China is poised to increase its control over the global cobalt supply, according to a report by Darton Commodities, a UK-based cobalt trader.
Over the next two years, China’s share of cobalt production is expected to reach half of global output, up from 44% at present, Darton said.
Chinese refining activity reached 140,000 tonnes in 2022, giving the country a 77% global share of refining capacity.
The price of the metal hit a 32-month low this month amid a surge in production.
Global mine production grew 42% between 2020 and 2022 as covid-19 related supply chain constraints eased, existing operations ramped up and several new mines were commissioned.
Glencore Plc was by far the world’s largest cobalt miner last year, mainly from its two operations in Congo.
Eurasian Resources Group and China’s CMOC Group Ltd., which also have large Congo operations, followed the Swiss company as the biggest producers.
Global supplies are expected to surge to around 210,000 tonnes this year, up 24% from 2022, while demand is forecast to rise 8% to 205,000 tonnes, according to the report.
Liberum analyst Tom Price told Reuters that prices are expected to average $54,840 a tonne this year and $50,320 in 2024, compared with $63,739 last year.
“A lot of things converged at the same time to push the market down: the relaxation of logistics issues, weak consumer electronic sales and a technology shift towards lower or no cobalt EV batteries,” Caspar Rawles, chief data officer at Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, told the Financial Times.
Cobalt prices could fall further if Tenke Fungurume, the world’s second-largest cobalt mine owned by CMOC, is allowed to resume exports from the DRC after a tax dispute led to an export ban last July.
The company has kept producing despite the ban, stockpiling 10,000 to 12,000 tonnes of the metal.
(With files from Bloomberg and Reuters)