SHANGHAI, Apr 28 (SMM) – China's imports of cobalt raw materials, including ore and intermediate products, came in at 8,500 mt in metal content in March, up 66% from a month ago and up 43% from a year ago, showed the latest customs data.
Domestic demand for raw materials increased following the return of cobalt salt producers in March, and this led to the rebound in imports. It is understood that cobalt raw materials delivery to smelters resumed at the beginning of March and more than 80% of producers restarted operations by end-March.
Imports in the first quarter were 31% higher on the year, standing at about 20,000 mt in metal content.
Cobalt ore imports in March stood at 471 mt in Co content, based on a Co grade of 8%, down 22% on the month while up 174% on the year. Q1 imports of cobalt ore expanded 56% year on year to 2,000 mt in metal content.
In March, China’s imports of unwrought cobalt intermediate that was produced through hydrometallurgical processes rebounded 72% on the month and rose 31% on the year to stand at 7,500 mt in Co content, based on a grade of 27%.
Import prices of hydrometallurgical cobalt intermediate products averaged $26,486/mt in Co content in March, 10% higher from a month ago while 5% lower from a year earlier.
Cobalt raw materials imports in China (Source: SMM, China customs)
SMM expects China’s cobalt raw materials imports to edge lower in April and may fall sharply in May as delivery from South Africa face restrictions with the country extending its nationwide lockdown to end-April. The lockdown measures were implemented on March 26, in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus. It usually takes a month for the shipments from South African ports to arrive in China.
The supply disruption threatens shortage of cobalt raw materials supply at Chinese smelters between late-May and early-June.
SMM learned that only a handful of vessels departed ports in South Africa in early April and there remained a large amount of cargoes stranded at port of Durban. While some exporters looked to ship via the Beira port or the Dar es Salaam port, the shipment capacity was limited.