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published online. If you have any comments or concerns, or wish
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Davide Ghilotti, Industrial Minerals editor
Refractory-grade bauxite, fused alumina
supply shortage continues
Mine closures and reduced operations for
environmental reasons have been a constant feature for the
first eight months of 2019 in Shanxi, one of the major
producing areas for refractory-grade bauxite in
These regulations will be even stricter this year
given the winter heating season coincides with the 70th
anniversary of the founding of the People’s
Republic of China. Moreover, 2019-2020 is a key stage for
China’s "Blue Sky Protection Campaign" launched in
July 2018, a three-year plan to curb environmental pollution
and improve air quality in China.
China recently launched the latest round of winter
production cuts between October 1, 2019, and March 31, 2020,
under the framework of the campaign. It will apply to 28 main
cities and provinces, aiming to reduce emissions during the
winter when pollution tends to increase due to more coal being
burned to heat homes and enterprises.
Refractory-grade bauxite in Shanxi and
In Shanxi province, environmental restrictions
have been threatening supplies of refractory-grade bauxite
since the beginning of 2019.
"Major bauxite mines in Shanxi province have been
shut down," a source in Xiaoyi city, Shanxi province, told
Fastamarkets. "For calcined alumina, the factory is undergoing
staggered production with an average of two thirds of annual
A second source in China said operations can
continue only if fuel used for calcination is natural gas
instead of coal. The source echoed the former market
participant, saying staggered production may be enforced during
the winter heating season, leading to slashed output.
Operation rates in Guizhou province, another
bauxite production hub in China, were less affected by the
environmental regulations compared with that of Shanxi
province. However, environmental protection and regulation
policies still exerted pressure on supply to an unknown degree,
according to a refractory-grade bauxite producer in
Despite the supply disruption to refractory-grade
bauxite, prices of the four grades assessed by Fastmarkets
remained flat due to the weakening demand. One producer in
Shanxi said: "Currently, the price keeps firm, but
we’ve got no market for the product."
Fastmarkets' fortnightly assessment of bauxite,
refractory-grade, 85%/2.0/3.15-3.2 (0-6mm), fob Xingang stood
at $380-390 per tonne on Thursday September 19, in line with
the previous assessment.
Assessment for bauxite, refractory-grade,
86%/2.0/3.15-3.2 (0-6mm), fob Xingang held still at $390-410
per tonne, while the price of bauxite, refractory-grade,
87%/2.0/3.15-3.2 (0-6mm), fob Xingang was unchanged at $420-440
refractory-grade, 88%/2.0/3.15-3.2 (0-6mm), fob Xingang price
was also stable on a fortnightly basis at $440-460 per tonne on
Thursday September 19.
|Bauxite, refractory-grade, 85%/2.0/3.15-3.2
(0-6mm), fob Xingang, $/tonne
Fused alumina in Henan and
Given that calcined bauxite serves as a feedstock
for brown fused alumina, the supply disruption on the former is
expected to lead to the same trend on the latter. Moreover,
factories producing brown fused alumina are going through
safety regulations, as well as environmental regulations, after
the explosion at an abrasives factory in the city of Dengfeng
in Henan province in June.
Compared with the production of brown fused
alumina, factories producing white fused alumina are less
concerned with the shortage of feedstock due to ample supply of
alumina derived from the Bayer process (smelter grade alumina,
SGA) for most of the first nine months of 2019.
"Fused alumina factories in Zhengzhou city, Henan
province, are all closed now because of the 70th anniversary
[on October 1]," according to one fused alumina producer in
Henan. "The closure will last until October 7, the end of the
national holiday period. Currently, the market is supported by
the [Bayer-derived] stock. How long the stock will last depends
on market demand."
The same source told Fastmarkets that if the
closure continues after the national holiday, there may be
supply disruptions in Henan whereas the situation will be
better in Shandong due to less rigid regulations.
Another fused alumina producer in Henan province
said "limited production will be expected and the one third of
total capacity could be affected."
Nevertheless, weak demand from the refractory
industry almost around the world has contributed to a
relatively quiet market for fused alumina.
