SHANGHAI, May 8 (SMM) – China’s exports of lithium carbonate expanded 132% from February to stand at 2,897 mt in March, largely driven by Albemarle’s materials, showed data from China Customs.
Higher profits that exports could generate probably contributed to the sharp growth. Export prices of lithium carbonate averaged $12,514/mt in March, while the average import price stood at $11,241/mt, flat with prices of domestic battery-grade materials.
In the first three months of 2019, exports of lithium carbonate amounted to 4,809 mt, up 11% from the last three months of 2018 and 432% from the same period last year.
Imports came in at 3,316 mt in the first quarter, down 19% from the previous quarter and 57% from a year ago.
Exports of lithium hydroxide also posted a solid month-on-month increase of 86% in March, bolstered by Albemarle, Ganfeng Lithium and FMC.
Customs data showed that China exported 4,582 mt of lithium hydroxide in March, and 10,016 mt in January-March. Exports in the first quarter stood 2% higher than the prior quarter and 61% higher than the corresponding quarter of 2018.
Compared to steadily declining prices of lithium carbonate, prices of lithium hydroxide exports held stable in a range of $12,000-15,000/mt. Lithium hydroxide export prices averaged $14,203/mt in March, about 10,000 yuan/mt higher than domestic battery-grade materials.
Meanwhile, limited imports of lithium hydroxide entered China, amounting to 78 mt in the first quarter, down 13% quarter on quarter and 92% year on year.
About 64% of lithium carbonate exports in the first quarter flowed to South Korea, while 68% of lithium hydroxide exports went to Japan.
The ramp-up of new capacity in China and price spreads between the domestic and international markets are set to continue to bolster the country’s exports of lithium carbonate.
Chile was the largest lithium carbonate exporter in 2018, with monthly average standing at 6,000 mt. Argentina and China took the second and third places, respectively.
China took the first place in exporting lithium hydroxide in 2018, and a good chunk of its exports entered Japan.
Declining new energy vehicle subsidies from the Chinese government are set to drive domestic ternary materials producers be more cautious about launching high-nickel materials projects, and likely to push South Korea and Japan to be top consumers of battery-grade lithium hydroxide.