Chinese lithium carbonate exports, imports dip in July

By Martim Facada
Published: Friday, 22 September 2017

Carbonate export prices remain high, as import and export volumes ease., and supply issues in LatAm delay shipments.

Lithium carbonate (Li2CO3) import and export volumes in China dropped in July as the average value of the goods remained firm, the latest China custom data shows.  

Recent supply issues of this battery mineral in Latin America has affected deliveries to China, which is reflected in the data. 

Chinese lithium carbonate import volumes plunged 34% month-on-month to 1,954 tonnes in July, down from 2,978 tonnes in June.

Meanwhile, the export volumes have also dropped by 28% to 104 tonnes in July, down from 144 tonnes in June.

China remains a net importer of lithium compounds, while the value of the country’s exported material exceeded the value of imported material on a per unit basis, as indicated in the graph below.  

Between June and July, the average imported value of lithium carbonate has remained steady between $11,809-11,800/tonne. 

Whereas the average export value of the same mineral during the same period has increased by 10% month-on-month to $18,823/tonne in July, up from $17,160/tonne in June.

China remains a major exporter of lithium hydroxide (LiOH), as this is the preferred lithium compound used by cathode markers. 

In the absence of any supply disruption, Chinese exports of hydroxide rose by 62% to 1,808 tonnes in July, up from 1,118 tonnes in June.  

The average value per tonne for the period has seen an uptick of 4.9% to $12,532/tonne in July, up from $11,949/tonne in the previous month. 

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IM Chinese lithium prices

Lithium carbonate supply tightness combined with high demand has eroded the historic price differential between lithium carbonate and hydroxide prices, as hydroxide generally trades above carbonate. Instead, prices are overlapping between both grades in the Chinese domestic market. 

According to IM’s market assessment on 7 September, Chinese domestic lithium carbonate (min 99.0-99.5 Li2CO3) spot prices increased to a range of $18.7-24.5/kg from $18.3-23.6/kg previously. 

Whereas the Chinese domestic lithium hydroxide (56.5-57.5% LiOH2O) spot prices rose slightly to $21.7-24.5/kg 7 September from  $21.2-24.2/kg previously.

Editor's note: This article was edited on 8 November 2017 to correctly state that China is a major 'exporter' of hydroxide. China's exports of hydroxide rose in July.