Fastmarkets' latest fortnightly assessment of
alumina, fused brown, min 95% Al2O3, refractory sized (0-6mm)
was at $750-760 per tonne on September 19, unchanged from the
For abrasive grade material, the price of alumina,
fused brown, min 95% Al2O3, FEPA F8-220 grit, fob China was
assessed at $800-830 per tonne on the same day, $10 per tonne
lower on the high end against the previous assessment.
Meanwhile, alumina, fused white, 25kg bags, cif
Europe was at €715-830 ($788-914) per tonne on September
19, €20 per tonne higher on the top end of the range due
to deals done by fused alumina producers outside China.
Single-digit increase in soda ash contract
prices predicted by sell side
A year of good demand in 2019 has followed a
period of tightness in the soda ash market that resulted in
price increases last year. Fastmarkets spoke to the sell-side
of the market to canvass sentiment a week before the
IHS’s World Soda Ash conference.
Fastmarkets attended the annual event in Cannes,
France, on September 24-26. It is typically used by the market
to start negotiations for annual contracts.
Last year, several sellers reported achieving
double-digit price increases and selling out in the midst of a
tight market. Twelve months on, sentiment is still positive
albeit more mixed.
"I think there is a steadily growing
counter-argument that the buying side is trying to propagate,"
one producer said. "[This] is that there is more product than
expected coming out of Turkey and more product going to
Southeast Asia, which could have a knock-on effect [if volumes
from Europe to go overseas markets]."
The new Ciner plant in Turkey, with capacity for
2.5 million tonnes per year of soda ash, and which completed
its ramp-up in the second half of 2018, has been recently
producing at a rate 2-3% above its nameplate capacity each
month. The additional volumes above nameplate, roughly 6,500
tonnes per month, have been reported as being consumed by the
flat glass industry.
"Demand is slowing a little. If the Ciech plant
[in Romania] does ultimately close, it would offset some of the
slowing demand and maintain the status quo. So, it is stating
the obvious but [the Ciech plant halting production] can only
help to tighten things," the producer added.
Ciech’s 600,000 tpy plant in Romania
stopped producing on September 18, and at the time of writing,
it looks unlikely that a resolution will be found for the
plant’s steam supply, the price for which has
increased steeply, before the end of the year.
Two sources that Fastmarkets spoke to believed the
plant is producing 400,000-450,000 tonnes per year.
"The market will balance out in the end. Other
European producers will supply the gap left by the Ciech plant,
which might see material move from West to East Europe. More
material from Turkey may then come into Western Europe," a
The market in the United States has also seen one
plant close for an uncertain amount of time, with Searles
Valley Minerals declaring force majeure at its 1.2 million tpy
plant in California after a series of earthquakes.
"The Searles Valley closure hasn’t
had an effect on the market, which must be due to weak demand
in Asia," the distributor added. "So I do think that, overall,
the supply and demand dynamic has balanced out."
Globally, demand for soda ash has been good this
year. There has been 4% growth in the container glass sector
this year, according to the distributor, while a second
producer described the sector as "dynamic."
"It is only [demand for] flat glass for the
automotive sector that is slowing a little," a third producer
said. "Even with this, soda ash demand is firm. It is true that
Turkey is producing more material, but the US and Chinese
markets are both slow."
The third producer added that automotive glass
accounts for around 7-8% of total soda ash demand, and any
slowing of that market would have a minimal negative effect.
All four sources quoted in this article agreed that demand from
the automotive sector had been poor this year.
The distributor reported that car sales were down
by 45% in India year on year, while China has also taken a hit
with consumers holding back from buying diesel and petrol
Overall, three market participants believed that a
single-digit price increase would be accepted, although the
distributor warned about a "mixed" picture of supply and
The third producer, however, was aiming for a
price rise of nearly $20 per tonne because the market "is not
long." He added that 2018 and 2019 had not necessarily been
good years, a view that was echoed by other producers.
