Andalusite prices rise in 2019 contracts, stabilization within reach

By Davide Ghilotti
Published: Thursday, 28 February 2019

The andalusite market remains buoyant on refractories demand and ongoing issues with alternative raw materials such as Chinese bauxite, but participants are hopeful the ripple effects of the 2017 shortage may finally be coming to an end.

The andalusite prices have risen once again for contracts signed for 2019 supply, but market participants see tightness easing and expect fundamentals to progress towards stabilization.

Prices from all main origins have been contracted at a few percentage points above last year’s bulk of contract prices, as strong demand from the refractories sector continues to drive consumption.

This is the second consecutive year prices have increased.

Fastmarkets IM assessed the 2019 contract prices for andalusite, mininum 57% Al2O3, at €270-340 per tonne ($307-387) per tonne) fob South Africa on February 21. This compares with €260-320 per tonne for 2018 contracts.

As for the delivered Europe market, Fastmarkets IM assessed the 2019 contracts for andalusite, minimum 57% Al2O3, at €340-450 per tonne cif Europe, on February 21, compared with €390-430 per tonne cif Europe for 2018 contracts.

Andalusite prices can vary significantly depending on the volumes contracted, with large-volume buyers (taking anywhere between 4,000-6,000 tonnes per year) normally commanding prices that can be meaningfully lower than those achieved by buyers of smaller tonnages (1,000 tonnes or less).

For both price assessments, the low end of the range tends to represent larger-volume buyers, while the top end represents smaller-volume consumers. 

Fastmarkets has a minimum tonnage of 1,000 tonnes for these price assessments, with no maximum.

As regards the cif Europe prices specifically, while the previous range - which for 2018 was €390-430 per tonne cif Europe - was mostly representative of mid- and small-sized volume trading, the current range has been expanded at both ends to additionally capture large volumes, with a view to better represent the bulk of international andalusite trading.

Prices tick upwards, improved output

The majority of market participants contacted by Fastmarkets agreed the market has appreciated by 4-5% at the low end up to 8-9% on the high end, this year, depending on specific trades and previous prices.

This has been confirmed by Fastmarkets IM’s fob South Africa price assessment, which marks an average 5.2% increase on previous levels.

The latest top end of the cif Europe range, at €450 per tonne, has appreciated by 5% on last year.

According to some sources, in a number of cases prices have risen by 15-20%, depending on previous levels. And while assessments have not shown such a hike, it is possible some specific contracts may have moved upwards by that amount and remained within the wider assessed range.

Supply conditions improved across the board during 2018, after a severe shortage seen in 2017. That year - owing to weather-related problems cutting output in both South Africa and Peru - the global market ended up short of material. Some estimates put the deficit at up to 30,000 tonnes, sources told Fastmarkets IM at the time.

No such issues were seen last year, which instead generated "close to record" production output across the main origins, sources told Fastmarkets IM.  

According a pool of more than 10 market participants, global production in 2018 between South Africa, France and Peru is estimated at 300,000-310,000 tonnes. This volume (especially the low end) excludes any additional output from China, which is reputed to produce 10,000-15,000 tonnes, according to the most conservative estimates.

Chinese production is normally aimed at serving the domestic market only, however, with the country relying on imported material to fill any demand gaps.

On the demand side, the tightness apparent in the market in 2017 eased somewhat last year - although not fully, due to some 2018 volumes being booked to cover outstanding 2017 contracts.

"Everyone oversold in 2017, and hardly anyone could meet the orders," a market participant said, "so those outstanding volumes were covered with last year’s production."

This overlap has gone some way to redressing the market imbalance, although prices did pick up again on strong demand from the refractories sector. And because andalusite is often sourced as alternative to Chinese bauxite, the ongoing supply issues with that material have contributed to maintaining the trend.

Despite the price upticks this year, market participants are cautiously optimistic about the supply demand balance.

"The market could stabilize between supply and demand this year if no production issues occur," one source said, largely echoing comments from others.

Fastmarkets IM is proposing to change the frequency of its andalusite price assessments from yearly to quarterly, to capture any mid-year movements in the market. A separate pricing notice will be published detailing the proposal.



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