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SMM exclusive: China March metals output and April forecast

iconApr 10, 2024 16:32
In March, SMM data showed that China's copper cathode output was 999,500 mt, an increase of 49,200 mt or 5.18% from the previous month, a year-on-year increase of 5.06%, and an increase of 29,300 mt from the expected 970,200 mt. The total output from January to March was 2.9196 million mt, an increase of 207,100 mt or 7.64% year-on-year.

Copper cathode

In March, SMM data showed that China's copper cathode output was 999,500 mt, an increase of 49,200 mt or 5.18% from the previous month, a year-on-year increase of 5.06%, and an increase of 29,300 mt from the expected 970,200 mt. The total output from January to March was 2.9196 million mt, an increase of 207,100 mt or 7.64% year-on-year.

There are several reasons for the sharp growth in output in March: 1. In March, many smelters increased production for a good start, and the number of production days also increased compared with February; 2. The two smelters that were put into operation at the end of last year continued to release output; 3. The copper concentrate TCs continued to decline (as of March 29, the SMM imported copper concentrate index (weekly) was reported at $6.38/mt, a decrease of $4.25/mt from the previous figure, continuing to set a new low in recent years. If the smelters purchase spot copper concentrate for production, the current losses expand to 1,745 yuan/mt. If the smelters use copper concentrate purchased under long-term contracts for production, they are currently making a profit of 1,299 yuan/mt, an increase of 381 yuan/mt from the previous month. The reason for the increase in profits is the recent increase in domestic sulphuric acid prices). Nonetheless, the rising prices of by-products such as sulphuric acid, gold and silver have reduced the losses to a certain extent. 4. The sharp rise in copper prices in March widened the price spread between copper cathode and copper scrap, and the supply of blister copper and copper anode increased (as of April 3, the SMM domestic blister copper RC was reported at 1,050 yuan/mt, up 200 yuan/mt from the previous month). Smelters could purchase more raw materials and avoid reducing production due to tight copper concentrate supply. We believe that the average operating rate of copper cathode industry rose 4.2 percentage points month on month to 88% in March.

In April, smelters will undertake intensive maintenance. According to our current survey, seven smelters will undertake maintenance in April, involving 1.21 million mt of smelting capacity. This will be the main reason for the decline in production in April. The current supply of blister copper and anode plates increased, but can hardly completely make up for the supply gap. SMM understood that there are still four smelters that have significantly reduced production due to the tight supply of copper concentrate.

Based on the production schedules of various companies, SMM estimates that domestic copper cathode output in April will be 965,000 mt, a month-on-month decrease of 34,500 mt or 3.45%, and a year-on-year decrease of 5,000 mt or 0.52%. The total output from January to April is expected to be 3.8846 million mt, a year-on-year increase of 5.49% or 202,100 mt. A large number of smelters will undergo maintenance in May and June, and domestic copper production is expected to decline in the next two months.


According to SMM statistics, China's aluminium output was 3.555 million mt in March (31 days), up 4.19% YoY. The domestic daily average aluminium output was flat MoM at 114,900 mt. In March, the production and shipments of aluminum smelters returned to normal on fading impact from CNY holidays. The share of aluminium liquid output rose by 9.6% MoM and 1.4 % YoY to about 73.88%. According to SMM aluminium liquid ratio data, the domestic aluminium ingot volume in March was down by 1.24% YoY to around 928,600 mt.

Changes in production capacity: In March, domestic aluminium smelters maintained steady operations. Yunnan aluminium smelters have begun to resume production, boosting the domestic aluminum operating capacity. As of April 9, operating capacity in Yunnan had reached 4.74 million mt/year, up 5.57% MoM, and the remaining may be restarted after the rainy season arrives. However, a smelter in Inner Mongolia still has 40,000 mt of capacity that has yet to resume after power outage forced it to shut down, and another smelter in Sichuan was shut down for maintenance at the end of March, which will last until September. As of the end of March, the existing aluminium capacity was about 45.19 million mt, the operating aluminium capacity was around 42.1 million mt, and the operating rate grew by 4.39% YoY to 93.15%.

Production forecast: In April 2024, the domestic aluminum operating capacity is expected to continue to rise, mainly due to the first batch of production resumption and sufficient hydropower supply in Yunnan. We still need to pay attention to whether the remaining production capacities in Yunnan will resume.

SMM predicts that the first batch of production resumption may be completed in mid-April, boosting production in April, while other regions may change little. Domestic aluminum operating capacity may rise by 250,000 mt to 42.35 million mt at the end of April. The aluminum production capacity in April (30days) is expected to be around 3.49 million mt. The share of aluminium liquid output may remain above 70%. We need to pay attention to production resumption and power supply in Yunnan.


SMM data showed that China’s metallurgical-grade alumina output stood at 6.782 million mt in March (31 days), and the daily average output was 218,800 mt/day, down 2,200 mt/day MoM. The total output in March was up by 7.98% MoM and 2.11% YoY. As of the end of March, the existing alumina capacity in China was 100 million mt, the operating capacity was 79.96 million mt, and the average operating rate stood at 80%. Operating rate in Shanxi (+2.2% MoM to 70.2%), mainly contributed by a refinery who recovered 1.1 million mt of production capacity in mid-March after production suspension due to insufficient ore supply. In addition, operating capacity of a refinery was down by about 400,000 mt in late March due to adjustment. The recovery of capacity may depend on ore supply and production line adjustment. Operating rate in Henan (+9.4% MoM to 66.4%), mainly contributed by a refinery who recovered 900,000 mt of operating production capacity after production reduction due to insufficient ore supply. Operating rate in Guizhou (+1.3% MoM to 76.5%): Several refineries shut down in early February, involving annual capacity of 600,000 mt, which resumed production in mid-March. As of the end of March, the operating capacity rose to around 200,000 mt. In addition, a refinery began the normal maintenance for 12 days since March 25. During this period, the total output reduced by about 26,000 mt. Operating rate in Hebei (remained at 90.8%); Operating rate in Guangxi (+2.1% MoM to 84.4%): The growth was mainly contributed by a refinery who recovered 500,000 mt of operating production capacity after production reduction due to insufficient ore supply. In addition, natural gas pipeline failures forced roasters in a refinery to shut down for maintenance for 3-5 days. During this period, the total output reduced by about 24,000 mt. Operating rate in Shandong (-3.1% MoM to 92.7%), mainly as technical renovation in a refinery forced some roasters to shut down for maintenance from March 15 to May 15. During this period, the total output may be reduced by about 80,000 mt.