Fastmarkets’ monthly assessment of
the price for soda ash, natural and synthetic, dense and light,
large contracts, delivered Europe, was €200-235 ($221-259)
per tonne on August 29.
|Soda ash, natural and synthetic, dense and
light, large contracts,
delivered Europe, €/tonne
Zircon market drops amid weaker
The zircon market is dropping, with suppliers
beginning price negotiations with their customers heading into
the last quarter of 2019, market participants told Fastmarkets
on Thursday September 19.
Weaker fundamentals are making further losses a
possibility, particularly in standard grade, the sources
Fastmarkets assessed the price of zircon, premium
grade, 66.5% ZrO2 min, bulk, cif China at $1,500-1,600 per
tonne on September 19, down by $50 per tonne in the past
The price of zircon, standard grade, 65.5% ZrO2,
cif China was assessed at $1,400-1,550 per tonne on the same
day, narrowing downward by $50 per tonne.
And the price of zircon, premium grade, min 66.5%
ZrO2, cif Spain fell by $50 to $1,500-1,600 per tonne week on
week on Thursday.
At the Zircon Industry Association (ZIA)
conference in Dubai a couple of weeks ago, one major Chinese
miller told delegates that he expected to see falling
World zircon demand was expected to drop to 1
million tonnes in 2019 and to 850,000-900,000 tonnes for the
"next couple of years," according to Lincoln Ying, chief
executive officer at Matrix, one of China’s
biggest producers of zircon opacifiers.
That would compare with a peak of 1.6 million
tonnes in 2011, he said, adding that he did not expect an
increase in demand in the next few years, blaming the move on
substitution in the tile industry in China and elsewhere since
"There is definitely some softening on zircon, but
prices are still way above the range mentioned by some for
premiums at $1,350-1,550 per tonne," one supplier told
Fastmarkets this week.
"Previously, our floor price was $1,600 per tonne,
and we recognize that we will have to make some concession for
the fourth quarter. That decision is not yet finalized, but we
are thinking $30-50 per tonne down, and obviously standard
grade will be well below that level," the same supplier
"The zircon markets are certainly moving," another
supplier said, "but we have heard of only Iluka and Tronox
giving certain customers discounts in a few markets, such as
India and China. We would agree that almost all international
sales are now below $1,600 per tonne, perhaps even below $1,550
per tonne once rebates have been accounted.
"However, we have not heard anything as low as
$1,350 per tonne unless it is off-spec material," the second
supplier said. "For example, most standard zircon products are
minimum 64.5% ZrO2, and we have heard of suppliers offering 63%
ZrO2 for around $1,400 per tonne. Perhaps the $1,350 per tonne
being mentioned is for even lower ZrO2.
"It’s a bloody red ocean out there
right now, so I expect prices to trend downward for the next
12-18 months, unfortunately," the second supplier added.
One trader thought it would be "suicide" for
suppliers if prices were allowed to move upward, given current
business conditions heading into fourth-quarter delivery
"There is an inertia to lower prices," the trader
said, "but there is no shortage of supplies and the world
economy is weakening, so it makes no sense to hold prices at
relatively high levels."
In August this year, major zircon producer Iluka
said that trade headwinds created by tariff issues and Chinese
environmental controls were threatening the demand for zircon
from the ceramic industry. The company, the
world’s biggest producer of zircon, downgraded its
sales forecasts in the wake of weakening international economic
The company’s managing director, Tom
O’Leary, said that a previously expected increase
in zircon sales in the second half of 2019 would not
materialize. Zircon sales prices were expected to drop in the
second half, due to a market shift toward standard grade sales,
Still, the company maintained its zircon reference
price at $1,580 per tonne until the end of March 2020.
|Zircon, standard grade, 65.5% ZrO2 min, cif
|Zircon, premium grade, 66.5% ZrO2 min, bulk,
cif China, $/tonne
China’s magnesia prices drift
lower, magnesite mining halt expected to extend
Magnesia prices in China continued to fall in the
week ended Tuesday September 17, with a flurry of lower offers
from producers eager to sell, especially dead burned magnesia
(DBM) and fused magnesia (FM).
Downstream refractory buyers continued to show
limited interest in purchases for restocking, however.
