The frenzy for lithium, which saw Chinese prices of the electric-vehicle battery material surge more than 1,300% in just two years, has turned into a rapid retreat.
Prices of lithium carbonate, the benchmark product, have halved since rocketing to a record last November, according to data from Asian Metal Inc. That reflects two major pressures: the prospect of much more global supply coming online this year, and signs that the breakneck growth of China’s EV sector is starting to moderate.
“Lithium carbonate prices saw a greater rate of decline as greater supply growth outlook for the year coincides with weaker demand sentiment,” according to a BloombergNEF report this month.
The two-year price surge in lithium and other battery materials jolted the EV-supply chain and sparked a scramble by battery manufacturers and carmakers to lock in supplies.
While the decline of lithium prices offers some cost relief to automakers and battery manufacturers squeezed by soaring costs, the raw material remains at still-lofty levels compared with its lows in 2020.
Lithium supply is heading for a major increase this year as a wave of expansions and new projects get up and running. Still, there’s doubt over whether some less-established companies will be able to deliver promised output given the range of regulatory, technical and commercial challenges.
Chinese automaker Nio Inc. foresees lithium prices will “quite likely” drop to around 200,000 yuan or lower in the fourth quarter, Chief Executive Officer William Li said in an earnings call this month.
“Starting from this year, we are going to see more output from upstream,” Li said. “We believe demand probably is not going to be that strong compared with the past.”
Meanwhile, prices of spodumene, the lithium-bearing mineral, have also slumped, data from Benchmark Mineral Intelligence shows.
(By Annie Lee)
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