April forecast: Bauxite mines in Shanxi and Henan have no plans for immediate production resumptions, and production resumptions at local alumina refineries are proceeding slowly. Operating rate of enterprises that rely on imported ores fluctuate greatly. Enterprises in Henan have higher efficiency in increasing and resuming production. A refinery in Guizhou, which halted production for maintenance will restart in early-April. 400,000 mt of local production capacity has not yet recovered. In Guangxi, unstable ore supply forced a refinery to suspend production for around 12 days in early April. Before the production resumption, the operating production capacity was 500,000 mt. In addition, a refinery in Guangxi will resume its production capacity to 2.2 million mt in early April following maintenance. Taken all together, SMM sees China’s daily average alumina output at 221,800 mt/day in April and total operating capacity at 80.96 million mt, up 1.84% YoY.

Overseas aluminum
According to SMM statistics, overseas aluminium output was 2.529 million mt in March (31 days), up 0.1% YoY. The average overseas aluminum production capacity utilization rate is 87.5%, down 0.1% MoM but up 1.2% YoY. The overseas aluminum output totalled 7.436 million mt in the first 3 months of 2024, up 0.2% YoY.
By region, the shutdown of the New Madrid plant in the US caused production in North America to fall by 1.7% YoY to 330,000 mt in March. The plant announced it would stop production in January 2024, and SMM estimated that it should have completely stopped production by the end of March. In South America, local production rose by 5.4% YoY to 121,000 mt as Alcoa's Alumar plant has been restarting slowly since April 2022. SMM estimates that the plant's capacity utilization rate had recovered to around 65% by the end of March. Russia's total aluminum production increased by 2.2% YoY to 349,000 mt due to the restart of UC RUSAL's Taishet plant. According to SMM statistics, the Taishet plant produced about 16,000 mt in March, with a capacity utilization rate of about 44%. In Europe excluding Russia, production fell by 2.4% YoY to 315,000 mt due to the shutdown of the Neuss plant in Germany. Smelters in other regions maintained steady operation, especially in India. India's aluminum output rose by 1.6% YoY to 349,000 mt in March.

Primary lead

In March 2024, the domestic refined lead output was 293,700 mt, an increase of 6.38% month-on-month but a year-on-year decrease of 9.13%. The combined output from January-March declined by 3.3% on the year. Production capacities of enterprises involved in the survey totalled 6.0063 million mt in 2024.

According to the survey, the impact of the Chinese New Year holiday in March eased, and the calendar days in March increased from February to 31 days. The output of most lead smelters increased. At the same time, lead smelters in Hunan, Yunnan, Henan, Guangdong and other regions completed maintenance, resulting in a large increase in refined lead production in March. Some smelters in Hunan and Liaoning conducted maintenance during the period, and some smelters’ actual production was lower than planned due to insufficient supply of lead concentrate. Nonetheless, that did not affect the growth trend of refined lead output in March.

There will be maintenance and output recoveries at refined lead smelters in April. The companies that will undertake maintenance are concentrated in Henan which are large-scale smelters. The maintenance of their crude lead systems will last for 15 to 40 days, while the impact on the refined lead production lines will be limited. Output at smelters in Hunan Province will recover, which will bring an increase of more than 10,000 mt. The tight supply of domestic lead concentrate remains unchanged, and the TCs of lead concentrate were lowered again. SMM data showed that TCs for Pb 50% low-Ag lead concentrate were 600-900 yuan/mt with metal content, 50 yuan/mt with metal content lower than in March. TCs of high-Ag lead concentrate were zero to negative figures. SMM expects refined lead production to rise only slightly in April to 297,000 mt.

Secondary lead

The output of secondary lead in March 2024 was 378,100 mt, an increase of 78.94% from February and an increase of 0.45% year-on-year. The total output of secondary lead from January to March 2024 was 908,500 mt, a decrease of 9.59% year-on-year. The output of secondary refined lead in March 2024 was 330,000 mt, an increase of 91.18% from February and an increase of 0.91% year-on-year. The total output of secondary refined lead from January to March 2024 was 774,300 mt, a year-on-year decrease of 11.32%.

According to SMM survey, the output of secondary refined lead has maintained a downward trend since November 2023, and has dropped by about 220,000 mt by February 2024, due mainly to high cost and low profit of secondary lead smelters. In mid-to-late February, lead prices fluctuated within a narrow range below 16,000 yuan/mt. This sidelined secondary lead smelters that had suspended production during the Chinese New Year holiday, and they delayed resumption of production to March. In March 2024,lead prices rose and at the end of the month, the most active SHFE 2405 lead contract rose to a three-month high; the price of battery scrap did not rise sharply. The price of electric vehicle battery scrap was slightly lowered during the month, and the recovery of profits of secondary lead smelters boosted the enthusiasm of production.

In April, the replacement volume of battery scrap will decline due to the traditional off-season for lead-acid batteries. Tighter raw materials for secondary lead smelters will increase procurement costs, narrowing profit margins or expanding losses. Several large-scale secondary lead smelters plan to suspend production for maintenance in late April, and some smelters plan to reduce production in April; however, as many large-scale smelters resumed production in mid-to-late March, the production ramp-up in April will still lead to an increase in secondary refined lead output. SMM expects secondary refined lead output to increase by 32,500 mt in April.

Refined zinc

In March 2024, SMM data showed that China's refined zinc production was 525,500 mt, an increase of 23,000 mt or 4.57% month-on-month, but a year-on-year decrease of 5.61%. The total output from January to March was 1.595 million mt, a year-on-year increase of 1.63%, slightly higher than the expected output. Domestic zinc alloy production in March was 94,300 mt, a month-on-month decrease of 920 mt.

In March, the output of domestic smelters recovered. The number of production days in March increased by 2 days compared with February. In addition, the output of smelters in Hunan, Guangxi, Sichuan and other places recovered, contributing a certain amount of output growth. However, the smelters in Inner Mongolia, Qinghai, Hunan and Sichuan undertook maintenance and production cuts, and the output declined to a certain extent.

