By IM Staff
Published: Thursday, 23 February 2017

IM’s full price listing is only published online. If you have any comments or concerns, or wish to discuss any of the grades or prices listed, please contact Barbara O’Donovan, Industrial Minerals editor


Mixed views on European graphite market

Davide Ghilotti

The graphite market in Europe remained broadly stable at the start of 2017, although some participants pointed to instances of discounted offers from China.

As the sector entered the new year, suppliers reported stability in market prices although some discrepancies in demand flows were seen. While some sellers told IM of regular and steady inflows of enquiries and orders, others spoke of slower-than-average demand in December, citing availability of material and flat prices.

Through January, the industry was taken by surprise by China’s sudden decision to scrap duties on exports of natural flake and amorphous graphite material, which until then added a 20% tax on top of the price.

This had a rapid effect on new-year offers out of China, which saw a decrease in mid-January.

At the same time, delivered prices into Europe have remained unchanged.

As per IM’s market assessment on 2 February, flake graphite, 85-87% C, +100 -80 mesh size, remained at $400-450/tonne, while amorphous, 80-85%, -200 mesh, was at a similar $400-430/tonne, both on a CIF Europe basis.

Higher purity flake, 94-97% C, was also unchanged: +100 -80 mesh size traded at $700-750/tonne CIF EU, while +80 mesh held at $750-850/tonne CIF EU and the -100 mesh size was sold at a lower $620-650/tonne CIF EU.

Lower carbon flake, 90% C, into Europe was priced at $500-550/tonne CIF for -100 mesh material, at $600-650/tonne CIF for +80 mesh size and at $550-620/tonne CIF for +100 -80 mesh size.

"The influence on the market of the Chinese tax cancellation [on European prices] was not as high as was expected," a local supplier told IM in early February.

He added that his quotes had not changed on the back of the reduced Chinese prices, and he expects higher demand throughout the year. To prepare for this, the company is forecasting a 3,000 tonne increase in its 2017 output against last year.

Other sources based in Europe previously cited high freight rates in the China-Europe route as a factor that has increasingly been critical to determining prices. In early February, the rate for a 20ft full container load (FCL) to main European ports (Rotterdam, Hamburg) stood in excess of $1,000/FCL, according to market participants.

Additionally, any contracts delivered in January, or paid in January, but secured last year, would still reflect the previous duty regime.

A central European trader said that he has "regular business with customers", and that so far he was not being affected by aggressive prices from China.

"Our customers are more interested in getting the exact product specifications they need, so are less likely to switch supplier to save a few euros," he said.

But not everyone agreed with this view. A European distributor told IM that some of his customers chose to source from others who had cut their quotes following the duty cancellation.

"I lost some business to competitors who had offers that were around 10% below my price," he told IM.

Sources also reported diverging patterns in terms of demand.

While some spoke of regular inflows of enquiries, another European-based supplier told IM that December was "slower than usual".

"We worked well up until November, but December was quiet," he said, stating that customers were not in a rush to cover as they thought there was enough material on the market.

He added however that he expects demand and prices to pick up between Q2 and Q3, as stockpiles have been reduced over the past year. This, in his view, would push the market upwards.

Graphite, flake, 94-97% C, +80 mesh, FCL, CIF Europe ports, $/tonne  
Source: Industrial Minerals 

Proposed change to a number of IM’s pricing assessment frequencies

Industrial Minerals proposes moving the weekly assessment schedule of the following minerals to Tuesday, with effect from 9 March 2017. 

• Kaolin
• Antimony Trioxide 
• Chromite 
• Magnesia 

Assessments currently take place on a weekly basis, every Thursday.

If you have any comments please contact Industrial Minerals head of market reporting Yoke Wong at


Lithium market quietens ahead of Chinese New Year

Myles McCormick

With annual contracts in place and Chinese buyers and sellers winding down operations for the Chinese New Year holiday, the global lithium market entered into a seasonal quiet period at the end of January.

