
meanwhile, despite the recent $0.07/lb ($154.32/tonne) average
price increase announced by major producers of the pigment
"Contract structures, adverse weather, demand seasonality
and overcapacity continue to hinder price discussions, leaving
visibility more opaque than the product itself," the firm said
in a research note.
At the end of January, leading Chinese TiO2
producer, Sichuan Lomon Titanium Industry Co., raised the price
of its pigment material by Rmb 300/tonne ($45.61/tonne), up 3%
on previous levels. The increase was Lomon’s
second in the space of a month and took the
company’s TiO2 prices to more than Rmb
According to Jefferies, the price increases are unlikely to
bearing on the structurally-long export European region, where
EU TiO2 contract prices have fallen by
$0.05-$0.06/lb ($110-$132/tonne) to $0.95/lb
"In the US, the proposed price increases serve only to
signal that prices could find some support if demand improves
by the time contracts roll over in Q2 and Q3," Jefferies
outlined in its note.
Full information on all
IM’s prices can be
found on the IM Prices Database
For premium fluorspar and graphite prices, visit the mineral
tabs on the IM home
*Conversions made February 2016