SMM predicts that domestic refined zinc production in April 2024 will fall by 21,200 mt month-on-month to 504,300 mt, a year-on-year decrease of 6.61%. Total production from January to April will be 2.099 million mt. Production will fall slightly in April, mainly due to routine maintenance of smelters in Gansu and Xinjiang, as well as maintenance and production cuts at some smelters in Henan, Shaanxi, Yunnan, Inner Mongolia and other places due to insufficient raw materials and low profits. The production of smelters in Hunan, Sichuan, Shaanxi, Anhui and other places increased after maintenance.

Refined tin

According to SMM survey, domestic refined tin production in March was 15,556 mt, up 35.74% compared with February and 2.92% year-on-year. In March, the domestic tin ingot production increased significantly. Some smelters in Yunnan recovered production after Chinese New Year holiday and the operating rates rebounded significantly, resulting in an increase in tin ingot production. At present, most smelters in Yunnan have resumed normal production and have no maintenance plans for the time being; the output of most smelters in Jiangxi Province also increased significantly compared with February as the impact of the Chinese New Year holiday abated; a smelter in Inner Mongolia proceeded as scheduled in March, and there is no adjustment to the production plan in the short term; the production workshop of a smelter in Guangdong recently resumed normal production and is operating smoothly according to the production plan; most smelters in Anhui and other regions resumed normal production in March. In April, the output of a few smelters in Yunnan that plan to gradually resume production is expected to return to the level before Chinese New Year holiday; most smelters in Jiangxi are expected to maintain normal production, and the production schedule of a few smelters has increased slightly. It is estimated that the output of refined tin in April will increase slightly; a smelter in Hubei has stopped production since late October 2023 due to a shortage of scrap procurement; most smelters in other regions have basically maintained normal production. Domestic tin ingot production is expected to be 16,555 mt in April 2024, up 6.42% month-on-month and 10.71% year-on-year.

Silicon metal

According to SMM statistics, China's silicon metal output in March 2024 was 366,300 mt, up 21,000 mt or 6.2% MoM and up 53,000 mt or 17.1% YoY.

In March, some silicon metal production capacity in Xinjiang, Yunnan and other places was reduced for maintenance, and the shutdown mostly occurred in late March, which had limited impact on the total output. The number of production days in March increased by 2 days compared with February. In addition, silicon metal companies in some regions increased or resumed production.

Silicon metal prices remained in a downward path since CNY holidays. In April, the sluggish silicon prices have not improved. The inventory remained high, pressuring on the production. Some silicon metal companies in Yunnan and Yili, Xinjiang will further reduce production in April. Producers in Sichuan has no intention of resuming production before the normal water period. It is estimated that the silicon metal output will drop to around 340,000 mt in April.


Polysilicon production in March was 171,000 mt (+4.9% MoM) in China. With the end of CNY holidays in March, downstream silicon wafer production increased significantly. The demand for polysilicon was strong, and N-type materials were in short supply. As profits expanded on rising prices, polysilicon factories were still motivated and maintained full operation. In April, polysilicon supply was in a surplus. However, due to profits and new production lines, scheduled production may reach about 180,000 mt.

PV module

SMM data showed that domestic PV module output was up by 78.3% MoM at 54.4GW in March, owing to order backlogs from January-February and pick-up of domestic and overseas markets. The inventory of module companies is relatively controllable. In order to expand market share, the production enthusiasm of leading companies is still high. Scheduled production increased further to around 58GW in April, but due to concerns about inventory and cost pressures on small factories, the increase has been significantly reduced.

Solar cell

Actual solar cell output in China in March was 56.87 GW (+44.5% MoM, +35.4% YoY), and N-type ones (37GW, accounting for 66.5% of all). In March, the downstream demand for Topcon cells reached 35GW. Both supply and demand increased. Topcon cells have replaced PERC cells as the mainstream choice in the market. The decline in PERC production capacity and demand will accelerate.

PV glass

According to SMM statistics, domestic PV glass production was up by 9.39% MoM at 2.4361 million mt in March, owing to more production days and growing demand. Driven by demand, 5 blast furnaces were put into production in March, and the supply may increase significantly.


According to SMM statistics, China’s DMC production in March was 195,400 mt, up 9.87% MoM. The operating rate of the industry in March was 81.69%, owing to rising DMC prices on growing demand in peak season. The profits continued to rise and the order demand performed well, boosting the operating rate.

Magnesium ingot

China’s magnesium ingot output stood at 64,837 mt in March, down 2.6% MoM and 2.3% YoY.

Magnesium ingot output continued to decline in March, as some magnesium plants implemented maintenance plans based on funding and costs. At the beginning of March, magnesium prices kept falling due to oversupply and tight funds. In order to ease financial pressure, magnesium plants continued to lower prices to stimulate downstream purchases, resulting in lower profit margins. Magnesium prices fell below the break-even levels, putting some plants on production cuts or halts to reduce supply, leading to lower output.

In early April, news of production cuts and suspensions was flying. The backlog orders during Qingming Festival and the pre-stocking demand before Labour Day holiday released, supporting magnesium prices at 18,000 yuan/mt. If the magnesium price continue to rise steadily, factories may resume production ahead of schedule. However, considering that shutdown will mainly occur in late March or early April, the impact on April's production will be greater. SMM expects that the output in April will be reduced to 62,000 mt.

Magnesium alloy

China's magnesium alloy output was 26,550 mt in March, up 33.3% MoM and 5.9% YoY.

In March, the operating rate of downstream magnesium alloy processing enterprises improved, and orders rebounded. Major magnesium alloy plants resumed normal production, with the output increasing by 33%. Affected by downstream production suspension during CNY, magnesium alloy production significantly reduced. As downstream operating rate gradually rose, magnesium alloy orders in March increased by 33% MoM. Undermined by the sluggish domestic economy, the overall demand is sluggish. Driven by rising aluminum prices, cost performance of magnesium alloys became increasingly prominent. Orders may inch up in April. SMM predicts that magnesium alloy production will increase to 27,000 mt in April.

Magnesium powder

China's magnesium powder output was 6,212 mt in March, up 22% MoM and 8.7% YoY.