Sources expected market activity levels to remain low until at least mid-February as supply chains in China - from production facilities to transportation - were taken offline to varying degrees for the holiday.

"Logistics companies have shut down, port infrastructure has been wound right back. Making and receiving deliveries is nigh-on impossible," one Chinese producer told IM, adding that processing facilities would be working on limited crews.

The Chinese spot prices for lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide were both expected to remain stable over the period as a result.

Lithium carbonate (spot, min. 99-99.5% Li2CO3, CIF China) held at $18-21/kg and lithium hydroxide (spot, 56.5-57.5% LiOH, CIF China) at $20.5-24/kg, according to IM’s assessment on 26 January.  

One buyer expected the quiet period to stretch to the latter part of Q1, at which point domestic buyers would decide how much material to buy based to the new electric vehicle (EV) subsidy programme rolled out by the Chinese government at the end of 2016.

The publication of a firm subsidy policy for 2017 after months of uncertainty has led to speculation that Chinese spot prices might rise again, once its effects were absorbed into the market. This might take some time, however.

"[China] is a very reactive market (…) they wait until they see really pronounced movement and then ramp prices up or down," said one supplier.

He predicted it would be Q2 or Q3 before prices would be affected by the policy.

"The EV guys will go to the cathode guys and say we want 'X volume’ over the next three or six months. Then the cathode guys will hit the market to get their lithium chemicals supply. As soon as the lithium guys’ phones start ringing, that’s when it will kick off," he said.

Outside China, contract prices also remained steady. Lithium carbonate (min. 99-99.5% Li2CO3, large contracts, del. US) 2017 annual deals concluded at $10-16/kg and quarterly contracts at $10-18/kg.

Lithium hydroxide (56.5-57.5% LiOH, del. Europe or US) contracts meanwhile settled at $14-20/kg on an annual basis and $15-20/kg on a quarterly basis.

One source indicated that global market supply may ease when Albemarle increases carbonate production in H2, but not before. Hydroxide supply is set to remain tight, however.

Lithium carbonate, min 99-99.5% LiC2O3, spot contracts, China ex-works, CNY/ton 
Source: Industrial Minerals 

Antimony Trioxide

Antimony trioxide prices edge up as China returns to work

Myles McCormick, Yoke Wong

Antimony trioxide prices rose slightly as Chinese market players returned to work following the Chinese New Year break in early February.

While the market remained relatively quiet, with many buyers having stocked up ahead of the holiday, IM’s market assessment on 9 February tracked antimony trioxide (typically 99.5% Sb2O3) prices rising by around $50/tonne across the board compared with the previous week.

On an FOB China basis, prices rose to $6,550-6,700/tonne. In Europe, CIF Antwerp/Rotterdam prices moved upwards to $6,650-6,800/tonne, while CIF US prices increased to $6,750-6,900/tonne.

Traditionally prices tend to increase following the China New Year break, according to market participants.  This year worries related to closures of Chinese plants, following a crackdown on pollution, may accentuate this, they said.

Closures have already happened in Guanxi, with further possible in Hunan.

One Europe-based trader told IM the threat of further facility closures was "hanging over the market". Shutdowns may be imposed over the course of the current quarter.

But "it’s not wreaking havoc yet," he said, adding the impact might not be felt until mid-to-late March. 

Another trader emphasised that shutdowns were far from a given in Hunan. "Environmental inspections in Hunan will only push the price up further if they happen," he told IM.

On top of this, several plants in central and northern China are also facing rising production costs.
One Chinese trader suggested that price increases could be driven by suppliers "testing the water", to see if the higher prices will be accepted by buyers.

Antimony metal

Antimony trioxide prices were "well supported by the current antimony metal rally", one trader said. 

Antimony metal prices also increased in early February, according to IM’s sister publication Metal Bulletin.

Ingot prices (antimony MB free market, in warehouse Rotterdam, max 100 ppm Bi) jumped by $125/tonne to $7,625-7,900/tonne on 8 February.

Antimony trioxide, typically 99.5% Sb2O3, 20 tonne lots FOB China, $/tonne