The Haicheng region of Liaoning province imposed a
three-month halt on magnesia mining which started on August 1
and will last until October 31, therefore including the
national holiday in China on October 1-7 for the
country’s 70th anniversary celebrations.
Such stoppages have been used to support magnesite
prices to some degree in previous years, but this time the
prices have stayed on a downtrend due to the increasing stocks
in the spot market and thin buying among downstream refractory
Moreover, Liaoning province will impose new
regulations on mines from October 1 this year, intended to
optimize and upgrade the industrial structure of traditional
mines by speeding up developments in technology and
Liaoning will also continue to promote the
consolidation of local mining enterprises which are subject to
potential safety hazards or which have substandard performance
Most magnesia producers believe that strict
control of magnesia mining will continue after the three-month
halt, because of the new regulations, but this was expected to
stop prices falling further.
"I think the new regulations on mines in Liaoning
will bring continuing strict control on magnesite mining, and
are expected to give some support to magnesia prices [by
restricting the output] of raw materials. But due to there
being sufficient stocks, magnesia prices will not increase
significantly, in my opinion," a producer told Fastmarkets.
"Magnesia prices are still under downward pressure
this week," a buyer said. "Demand from refractories remains
sluggish for the moment, and more producers have lowered prices
to attract more deals. We have received several lower offers
from Chinese suppliers."
Fastmarkets’ latest assessment of the
spot price for magnesia, dead burned, 90% MgO, lump, fob China,
was $180-210 per tonne on September 17, down from $210-230 per
tonne in the previous week, while magnesia, dead burned, 97.5%
MgO lump, fob China, was $550-650 per tonne on the same day,
down from $600-700 per tonne seven days earlier.
|Magnesia, dead burned, 97.5% MgO, lump, fob
Iodine spot price hits four-year
Spot market prices for iodine have risen to their
highest level in more than four years, climbing to $35 per kg
at the top end of the range in recent assessments while market
tightness continued to underpin price increases.
Fastmarkets’ price assessment for
iodine, 99.5% min, spot, delivered US/Europe, cif Asia, was
$29-35 per kg on Thursday September 12.
It was May 2015 when the price was last at $35 per
kg at the top end of the range. That was also the latest
assessment in which the range was as wide as $6 per kg.
The widening range and four-year high have been
caused by Chilean producers, which account for more than half
the market, pushing prices higher in a tight market while
Japanese producers have been less aggressive with their price
At the bottom end, a derivatives producer said
that Japanese iodine was "still under $30 per kg" while an
ex-China producer assessed the spot market at $29-30 per
Prices of $35 per kg had been reported since the
start of August. But without confirmation of such prices from
the buy side of the market, Fastmarkets was reluctant to move
its assessment price to that level.
With less than three weeks remaining until the
fourth quarter of 2019 begins, market participants have been
assessing the level at which they believe offers will be made
at the start of October.
There was a consensus in the market that offers
from Chile will start at $34-35 per kg for long-term customers
and high-volume consumers.
Those prices are currently being achieved for new
business and small volumes, with transactions for full
containers typically being finalized at $32-33 per kg.
"In the case that Chilean producers increase their
asking price to $34-35 per kg in the next quarter, we will move
up to $31-32 per kg," the ex-China producer said.
A distributor said that his prices would
"certainly [be] at $35 per kg for the fourth quarter."
Chinese acidspar prices flat despite soft
Prices in China’s acidspar export
market held steady in the week ended Friday September 13
although demand and sentiment were soft in the domestic
The run-up to the Mid-Autumn Festival holiday on
September 13-15 meant that there was little trading activity,
while the downstream hydrofluoric acid (HF) market remained
weak, with more producers lowering their prices to boost sales
while the market was quiet.
Fastmarkets’ assessment for
fluorspar, acidspar, 97% CaF2, wet filtercake, fob China, was
$430-500 per tonne on September 12. The price was flat from the
previous week, but down by $20 per tonne from the week
Most exporters maintained their current offers
ahead of the holiday, with limited new orders received from
Buyers kept pressing prices downward and were
unwilling to accept higher figures due to the sluggishness of
the downstream sectors.