There were few orders during the CNY holidays and a strong wait-and-see mood among downstream buyers amid falling magnesium ingot prices. In addition, rising shipping costs caused by Houthi’s attack on merchant ships in Red Sea undermined overseas orders, lowering production of some domestic magnesium powder makers. The person in charge of a large magnesium powder company said that poor profits amid domestic economic downturn made magnesium ingot prices more volatile, leading to prudent buying for magnesium powder. Low-priced magnesium ingots may add orders for magnesium powder. SMM predicts that domestic magnesium powder output will remain at 6,000 mt in April.

Titanium sponge

China's titanium sponge output in March was 19,000 mt (+9.6 MoM).

In March, new production capacity of some large titanium sponge plants gradually released, while the rest were in stable production. The output of titanium sponge increased slightly MoM. In March, the overall demand was positive. Bolstered by orders on hand, the price inched higher. Considering that some sponge titanium enterprises continued to release new capacity, titanium sponge output may reach 20,000 mt in April.

Pr-Nd alloy

In March 2024, domestic production of Pr-Nd alloy was 5,744 mt, up 12% MoM.

The operating rate of Pr-Nd alloy market picked up after CNY holidays, and the monthly output increased by 12% MoM. Downstream magnetic material companies had severe backlog of orders after CNY, boosting the operating rate of magnetic materials companies in March. In addition, the spot circulation in the market tightened due to purchases by a large company. Owing to the depletion of orders during CNY, Pr-Nd alloy demand is expected to slow down, dragging down production in April. SMM will continue to pay attention to spot market transactions.

Pr-Nd oxide

China’s Pr-Nd oxide production in March was up by 0.56% MoM at 5,944 mt, with the growth mostly contributed by Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Guangdong, Guangxi and other regions.

Affected by migrant workers returning home for the CNY holidays, operating rate of the separation plants dropped in February. Production resumed to normal in March, boosting the output in various regions.

The rare earth market were relatively active. As miners were reluctant to sell and the inventory of downstream magnetic material companies almost bottomed out, price increase, traders' speculation and concentrated purchases by downstream companies led to a significant increase in Pr-Nd oxide prices around the Qingming Festival. There has been a significant reduction in rare earth metal ore imports from the US, and the output in Sichuan may significant drop in April.

Dysprosium oxide

China’s dysprosium oxide production in March was 219 mt, up 0.8% MoM. The increase was mainly reflected in Guangxi where separation plants resumed production in March.

However, some companies in Jiangxi reported that due to the losses, ion-absorption ore holders were reluctant to sell since March, low-priced supplies rapidly tightened, and some separation plants slightly cut output due to shortages of raw materials.

Terbium oxide

China’s terbium oxide output in March was down by 1.3% MoM at 42.5 mt, primarily dragged by Jiangxi where output lost 7%.

Ion-absorption ore holders pledged their spot ore due to losses. In addition, Myanmar is about to enter the rainy season, and the supply of ion-absorption ore may hardly increase. Holders were reluctant to sell, tightening low-priced supplies. Some separation plants in Jiangxi slightly reduced production due to shortage of raw materials.

Gadolinium oxide

China’s gadolinium oxide production in March was 291.5 mt, down 2% MoM. The decrease was mainly reflected in Jiangxi where lowering operating rate of separation plants during the holidays curtailed 7% of local dysprosium oxide output.

The ore imports from Myanmar will hardly increase in the second quarter ahead of rainy season in south China. Gadolinium oxide output may continue to drop slightly in April.

Holmium oxide

China’s holmium oxide production in March was 44 mt, flat MoM. The output in Guangxi and Jiangsu increased MoM, while the output in Jiangxi decreased slightly.

The reduction in the operating rate caused by the workers returning home for the CNY holiday restored in March. The output of holmium oxide in Guangxi and Jiangxi increased by 9% and 2% respectively. Due to the insufficient supply of ion-absorption ore in Jiangxi, the output of medium-heavy rare earths decreased and the local holmium oxide output dropped by 2%.

Refined nickel

China’s refined nickel output stood at 24,900 mt in March, up 1.22% MoM and 41.48% YoY. This slight increase was in line with expectations. Almost all refined nickel producers gradually resumed production in March. However, it is worth noting that the total refined nickel output in March still decreased compared with January, mainly because some refined nickel producers stopped or reduced production due to equipment maintenance.

It is estimated that the domestic refined nickel output will reach around 25,900 mt in April, a significant rise from March. SMM research showed the rising nickel prices in March motivated production expansion plans, so the output of some refined nickel plants continued to rise. The refined nickel producers that suspended or reduced production in March are expected to restart in April, and new capacity that was put into operation at the beginning of the year is still in ramp-up stage. In summary, SMM forecasts refined nickel production in April to rise 4% MoM.


China’s NPI output stood at 27,700 mt in nickel content (up 5.95% MoM) or 662,000 mt in physical content (down 2.82% MoM) in March. Specifically, high-grade NPI was about 225,000 mt in physical content or 211,900 mt in metal content; low-grade NPI was 437,000 mt in physical content (down 30,000 mt in physical content) or 64,900 mt in metal content. The NPI output decline in physical content is mainly contributed by slow approval of Indonesia's RKAB and the rainy season in the Philippines. The short-term tight supply of nickel ore plus ongoing losses caused some small and medium-sized NPI plants to stop production. The NPI output increase in metal content is attributable to production resumption of some integrated steel mills in March after they stopped production for concentrated maintenance during the Spring Festival in February. At present, affected by high nickel ore prices and low NPI prices in March, domestic NPI production has declined.

It is estimated that the domestic NPI output will reach around 27,000 mt in metal content in April, down 2.52% MoM. SMM research showed some domestic small and medium-sized NPI smelters suspended production due to losses, and the time for resumption has not been determined.

Indonesian NPI

Indonesia produced 117,900 mt (Ni content) of NPI in March, up 3.51% MoM and 23.9% YoY. In Q1, output rose 19% YoY to 353,700 mt in nickel content. Caused by the limited RKAB approval, smelters are still purchasing nickel ore at a high premium. However, tight supply of nickel ore pushed raw material inventory to fall in March. Considering Lebaran in April, the output of high-grade NPI in April is expected to be 121,000 mt in nickel content, a slight increase of 2.66% MoM. If RKAB approval is still slower than expected, NPI output will be influenced in the future.

