Trading in the mineral sands markets was expected to slow
down over the near term while information about the Wuhan
coronavirus outbreak and its effects on trade were being
digested by dealers.
The markets have already been slow this year after rebates
offered in December prompted a rash of trading activity that
month, and they should be slower than usual in the weeks ahead
until the wider effects of the viral infection on international
trade flows become obvious, they said.
For now, minerals sands prices were relatively stable, with
suppliers holding their offer prices steady while buyers
assessed their feedstock levels and operational plans for the
rest of the current quarter.
"The year started off with optimistic zircon demand," one
"Unfortunately, the coronavirus has resulted in the Chinese
new year holidays being extended by one or two weeks, so
everything has been quiet. There is no demand if those guys are
not operating," he added.
"We do not expect it to affect prices, but
everybody’s sales will be down on volume while
this situation lasts. At the same time, port congestion and
shipment cancellations are also starting to be an issue. Apart
from that, all is normal," he said.
Fastmarkets assessed the price of zircon, premium grade, 66.5% ZrO2 min, bulk,
cif China, at $1,500-1,600 per tonne this week, a level it
has held since mid-September.
"Recent increases in zircon-buying inquiries are only
[inquiries] for now [but they] may develop into more business
in the next week or two, when prices may change," another
source said. "For now, prices look steady and reasonable. The
Wuhan virus situation is making market sentiment cautious but
prices are holding [firm]."
At Tianjin port in China, there were certain shipping
restrictions, but ships were discharging material as normal,
sources said. Jingtang port in northern China was also
experiencing some shipping restrictions – although, as
in Tianjin, ships were discharging material, they added.
Fastmarkets’ weekly price assessment for rutile concentrate, 95% TiO2 min, large volumes
for pigment, fob Australia, was holding at $1,100-1,200 per
tonne on February 6.
Fastmarkets’ price assessment for
ilmenite concentrate, 47-49% TiO2, cif China, was $200-220
per tonne on the same day, up by $10 per tonne since
mid-January in line with demand.
Last month, Rio Tinto reported an increase in titanium
dioxide feedstock production in 2019, despite outbreaks of
violence in South Africa leading to the temporary shutdown of its Richards Bay
Minerals (RBM) subsidiary.
Demand for titanium slag has been supported by a shortage of
other high-grade feedstocks, including natural rutile. As a
result of the violence, Rio Tinto stalled a planned $463
million investment in the Zulti South project, which was
intended to expand capacity at RBM.
Rio Tinto currently expects the RBM site to reach full
production in early 2020.
"We saw a slight increase in our rutile pricing, about
$10-20 [per tonne], mainly due to the sudden crisis created by
the supply interruption from RBM," a third source said.
"The market was starting to be a bit more flat, even if the
supply was still tight, but the RBM news was supporting more
buying interest from producers," the source said. He added that
zircon availability was fairly tight, with strong fundamentals,
although that was being offset somewhat by the slowdown in
international trading activity.