"I haven’t adjusted export prices
this week with the approach of the holiday. Domestic fluorspar
acidspar prices stayed soft, in the range of 2,700-3,000 yuan
[$382-424] per tonne," a producer told Fastmarkets.
"The downstream HF and refrigerants markets showed
no improvement, with prices on a downward trend and giving less
support to raw materials. We had no deals concluded this week,
and I think prices will mostly stay in the current range this
month because of the National Day holiday [on October 1-7]," a
Prices of 9,500-10,000 yuan per tonne or even
lower were heard for HF on the spot market, falling from
9,800-10,400 yuan per tonne in the previous week, and most
refrigerant product prices also drifted lower.
China and the United States have been occupied by
their trade war, and although the fluorspar market has not been
affected, the two nations’ acidspar markets have
Tightness has hit North America, according to
sources, despite there being some additional volumes going into
that market this year.
"The US market is very tight - that’s
what we are witnessing," a trader told Fastmarkets. "We
haven’t seen any effect [on price] from material
coming [from new producer Canada Fluorspar (CFI)]."
A producer told Fastmarkets that the US market
must be tight given the requests for mat-erial it had received
from the market, which is home to companies that "have
professional management of their supply chains."
CFI is ramping up its output, and several ships
have entered US ports since the first shipment left the junior
miner in August last year.
But although new material has reached US shores,
this has been balanced by Chemours opening a new refrigerant
plant in Corpus Christi, Texas. The company has not yet
disclosed the additional demand created by this.
A ship from CFI entered Rotterdam port two weeks
ago, according to three sources, and two more boats were
reported to be on the water.
The monthly price for fluorspar, acidspar, 97%
CaF2, wet filtercake, cif Rotterdam, was assessed at $500-540
per tonne on August 29. This was steady since the end of May
but down from the assessment of $520-575 per tonne on April
Shrinking seller margins could slow down
chromite price falls
Chromite prices were stable in the first half of
September, with market participants arguing that the
bearishness that has taken hold of the entire chrome and alloys
sector could be affecting the ability of sellers to push prices
Foundry grade chromite prices have just about
halved in value since the beginning of the year amid widespread
oversupply and sluggish demand.
Fastmarkets IM’s price assessment for
chromite, foundry, 46% Cr2O3 min, wet bulk fob South Africa,
dropped to $240-250 per tonne on Tuesday September 10, from
$450-490 per tonne in January - a fall of about 48%.
And the price assessment for chromite, foundry 46%
Cr2O3 min, dried and bagged fob South Africa, was $300-410 per
tonne on September 10, compared with $530-570 per tonne in
Both grades have remained largely stable since
Market participants said the impact of the wider
basket of chrome-based products that large, integrated
producers handle - including metallurgical chrome ore as well
as ferro-chrome alloys - could be having a slowing effect on
the price falls affecting non-met chromite grades.
For a number of large-scale producers handling
both met-grade chrome and alloys as well as non-met chromite,
the bulk of their revenues and margins are generated in the
metallurgical/alloys division. Non-met normally accounts for a
smaller share of overall turnover.
But due to the weak performance of the
metallurgical and alloys market, sellers have now less room for
maneuver when it comes to the elasticity of non-met prices.
"We are seeing, arguably for the first time this
year, that prices are bearish across the whole chrome basket,"
one producer said. "We are seeing terrible met, terrible chem
and terrible foundry prices now. Revenues for the basket of
products is really low."
That is bound to have an impact on pricing
strategies for non-met, he added.
This week, lawyers acting for South African
ferro-chrome producer Hernic Ferro-chrome said how low Chinese
tender prices in recent months and the drop in the European
ferro-chrome benchmark for the fourth quarter reflected a price
environment in which most producer margins are
Fastmarkets’ price assessment for
ferro-chrome high carbon 6-8.5% C, basis 60-70% Cr, max 1.5%
Si, delivered Europe was 74-80 cents per lb on Friday September
27, down about 20 cents since the beginning of the year. Prices
for this grade remain at their lowest level for several
Fastmarkets’ chrome ore South Africa
UG2 concentrates index basis 42%, cif China stood at $155 per
tonne on September 27, slowly recovering after falling as low
as $140 in July.