Nickel sulphate

In March, China’s nickel sulphate output was 34,000 mt in metal content, or 160,100 mt in physical content (up 32.71% MoM and down 7.83% YoY). The increase was contributed by demand recovery and the gradual production resumption by wet-process recycling plants. In March, the downstream NCM industry chain had basically destocked. Coupled with the positive automobile sales data, nickel sulphate smelters increased their operating rates.

In April, as automakers who produce NCM battery-powered EV models reduced prices to stimulate consumption, SMM expects a recovery in terminal consumption. Combined with the continued tight supply in March and limited inventory in precursor companies, demand for nickel sulphate still exists. The nickel sulphate price hike caused by the mismatch between supply and demand in March brought about the profit recovery of nickel sulphate smelters. Therefore, it is expected that the operating rate will remain high in April. After the wet-process recycling plants gradually restart, the national nickel sulphate output in April is expected to be 35,900 mt in metal content, or 163,000 mt in physical content ( up 5.39% MoM and 18.88% YoY).

Battery-grade manganese sulphate

China's output of high-purity manganese sulphate was 13,800 mt in March, up 56.8% MoM. According to the survey, the output increase is driven by production resumption by most manganese sulphate smelters after the Spring Festival and robust demand from downstream precursor enterprises. In March, as costs continued to rise, most manganese sulphate smelters in Guizhou halted production for maintenance. Low inventory caused an overall tight supply. Downstream precursor companies mostly took a wait-and-see attitude towards the price hike and maintained purchases for essential needs. The purchasing volume has increased compared to February. Integrated precursor companies all determined production based on sales. It is expected that entering April, the quotations of high-purity manganese sulphate will remain high, supported by costs. High-purity manganese sulphate smelters that were shut down for maintenance may gradually resume production based on orders of downstream precursor enterprises, resulting in a continuous increase in the output. China's output of high-purity manganese sulphate is estimated to reach 16,000 mt in physical content in April, up 15.9% MoM.

Electrolytic manganese dioxide

SMM data showed that China’s electrolytic manganese dioxide (EMD) output was 14,700 mt (including 1,200 mt for LMO battery, 9,100 mt for alkaline manganese battery, and 4,400 mt for zinc-carbon battery) in March, up 12.5% MoM and down 5.2% YoY. In March, due to the production resumption after the Spring Festival and strong downstream demand, the output of EMD for LMO, alkaline manganese, and zinc-carbon batteries all increased. From the demand side, the primary battery market was relatively stable, with fewer new orders, while the demand from secondary battery market inched upward. The market trading was active. EMD output for LMO battery fluctuated greatly. Producers were still cautious about production scheduling based on demand even amid robust downstream purchasing appetite. Entering April, driven by the recovery of the downstream LMO battery market, demand for EMD is expected to increase further, leading to a production increase. On this basis, the EMD output in April is expected to reach approximately 16,200 mt.


In March, China’s trimanganese tetraoxide (Mn3O4) output stood at 9,300 mt (including 4,900 mt of electronics-grade Mn3O4 and 4,400 mt of battery-grade Mn3O4), up 45.3% MoM and down 13.8% YoY. The output of electronic-grade and battery-grade Mn3O4 both increased, contributed by two reasons. 1. Production resumption after the Spring Festival and new production capacity. 2. The rising LMO cathode output elevated the purchasing demand for battery-grade Mn3O4, while increased terminal orders compared with February released the demand for electronics-grade Mn3O4. As LMO producers were relatively sensitive to the spot price of lithium carbonate, the latter price fluctuation in March caused most of them to determine production based on sales, rather than restocking.

Entering April, it is expected that the output of electronic-grade Mn3O4 will continue to rise, and the demand for battery-grade Mn3O4 will be further released due to the recovery of the LMO market. The total Mn3O4 output in April is expected to be about 10,200 mt.

High-carbon ferrochrome

SMM data showed that the national high-carbon ferrochrome production recovered and rose to 646,200 mt in March, up 9.19% MoM and 2.52% YoY. Specifically, the output in Inner Mongolia was 461,200 mt (up by 22,800 mt or 5.2% MoM), and that in Guizhou was 26,000 mt (up 48.57% MoM). Although bidding prices of mainstream stainless steel mills remained unchanged in March, a large number of ferrochrome smelters suffered losses because of high chrome ore prices. However, as stainless steel production rebounded and coke prices continuously fell, the losses of ferrochrome producers shrank and their production ramped up. In March, a 31-day month, ferrochrome production rose significantly with the end of the Spring Festival.

High-carbon ferrochrome output is expected to make a new record of 701,000 mt in April. In March-April, stainless steel production remained at a high level, elevating the demand for ferrochrome. Earlier, ferrochrome producers kept low operating rates because of huge losses. In mid-March, Tsingshan took the lead in announcing its purchasing price, a sharp increase beyond market expectations. The profits of ferrochrome producers recovered, motivating many to resume production.

Stainless steel

According to SMM surveys, China’s stainless steel output totalled 3.1781 million mt in March, up 21.87% MoM and 16.38% YoY. 200-series output rose 22.91% MoM to 871,400 mt, 300-series up 21.37% MoM to 1.6919 million mt, and 400-series up 21.82% MoM to 614,800 mt.

In March, a traditional peak season, the actual terminal purchasing demand was not weak at the beginning of the month. Moreover production resumption after the Spring Festival also contributed to demand recovery. Stainless steel mills scheduled high production in March, with the 300-series output reaching a historical high. The 200-series output decreased compared with March last year, affected by the reduced production during and after the Spring Festival, as well as maintenance and rectification plans of steel mills. Most of the downstream orders for 300-series stainless steel were based on the agreements in February-March. Since steel mills in North and South China received large orders after the Spring Festival, steel mills basically maintained full production, with 300-series stainless steel resuming production significantly. Due to the relatively stable industrial demand for 400-series stainless steel, the downstream production resumed normally after the Spring Festival. Supported by long-term contract orders, 400-series output increased significantly on both month-on-month and year-on-year basis.

In April, social inventory and in-factory inventory were both at high levels. The weakening downstream demand and bearish high-grade NPI prices caused by eased nickel ore supply concerns weighed on the stainless steel price. Stainless steel mills suffered serious losses. In April, a steel mill in East China has a plan to switch the production of 300-series to 400-series. 200 and 300-series output may sharply decline, while the 400-series output may increase.


