Seaborne lithium carbonate prices in East Asia catch up with China

By IM Staff
Published: Friday, 12 November 2021

Seaborne lithium carbonate prices continued to rise in East Asia on the strength of the Chinese market in the week to Thursday November 11, with tight spot supply providing additional support.

• Battery-grade lithium carbonate prices in East Asia’s seaborne market catching up with prices in China; lithium hydroxide prices stable.
• China’s lithium prices steady ahead of next round of month-end restocking.
• Europe, United States spot markets strengthen on tight availability, increasingly high offers.

Battery-grade lithium carbonate prices edged up in East Asia in the past week amid tight availability of spot units, tracking the previous rally in China.

Fastmarkets’ assessment of the lithium carbonate 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price, cif China, Japan & Korea was $27.50-29.00 per kg on Thursday November 11, up by $1.50 per kg from $26.00-27.50 per kg a week earlier.

Fastmarkets’ weekly assessment of the lithium hydroxide monohydrate 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price, cif China, Japan & Korea was $28-30 per kg on Thursday, unchanged from a week earlier.

Seller sources in China raised their price indications for battery-grade lithium carbonate in the East Asian region during the week, taking them closer to those in the Chinese market.

"Chinese prices still hold a large premium over regional prices, and it's more profitable to sell units to the Chinese market. Plus, freight rates are also very high, so prices across the two markets should be at the same level," a producer source in China said.

The recent rally in China’s lithium market added pressure to the seaborne market and raised concern among some East Asian market participants.

"The prices in China are now influencing all over East Asia. One concern we have is over when this rally [in Chinese lithium prices] will stop and how much [lithium prices in China] will be," a Japanese trader said. "We sincerely hope the prices would become stable at certain points, even for a little while."

Meanwhile, participants across the seaborne East Asian market noted that the supply of lithium units was tight, while added further strength to the rally in prices for battery-grade lithium carbonate.

"There are no spot battery-grade lithium carbonate units on the market. I think prices in China and the seaborne market should be at parity," a Chinese trader said.

Prices for technical-grade lithium carbonate in East Asia’s seaborne market mirrored the rally in the battery-grade segment amid tight supply.

"Prices for technical-grade lithium carbonate will continue to creep up toward $28-29 per kg over the coming weeks. There is nothing left for the spot market. Every producer is sold out," a source at a producer active in both the European and Asian markets said.

Fastmarkets’ assessment of the lithium carbonate 99% Li2CO3 min, technical and industrial grades, spot price cif China, Japan & Korea was at $26-28 per kg on Thursday, up by $1 per kg from $25-27 per kg a week earlier.

Prices for battery-grade lithium hydroxide have stabilized, according to most market participants. Current prices are already close to those in the Chinese market.

Stable Chinese market
Prices for both battery-grade lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide in China were unchanged in the past week with consumers making purchases on an as-needed basis before the next round of month-end restocking, when they typically raise buying rates.

Furthermore, lithium prices in China are already high, which limits their upside potential.

Fastmarkets’ assessment of the lithium carbonate 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price range, ex-works domestic China was at 195,000-200,000 yuan ($30,477-31,259) per tonne on Thursday, unchanged for a second week.

Fastmarkets’ assessment of the lithium hydroxide monohydrate, 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price range, exw domestic China was 185,000-205,000 yuan per tonne on Thursday, also unchanged for a second week.

"Overall prices and demand were stable this week. Current prices are already high and have limited space to rise further. If they rise further, downstream consumers may start to show resistance, " a second Chinese producer source said.

While the salt lakes in China’s Qinghai province experiences a seasonal drop in production during winter, its impact on the supply of feedstock for brine-fed technical-grade lithium carbonate production and lithium prices in China is rather limited.

"There is limited impact from production reduction at salt lakes in Qinghai, which is around 30%. The producers there have stock of brine, and traders have stocked up as well. They are releasing older units to the market, which offsets the impact from lower production," a second Chinese trader said.

In addition, multiple market participants noted that spot supply of battery-grade lithium hydroxide in China seemed sufficient, while that of lithium carbonate of the same grade was tighter.

Market participants are not expecting aggressive restocking toward the end of the year. Two consumer sources said they would keep purchasing at a stable pace until the end of 2021.

A third trader said with many major lithium producers having already secured their supply through long-term agreements, they might only turn to the spot market to purchase small volumes, if necessary.

Europe, US catching up with China
Prices for battery- and technical-grade lithium in Europe and the US strengthened over the past week, tracking the previous rally in China, with tight spot supply providing additional support to the markets.

Sources continued to report very tight availability of technical-grade compounds and buyers struggled to secure spot units.

Fastmarkets assessed the lithium carbonate 99% Li2CO3 min, technical and industrial grades, spot price ddp Europe and US at $25.25-27.00 per kg on Thursday, up by $0.75-1.00 per kg from $24.50-26.00 per kg a week earlier.

The lithium carbonate 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price ddp Europe and US similarly posted a hefty gain this week, with

Fastmarkets’ assessing it at $26.50-29.00 per kg on Thursday, up by $1.00-1.50 per kg from $25.50-27.50 per kg a week earlier.

This is the highest that the price has been since Fastmarkets started assessing it in 2017.

An upstream source active in Europe and Asia who usually procures technical-grade lithium carbonate in South America said that he was getting more interested in the regular tenders that a Bolivian lithium producer holds for its limited technical-grade lithium carbonate compounds due to the tightness of the market.

Short supply and elevated prices for technical-grade carbonate are filtering though the hydroxide market since lithium hydroxide producers in Europe typically use lithium carbonate as their feedstock.

Fastmarkets assessed the lithium hydroxide monohydrate min 56.5% LiOH.H2O technical and industrial grades, spot prices ddp Europe and US at $27.00-29.00 per kg on Thursday, widening upward by $0.50 per kg from $27.00-28.50 per kg a week earlier.