Raw material supply and market price performance were once
again the leading topics of conversation among delegates at
the 61st International Colloquium on Refractories in Aachen,
Germany, in September.
As was the case in 2017, raw materials were under the
spotlight at this year’s refractories event.
Considering the restrictions on mining and production
operations in China - the largest producer of several key
refractory raw materials such as bauxite, fused alumina,
magnesia and graphite - attendees in Aachen are assessing
what the future holds for supply.
"It’s the second year in a row that
we’ve talked about, essentially, only raw
materials," one user said on the sidelines of the event. "If
it’s not about bauxite, it’s about
magnesia or it’s about alumina. But there is no
running away from it."
"The only consolation is that everyone is in the same
situation because the changes are structural. The handicap is
our common denominator right now," another delegate
Consumers have actively been trying to respond to the
sourcing issues in China by seeking alternative origins or by
working with alternative materials.
This has not always led to workable solutions, however,
because the tightness has, in some cases, spread to multiple
markets, generating short supply and rising prices across the
"When bauxite was getting short and expensive last year,
consumers tried to shift to andalusite instead," one buyer
said. "Of course, andalusite ended up being short and expensive
too. What we hope is not having more of the same next
Fastmarkets IM assessed the price of calcined bauxite 85% at
$420-435 per tonne, fob Xingang, on September 20, compared with
$410-420 per tonne on September 6.
The price of calcined bauxite 86% reached $435-445 per tonne
fob Xingang on the same date, up from $420-440 per tonne
earlier in the year.
The buyer pointed to similar situations with white-fused
alumina and tabular alumina – when the rising demand
for the first triggered a shortage of the latter as well during
The ongoing perception of impending shortage could also be a
factor supporting market prices going forward, several
attendees said, with uncertainty becoming the new norm.
"How much are the supply issues overplayed when it comes to
contracting?" one trader said. "We know of China and of how
serious what is happening there, don’t get me
wrong. But is this creating knee-jerk reactions by market
players? That may be."