China’s EMM output stood at 101,200 mt in March, up 18.84% MoM and down 11.75% YoY, SMM data showed. The growth was primarily attributed to rising operating rates in Sichuan and Yunnan production areas. The operating rates of leading manufacturers could be 70% higher than that agreed at meetings because they purchased some production indicators. A longer month also explained the increase in production. In March, 200-series and 300-series stainless steel production grew at a similar rate. Due to the weak performance of terminal consumption, steel mill inventory increased.

Entering April, while leading EMM producers continued to operate and some small ones remained closed, the rest maintained 70% of their production capacity. Therefore, the overall monthly EMM supply will fluctuate within a small range, and is expected to be about 100,700 mt.

SiMn alloy

China’s SiMn alloy output totalled 808,500 mt in March, up 0.87% MoM and down 14.93% YoY, SMM data showed. In northern regions such as Inner Mongolia, the output stayed at a high level due to a high operating rate and an increase in the number of days in March, while some companies in Ningxia and most in the south cut production because of low prices.

In April, SiMn alloy producers in low-cost regions such as Inner Mongolia maintained operations. Considering the limited profit margin caused by low prices of SiMn alloy, the operating rate in other regions is expected to stay low. The overall SiMn alloy production in April is estimated to decline to about 778,500 mt.

Molybdenum concentrate

China's March molybdenum concentrate output was 16,500 mt, up 10.8% MoM.

In March, the impact of CNY holidays on mine production eased, and most domestic molybdenum mines returned to normal production; the mines that were under maintenance also resumed production, boosting the output in March.

The output of molybdenum concentrate may increase steadily in April due to generous profits from molybdenum mines and growing downstream demand.


China's ferromolybdenum output in March was approximately 15,700 mt, up 5.5% MoM.

In March, domestic ferromolybdenum smelters resumed normal production; and since the ferromolybdenum bidding volume hit a new high of 12,000 mt in February and exceeded 10,000 mt in March, the plants were fully scheduled and the yield rate increased steadily.

In April, downstream molybdenum-containing steel still maintained a high scheduled production, and there is no significant decrease in the demand for ferromolybdenum. It is expected that the output will still have room for growth.


March 2024 #1 silver output was 1,554.57 mt, with 1,015.57 mt from mining, up 278.476 mt (21.82%) MoM and 11% YoY, mainly as silver prices rose for three consecutive weeks in March. Driven by rising silver prices, companies that sell silver-containing waste materials were very active, and some smelters used raw materials and recycling materials to make up for the low production, boosting the output. Due to domestic rising silver-containing ore prices and high silver price in April, the market acceptance may not be high. SMM expects a slight correction in silver production in April.

The ADP employment index in the US in March recorded 184,000, higher than the previous value of 155,000. The US unemployment rate recorded 3.8%, lower than the previous value and expected value of 3.9%; and the seasonally adjusted US non-farm payroll employment recorded 303,000, higher than previous value of 270,000 and forecast value of 200,000. Although the employment data was bearish, after a slight decline in spot silver prices, the risk aversion and investment sentiment still prevailed in the market, and the gap in the gold-silver ratio also drove up silver prices to exceed 7,000 yuan/kg mark in April.

Silver nitrate

In March, the market was not affected by CNY holidays. There were more working days in March than in February, combined with stockpiling for downstream demand, boosting the production. Domestic silver nitrate producers with sales qualifications produced 750 mt of silver nitrate in March, up 20.4% MoM and 38.9% YoY. The output of various regions increased by about 20%-30% MoM, while other regions decreased. In general, the production of silver nitrate in March showed an upward trend. High silver prices may suppress the output in April, and the rigid demand is limited.

Antimony Ingots

China's March 2024 antimony ingot production, including ingots, crude, and cathode, was 5,816.151 mt, up 31.31% from February's 4,429.22 mt. Due to the shortage of raw materials and factories shutdown during CNY holidays, production dropped significantly in February. Thus, the sharp rebound in production in March was expected. However, the shortage of raw materials forced some new manufacturers to stop production. The output of a few manufacturers slightly increased or decreased, and some manufacturers resumed production. Overall, the output of most manufacturers increased to varying degrees. Compared with the previous month, the output in March grew significantly. Raw material resources are still concentrated in some factories, and many manufacturers still find it difficult to resume production or continue to increase production.

Among the 33 manufacturers surveyed by SMM, 16 of them stopped production, up by one MoM; 16 of them cut output, down by one MoM; and one of them was under normal production, unchanged from last month. SMM predicted that antimony production in March returned to normal operation. The output in April 2024 is likely to continue to grow, but the extent of the growth depends on the changes in the supply of imported and domestic ores.

Notes: SMM has released Chinese antimony ingot production, including ingots, crude, and cathode since May 2022. Thanks to high coverage of the antimony industry, SMM has successfully surveyed a total of 33 antimony ingots manufacturers, who are located in eight provinces across the country, with a total capacity of more than 20,000 mt and a total capacity coverage rate of over 99%.

Sodium pyroantimonate

SMM surveys showed China's sodium pyroantimonate output in March was 4,102 mt, a significant increase of 33.18% from 3,080 mt in February. The output rebounded after a sudden decline in March. It is said that the rebound was within expectations. The long Spring Festival holiday caused many plants to stop production, resulting in a huge production decline in February.

Among the 11 survey subjects, one plant was still in a state of suspension or debugging in March, and three cut production to varying degrees, with the output of the rest on the rise. Some stated that as the raw material stocks of terminal plants before the Spring Festival gradually decreased entering April, purchases increased significantly. Therefore, the output in April is expected to remain robust. At present, sodium pyroantimonate plants are still generally optimistic. As the output of terminal photovoltaic manufacturers continues to rise in 2024, the demand for sodium pyroantimonate is expected to perform well. SMM predicts that China's sodium pyroantimonate output will inch upward in April.

Notes: SMM has released China’s sodium pyroantimonate output data since July 2023. Thanks to high coverage of the antimony industry, SMM has successfully surveyed a total of 11 sodium pyroantimonate manufacturers, who are located in five provinces across the country, with a total capacity of more than 75,000 mt and a total capacity coverage rate of over 99%.

