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Prices of cobalt-related products to stabilise in short term

iconJun 10, 2019 14:37
Domestic prices of lithium salts will face downward pressure as demand fell

SHANGHAI, Jun 10 (SMM) – Downstream consumption for cobalt is expected to stabilise after the Dragon Boat Festival holiday, and this will keep prices of cobalt-related products flat in the short term. The spread with overseas prices of cobalt will narrow as the foreign market declines. However, domestic prices of lithium salts will face downward pressure as demand falls. 

The power battery market will become increasingly concentrated after the transition period for new energy vehicle (NEV) subsidies ends this month. A boom in domestic consumer demand for upgrading to 5G smartphones is expected in 2020, after China officially released its 5G licences for commercial use on June 6.

Last week, overseas prices of refined cobalt extended their declines but domestic producers held offers steady. While speculative demand continued to release in the Chinese market, downstream consumption remained weak as consumers were bearish about prices. High costs also kept importers from lowering offers. Actual trades were thin last week. 

Prices of cobalt salts slid as smelters demanded lower prices of the intermediate products amid high costs. Transaction activities were also limited. 

SMM assessed prices of refined cobalt at 235,000-260,000 yuan/mt in the week to Friday June 7, down an average 1,000 yuan/mt from the previous week. Prices of cobalt hydroxide stood at $9.4-9.9/lb, down an average $1/lb. 

Discounts of cobalt sulphate expanded as losses and a pessimistic outlook on prices prompted producers to destock actively or shift their capacity. This is likely to expand the downside room in prices in the short term.

Prices of cobalt sulphate came in at 41,000-43,000 yuan/mt, down an average 1,000 yuan/mt, and prices of cobalt chloride also lost an average 1,000 yuan/mt on the week, to 51,000-53,000 yuan/mt, according to SMM assessment. Prices of nickel sulphate held steady at 24,000-26,000 yuan/mt. 

Downstream buyers kept purchasing cobalt (II, III) oxide as needed last week, and this lowered prices of the material. We expect trades to pick up after prices stabilise after the Dragon Boat Festival. 

SMM assessed prices of cobalt (II, III) oxide at 170,000-178,000 yuan/mt, down an average 1,000 yuan/mt on the week. 

Trades in the ternary precursor market were quiet as demand across downstream battery producers decreased. This, together with lower prices of raw materials such as nickel and cobalt, dragged on prices of ternary precursor. 

In the week to June 7, prices of NCM523 and NCM622 both dropped an average 2,000 yuan/mt, sanding at 81,000-83,000 yuan/mt and 85,000-89,000 yuan/mt, respectively. 

A major producer of battery-grade lithium carbonate lowered offers from a month ago as orders for June shrank from that in May, an SMM survey found. Traded prices of battery-grade lithium carbonate at medium-sized and small producers also slid, to 75,000 yuan/mt. Downstream enquiries for industrial-grade lithium carbonate also cooled, but sellers kept from lowering prices. 

SMM assessed prices of battery-grade lithium carbonate at 75,000-78,000 yuan/mt, down an average 500 yuan/mt on the week, while prices of industrial-grade lithium carbonate stood flat at 66,000-70,000 yuan/mt. 

Prices of battery-grade lithium hydroxide barely changed last week as downstream demand waned on the approaching end of the grace period for NEV subsidies. The third quarter will see limited upward momentum in consumption of lithium hydroxide, SMM expects. 

Last week, prices of battery-grade lithium hydroxide (coarse particle) stood at 86,000-90,000 yuan/mt. 

Risk aversion slowed purchases of lithium cobalt oxide (LCO) by downstream battery plants. SMM assessed prices of LCO used to produce 4.35V batteries at 215,000-225,000 yuan/mt, flat from a week ago. 

Poorer consumption also dragged on the market of ternary materials, as prices of NCM523 materials fell 1,000 yuan/mt on the week, to stand at 133,000-141,000 yuan/mt, and prices of NCM 622 also shrank 1,000 yuan/mt, posting 149,000-156,000 yuan/mt. 

Orders for lithium iron phosphate (LFP) failed to improve in June, and prices of the material remained unchanged at lows last week. LFP producers, even for large mills, faced heavy pressure from high costs, SMM learned. 

Prices of LFP used in power batteries stood at 47,000-52,000 yuan/mt in the week to June 7. 

An SMM survey found that the operating rats diverged in lithium manganese oxide (LMO) industry with large plants reporting greater orders and higher operating rates while orders across small producers declining. 

SMM assessed prices of LMO, used in high-energy-density lithium-ion batteries, at 31,000-40,000 yuan/mt, and prices of LMO used in motive batteries at 47,000-50,000 yuan/mt. Both were flat on the week.

Market commentary

For queries, please contact Michael Jiang at michaeljiang@smm.cn

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