SHANGHAI, Apr. 15 (SMM) – Average operating rate at 13 major Chinese secondary lead smelters rose to 53.14% in March, up 13.05 percentage points from February’s average of 40.09%, a recent SMM survey revealed.
The operating rate at large smelters with capacities above 150,000 tpy rebounded to 64.35%, up sharply by 26.46 percentage points from February’s 37.89%. The rate at medium-size smelters with capacities between 100,000-150,000 tpy also rose to 50.37%, up 3.9 percentage points from a month earlier. Finally, average rate at small smelters included in the survey, with capacities below 100,000 tpy, remained zero during March.
Anhui Huaxin Lead Industry Group almost doubled its average operating rate from February, but still failed to operate at full capacity due to ongoing technological renovations for environmental protection.
Most medium-size smelters posted only limited gains in operating rates, except for a sharp increase at Jiangsu Chunxing Alloy (Group), but operating rates at Baoding Gangan Nonferrous Metals and Hubei Chukai Metallurgy actually fell due to equipment maintenance and depletion of primary lead inventories.
Small smelter Tianjin Toho Lead Recycling will not resume production until this month due to ongoing equipment maintenance.
Scrap battery recyclers gradually returned to markets in March. Prices for scrap automobile batteries fell by as much as 350 yuan per tonne during March since stricter environmental protection inspections prevented a large number of illegal and unqualified smelters from restarting operations, which significantly lowered demand for scrap batteries. Secondary lead prices, however, remained firm due to tight supply, allowing more profits or smaller losses for lead smelters.
Lead-acid battery producers, meanwhile, expressed little buying interest in secondary refined lead since its price was almost 100 yuan per tonne higher than SMM #1 lead prices. Motive power and start-up battery producers ran a variety of promotions or cut prices during March to boost sales, and soft end-user consumption also caused lead-acid battery producers to cut back on raw material purchases.
Environmental protection inspections continue to affect production at lead smelters during April, and are now causing secondary lead supply to tighten. However, the average operating rate at smelters should remain stable in April due to seasonally low consumption, although the resumption of production at Tianjin Toho Lead Recycling and other smelters will boost the rate slightly.