Refined bismuth

SMM surveys showed the output of refined bismuth in China was 1,923.275 mt in March, up 64.72% from 1167.599 mt in February. It is said that the output rebound in March was within expectations. Compared with the output of 2,618.416 mt last March, it has dropped significantly, in line with the current tight supply of bismuth raw materials. For example, a large factory in Henan with a stable output also stopped production last month due to a lack of bismuth raw materials. Among the 24 survey subjects, only one manufacturer had a significant decline in output in March while the output of six manufacturers increased dramatically. This led to a drastic increase in the overall bismuth ingot production in March compared with February in which the long Spring Festival holiday caused many manufacturers to haul production. Many market participants said that the current tight bismuth raw material supply led to the low output. Therefore, SMM predicts that the national refined bismuth output is likely to remain stable and can hardly return to above 2,000 mt again.

Notes: SMM has released Chinese refined bismuth output data since October 2022. Thanks to high coverage of the bismuth industry, SMM has successfully investigated a total of 24 refined bismuth manufacturers, who are located in eight provinces across the country, with a total capacity of more than 50,000 mt and a total capacity coverage rate of over 99%.

Titanium dioxide

China’s titanium dioxide output stood at 390,000 mt in March, up 3.7% MoM and 17% YoY, SMM data showed.

In March, a traditional peak season for titanium dioxide, all manufacturers had a large number of orders on hand. Their gradual production resumption and newly added capacity from leading manufacturers pushed the titanium dioxide output upward.

In March, the titanium dioxide supply was relatively tight, so titanium dioxide manufacturers faced less inventory pressure. However, transactions in the downstream market were thin as downstream customers purchased mostly for essential needs. The third wave of titanium dioxide price hike was hard to be realised. Considering that titanium dioxide orders are scheduled until mid-to-late April, the current operation of titanium dioxide manufacturers remains stable at a high level. SMM expects titanium dioxide output in April to stay at 390,000 mt.

Ammonium paratungstate (APT)

SMM data showed that China’s APT output was 10,000 mt in March, up 13.9% MoM.

In March, the end of the Spring Festival holiday and the completion of smelters’ maintenance led to a significant increase in APT output. Since the rapidly rising price of tungsten raw materials weighed on the downstream tungsten powder market, the profit of APT smelters did not recover. ATP output was mainly for long-term orders, with fewer large stocks of retail customers, so it was still in recovery.

Entering April, affected by factors such as environmental protection supervision, the productivity of APT smelters in Jiangxi Province is likely to decrease. SMM expects APT output to remain stable in April.

Lithium carbonate

SMM research indicates that China's lithium carbonate production in March reached 42,792 mt, up 31.8% MoM and 42.9% YoY. Domestic lithium carbonate production totalled 116,790 mt from January to March, up 20.8% YoY. March saw a rise in lithium carbonate production primarily due to the post-maintenance recovery of operations and profitability at lithium salt companies, while environmental challenges in Jiangxi's Yichun area slightly hindered the resumption efforts of local small and medium-sized lithium salt firms. Lithium carbonate production from spodumene and lepidolite processors climbed notably, up 28.8% and 34.6% MoM respectively. Salt lake producers saw a 22.5% boost in output as temperatures rose, enhancing efficiency. Despite early March cost inversions, recycling firms achieved a 58.5% MoM increase in lithium carbonate production.

Entering April, the end of seasonal maintenance for lithium salt companies and a projected easing of environmental policy effects in Jiangxi's Yichun area suggest that stable production among most lithium salt enterprises will likely lead to another increase in domestic lithium carbonate output. April's forecast for lithium carbonate production is 53,135 mt, up 24.2% MoM.

Lithium hydroxide

China's lithium hydroxide output in March was 27,375 mt, up 55% MoM and 15% YoY. Lithium hydroxide production using the smelting method reached 23,850 mt, up 53% MoM and 25% YoY. Production from the causticization method totalled 3,525 mt, up 70% MoM but down 27% YoY. The causticization method's MoM production surged due to previously low operating rates amid price inversions between lithium hydroxide and lithium carbonate. Post-Spring Festival, heightened contract manufacturing orders spurred this quick increase. From January to March 2024, China's cumulative lithium hydroxide production was 67,517 mt, down 3% YoY but showing an improvement from the 12% decline observed in February. In March, the lithium hydroxide market experienced a supply-side boost with most smelting manufacturers resuming operations post-Spring Festival. The rebound in lithium carbonate prices lifted lithium hydroxide prices and, along with dropping inventory levels, spurred production and shipments. The causticization sector also saw a rise in contract orders and the release of new production lines, contributing to the increased output.

By April, the introduction of new production lines is expected to sustain an uptick in scheduled production for some companies. While demand from the high-nickel ternary sector should stay robust, the overall demand growth may slow compared to the post-Spring Festival surge, potentially tempering the production momentum for some enterprises. China's lithium hydroxide production for April is projected at 31,480 mt, up 15% MoM and 35% YoY.

Cobalt Sulphate

China's cobalt sulphate output in March was 4,795 mt in metal content, up 18% MoM but down 36% YoY. The production uptick is mostly due to primary cobalt sulphate enterprises resuming normal operations post-Spring Festival, while recycling enterprises ramped up more slowly amid soft market demand. Simultaneously, post-Spring Festival raw material price spikes imposed cost pressures on cobalt salt factories, tempering production increases and resulting in a more modest output rise than expected.

The April market outlook suggests subdued future demand and rising inventories, leading to low expectations for increased smelter operating rate. April's projected production is around 4,888 mt in metal content, up 2% MoM but down 19% YoY.

Tricobalt Tetraoxide (Co3O4)

China's March production of Co3O4 was 7,175 mt, up 17% MoM and up 28% YoY. This production rise was driven by two main factors: smelting plants returning to normal post-Spring Festival and Co3O4 companies striving to meet a backlog of pre-holiday orders, resulting in a concerted push to maintain high production levels to ensure timely fulfillment.

Heading into April, signs of softening downstream demand and potential maintenance at some smelting plants suggest a possible production dip. Co3O4 production is estimated at around 7,055 mt for April, down 2% MoM yet up 14% YoY.

Ternary Cathode Precursor

In March 2024, China's ternary cathode precursor output was about 77,550 mt, up 27% MoM and 43% YoY.