"If, earlier in the year, sellers could have
afforded to drop their non-met prices because they somehow
could cover for that through the met and alloys products, now
this is becoming increasingly challenging [to do]," a second
This may affect seller willingness to give in to
further price cuts, because their baseline revenues in met and
alloys are also under pressure.
"I think we are hitting cost-support levels," he
added. "This should support a bottoming out."
China’s lithium prices
rangebound after Golden Week holiday
Spot battery grade lithium carbonate prices
remained rangebound in the first week after the Golden Week
national holiday in China, with downstream buyers in no hurry
to purchase more material in the expectation that prices will
Fastmarkets’ assessment of the
lithium carbonate, 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price
range exw domestic China, was 56,000-61,000 yuan ($7,859-8,560)
per tonne on Thursday October 10, unchanged from the previous
"As most market participants have just come back
from the holiday, the lithium carbonate market has seen limited
fluctuations, with most prices stable at current levels," a
downstream buyer told Fastmarkets. "Although some lower prices
have been heard, mainstream prices are unchanged at
56,000-58,000 yuan per tonne."
Technical and industrial-grade lithium carbonate
mostly stayed at the low end of 47,000-48.000 yuan per tonne,
although lower prices of around 45,000 yuan per tonne or lower
were also heard.
The battery grade lithium hydroxide market saw no
improvements with prices standing still after the holiday on
weak downstream demand.
Fastmarkets’ assessment of the
lithium hydroxide monohydrate, 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery
grade, spot price range exw domestic China, was 60,000-68,000
yuan per tonne on October 10, unchanged from the previous
"Mainstream prices for battery grade lithium
hydroxide are at around 60,000-63,000 yuan per tonne with no
changes after the holiday, with micro-grade at above 65,000
yuan per tonne," a producer source said.
"China’s domestic demand is
[unlikely] to increase in the short term [and that] will
continue putting pressure on prices," he added.
Seaborne Asian lithium market
The seaborne battery grade lithium spot market was
quiet due to lack of downstream buying, with only limited spot
Fastmarkets’ assessment of lithium
carbonate, 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade spot prices cif
China, Japan & South Korea was unchanged at $9-11 per kg,
while the assessment of lithium hydroxide monohydrate, 56.5%
LiOH.H2O min, battery grade spot prices cif China, Japan &
South Korea was stable at $11-13 per kg.
"As the holiday has just passed, there have been
no changes in seaborne Asian prices and most buyers will
negotiate new contracts at the end of this year," a second
producer source told Fastmarkets. "But the new prices will be
European and US spot prices
Battery-grade lithium carbonate and lithium
hydroxide spot market prices in Europe and the United States
remained stable amid quiet trading conditions, although some
offers were under negotiation.
Fastmarkets’ assessed the lithium
carbonate 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price ddp
Europe and US, at $11-13 per kg on October 10, while the
lithium hydroxide monohydrate 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery
grade, spot price ddp Europe and US was $12.50-13.50 per
Market participants were split over whether prices
could find some support in the typical restocking season.
According to some, the recent oversupply is starting to ease
allowing them to test slightly higher prices.
"Prices are firming; or at least they have stopped
falling [and] we have made offers and are awaiting [a
response]," a third producer said.
Most market participants still believe there is
sufficient material in the European and US markets and remain
skeptical about any price increases because there is no real
significant incentive for buyers to purchase significant
"The market is well-supplied… there is
enough material to at least cover Q4 [and] we expect prices to
continue at current levels until the end of the year," a second
buyer told Fastmarkets.
Cristina Belda in London contributed to this
|Lithium carbonate 99% Li2CO3 min, technical
and industrial grade,
spot price range exw domestic China,
|Lithium hydroxide 56.5-57.5% LiOH.H2O, large
contracts, packed in drums
or bags, delivered Europe/US, $/kg