GLOBAL LITHIUM WRAP: Lithium carbonate price in seaborne Asia market makes strong gains

Lithium prices in the seaborne Asian market continued their strong upward trajectory over the week to Thursday May 13 while the equivalent domestic market in China calmed from the strong momentum in the first quarter of 2021, sources said.

  • Both lithium carbonate and hydroxide prices in seaborne Asian market ticked up amid tight availability.
  • The battery-grade lithium hydroxide price in China continued to edge higher due to supply remaining tight.
  • Tight spot availability still considered the main driver of the rally in the seaborne Asian market, market sources said.

Fastmarkets’ weekly assessment for lithium carbonate, 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price cif China, Japan and Korea rose to $12-14 per kg on May 13, up by 4% from $11.50-13.50 per kg the prior week.
Fastmarkets’ price assessment of the lithium hydroxide monohydrate 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price cif China, Japan & Korea edged higher to $12.50-14 per kg on Thursday, up by 1.92% from $12.50-13.50 per kg previously.
A few traders and distributors active in the region told Fastmarkets they were sold out but continued to receive inquiries from buyers who seriously want to take some units.
“The supply tightness is driving the seaborne Asian market while demand is relatively stable,” one trader said.
A few suppliers and buyers are negotiating on prices for contracts in the third quarter, which is when the market is likely to report bigger quarter-on-quarter increases, market sources said.
China prices converge
The battery-grade lithium hydroxide price in China has continued to narrow its gap with lithium carbonate while some market sources expect the former to surpass the latter in the near term.
Fastmarkets' assessment for the lithium hydroxide monohydrate 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price range exw domestic China rose to 85,000-89,000 yuan ($13,192-13,812) per tonne on May 13, up by 3.57% from 82,000-86,000 yuan per tonne previously.
Fastmarkets’ assessment for the lithium carbonate, 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price range exw domestic China was 88,000-90,000 yuan per tonne on Thursday, unchanged week on week.
The battery-grade lithium carbonate price in China has held a premium over the equivalent-grade lithium hydroxide price since mid-December 2020 on robust demand from lithium iron-phosphate (LFP) battery. The battery-grade lithium carbonate traded around 15,000-yuan-per-tonne higher in the spot market compared to lithium hydroxide throughout March, after which the gap gradually narrowed to 2,000 yuan per tonne, Fastmarkets’ data shows.
Weak consumption from the electronics sector has weighed on the lithium carbonate price while a few consumers restocked adequately ahead of Labor Day holiday (May 1-5) in China, market participants told Fastmarkets.
“We’ve purchased enough lithium carbonate and, therefore, don’t need to top up until June,” a consumer said. “However, it’s not easy to secure enough lithium hydroxide.”
The supply of spodumene - the main feedstock for lithium-hydroxide producers in China - remains tight so some market participants are weighing the possibility that producers will feed on technical-grade lithium carbonate, the price of which is under pressure amid the restart of operations in Qinghai province, Fastmarkets heard.
That said, market participants acknowledge that the price gap between the two chemicals is not wide enough to encourage lithium-hydroxide producers to seek alternative feedstock.
One producer source told Fastmarkets that lithium hydroxide producers will not consider using technical-grade lithium carbonate in operations until battery-grade lithium hydroxide is traded at least 20,000-yuan-per-tonne higher than technical-grade lithium carbonate.
Fastmarkets’ assessment for lithium carbonate 99% Li2CO3 min, technical and industrial grade, spot price range exw domestic China dropped to 77,000-80,000 yuan per tonne on Thursday, down by 0.63% from 78,000-80,000 yuan per tonne one week ago.
Technical-grade lithium spot prices in Europe and the US continued to rise amid tight availability and logistics woes, sources said.
Lithium spot market prices for technical-grade carbonate and hydroxide salts continued to gain ground over the week amid ongoing tight availability and logistics delays due to high freight rates and scarce availability of container space, sources said.
“We’re completely sold out on technical-grade material for the third quarter and [there’s] tight availability in Europe for spot material, which is linked to the delays in European deliveries due to global logistic issues and high freight rates,” one upstream source active in Europe said.
“The shipping concerns are not directly affecting lithium prices but it certainly adds to the tightness in the market,” the same upstream source said.
A second upstream source, who is also active in Europe, echoed the same view.
Commodities markets are under renewed pressure from a combination of further increases in sea freight costs and overstretched logistics, which have translated into unreliable delivery schedules.
Fastmarkets’ last assessment for lithium carbonate 99% Li2CO3 min, technical and industrial grades, spot price ddp Europe and US was $11.50-13 per kg on Thursday May 13, widening up 2.1% from $11.50-12.50 per kg over the previous fortnight.
Fastmarkets’ last assessment for lithium hydroxide monohydrate 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, technical and industrial grades, spot price ddp Europe and US was $13-14 per kg on Thursday May 13, narrowing up 1.9% week on week.
Global lithium market price
Learn more about Fastmarkets’ lithium pricing methodology here and read the latest lithium price spotlight here.
Fastmarkets’ trade log for battery-grade lithium carbonate in China for May includes all trades, bids and offers reported to Fastmarkets.
All lithium carbonate, hydroxide and spodumene prices are available in our Battery Raw Materials Market Tracker. Get a sample of the report here.

Susan Zou

susan.zou@metalbulletinasia.com

Dalila Ouerghi

dalila.ouerghi@fastmarkets.com

Published

Susan Zou

Dalila Ouerghi

May 14, 2021

12:38 GMT

London