Post-Spring Festival, precursor manufacturers ramped up to normal production, buoyed by strong March vehicle sales and effective demand translation after pre-holiday inventory clearances, aligning supply with sales and boosting output. Domestically, cathode companies actively stockpiled, with strong demand centered on series 6 materials from top battery cell manufacturers. Internationally, some precursor firms experienced a rise in orders, adding to a generally upbeat demand outlook.

For April 2024, the domestic series 6 materials market is poised to stay positive with modest gains, while attention may shift towards series 5 and 8 materials. Despite a general upturn in the ternary precursor market, some producers could face a drop in foreign orders. Scheduled production is anticipated to stay demand-responsive.

China's ternary cathode precursor production for April 2024 is estimated at roughly 80,290 mt, up 4% MoM and up 50% YoY. The total production from January to April is 295,555 mt, up 27.48% YoY.

Ternary cathode materials

March 2024 saw ternary cathode material production hit 62,681 mt, up 33% MoM and up 2% YoY. The total from January to March reached 165,136 mt, up 24% YoY.

Supply side, leading digital and power battery producers sustained high operating rate in March, with smaller factories resuming post-February pause. The EV sector favored medium-nickel materials, fueling significant growth. Low-nickel and high-nickel materials bounced back from February dips. Material distribution was 23% for series 5, 29% for series 6, and 47% for series 8/9. Demand side, consumption and power battery markets saw intense price competition among battery cell producers catering to consumers, with leading manufacturers running at full capacity, leading to robust demand for ternary materials. The two-wheeler segment posted a modest rise, while electric tool demand stabilized post-2023 inventory clearance. Vehicle sales in March surged MoM, and EV makers began Q1 raw material purchases for upcoming new models, which in turn spurred demand for battery cells and ternary materials. Rising lithium prices in March also prompted stockpiling among battery cell makers.

China's April 2024 ternary material production is forecasted at 68,760 mt, up 10% MoM and 53% YoY, with a January-to-April cumulative increase of 24%. Supply side, April's scheduled production growth is expected to slow. Material share projections are 22% for series 5, 30% for series 6—gaining market share from series 5—and 47% for series 8/9. In corporate competition, leading mid-to-high-nickel producers are poised for significant growth, with secondary manufacturers likely seeing a mild rebound, potentially intensifying market consolidation. Demand side, in April's EV market, automakers kicked off price wars again to offset potential order declines, aiming to sustain sales momentum. With battery cell inventories low, the rise in vehicle sales is expected to directly boost demand for battery cells and cathodes, thus driving up the need for ternary materials. However, some manufacturers may face reduced material demand having preemptively stockpiled due to anticipated downstream sales slowdowns. In the digital and power battery sectors, stabilized lithium prices and secured downstream orders are keeping demand strong. Overall, the demand for ternary materials is trending upward.

Iron Phosphate

China's iron phosphate production in March rocketed to 121,100 mt, up 103% MoM and 75% YoY, driven by a significant uptick in orders that boosted operating rate and market supply. March witnessed increased prices for phosphate resources, influenced by the spring plowing season and high phosphate fertilizer demand, leading to a moderate hike in costs for raw materials like industrial monoammonium phosphate and phosphoric acid, with the cost pressure progressively transferring to downstream industries. March saw a sharp rise in demand for iron phosphate from downstream LFP producers, spurred by climbing lithium carbonate costs which led LFP firms to stock up at lower prices for future production. This trend significantly increased iron phosphate demand, with production in March rebounding strongly from February, pushing some companies close to full capacity. Iron phosphate orders are expected to maintain growth into April, resulting in a boosted supply. China's forecasted iron phosphate production for April is set at 135,400 mt, up 12% MoM and 86% YoY.


March saw China's LFP production soar to 137,010 mt, up 70% rise MoM and 53% YoY. Q1 output surged 53% YoY. March witnessed a rebound in lithium carbonate prices and rising iron phosphate prices, and consequently increasing LFP production costs, although the pass-through to battery cell manufacturers has been somewhat delayed. Supply side, LFP producers experienced a steady order recovery in March, with top manufacturers reporting major order increases, resulting in higher operating rate and an enhanced supply. Demand side, intense price competition within the new energy vehicle sector further propelled EV market demand in March. The energy storage market is rebounding, with battery cell factories accelerating their pace of procurement. Entering Q2 with new energy vehicle releases and price war, LFP cathode makers are optimistic about market demand. They're gearing up for increased Q2 production, anticipating sustained demand growth. April's projected LFP output in China is 164,110 mt, up 20% MoM and a notable 105% YoY.


China's March output for LCO reached 6,345 mt, up 44% MoM and 21% YoY. Higher lithium carbonate and Co3O4 prices have escalated LCO production costs. March saw LCO producers rebound from the post-Spring Festival slowdown, leading to a notable supply increase. Market trends revealed divergence, with manufacturers for mobile phones experiencing a stronger MoM growth compared to those supplying the e-cigarette segment, which saw more modest gains. Battery cell factories are cautious about Q2 market demand due to no major model launches expected in the first half of the year. They are purchasing LCO as needed, despite higher lithium prices, adhering to a sales-driven production strategy.

China's April output for LCO is projected at 6,770 mt, up 7% MoM and 11% YoY. Top LCO producers are anticipated to continue growing in April, with smaller manufacturers remaining stable. Some are also set to ramp up scheduled production due to the release of new capacity. Demand for high-end digital LCO is rebounding, with key battery cell makers slightly increasing procurement, while the e-cigarette market continues to face weak demand.


China's LMO production in March 2024 hit 7,120 mt, up 25.5% MoM and up 73.5% YoY. The rise in LMO production is attributed to two main factors: post-Spring Festival resumption of normal production activities by LMO firms, boosting output, and a revival in market demand due to battery cell manufacturers' reduced inventory levels, leading to a wave of new orders. LMO producers displayed increased production enthusiasm in March, resuming normal operating rate, resulting in a higher market activity compared to February. March saw volatile lithium carbonate spot prices, leading to unsteady cost foundations for LMO cathode materials. Despite this, LMO firms maintained robust procurement intentions in the short term, unaffected by these cost fluctuations. For April, strong demand from downstream battery cell factories is predicted to further propel LMO production planning. The projected LMO output is about 8,500 mt, up 19.4% MoM and 24.9% YoY.


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

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