Antimony may extend its rally after climbing to a record in China as Hunan province, the country’s largest producing region, curbs output to comply with central government restrictions, industry analysts said.
The metal, used in car batteries and as a flame retardant in electrical appliances, reached a record 71,000 yuan ($10,461) a metric ton in Changjiang, Shanghai’s biggest cash market, on Sept. 2, and traded at that level today. Ingot with a minimum purity of 99.85 percent, the main industrial grade, has jumped 66 percent this year.
China, which accounted for about 90 percent of global antimony output last year, curbed exports and production of minor metals this year to shore up prices and ensure domestic supplies. The country’s commerce minister last month said the controls were part of measures to protect the environment.
“We don’t rule out higher prices from here,” Peng Bo, an analyst at Guosen Securities Co., said from Shenzhen. “If BHP can dominate the potash market, China is also free to protect its own interests.”
BHP Billiton Ltd. is making a $40 billion hostile bid for Canada’s Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan Inc., the world’s largest fertilizer producer. China, the second-biggest importer of the crop nutrient, has encouraged its largest fertilizer trader Sinochem Group to make a counterbid, the Financial Times reported Sept. 4.
“Hunan has begun cracking down on production, particularly in the biggest producing region of Lengshuijiang, and this has again brought attention on tighter antimony supplies from China,” said Peng.
Producers of antimony, tungsten and rare earth must sign an agreement to keep within a production quota, the China Land Resource Network said on Aug. 31, citing the Hunan branch of the Ministry of Land and Resources. Companies that don’t comply with the quotas will be investigated and have their production permits canceled, the report said.
Almost all antimony smelters in central Hunan’s Lengshuijiang city were shut this year for safety inspections after thousands of children were poisoned by pollution from lead smelters, according Beijing Antaike Information Development Co.
“Many of the small outfits never came back online,” said Yang Xueling, Antaike’s senior antimony analyst. “Antimony ore supply has been tight for most of this year. Supply is drying up, while downstream consumption remains robust.”
The city government of Lengshuijiang in central Hunan cut power supplies to “close to a hundred” smelters and also shut mining facilities, it said in April. Producers will be merged and qualified companies must reach a minimum annual capacity of 5,000 tons and meet emissions standards, it said.
“Prices reached a high in May as smelters in Lengshuijiang were shut,” said Geng Nuo, Beijing-based analyst at Great Wall Securities Co. “The market stabilized during the slow summer-demand period and may now be ready for another move higher.”
Higher prices are benefiting Chenzhou Mining Group Co., the world’s second-largest producer. Shares of Chenzhou Mining have jumped 40 percent in the past month, reflecting concerns that supply may not keep pace with demand. Both Guosen’s Peng and Great Wall’s Geng recommend holding the stock.
Antimony prices in Changjiang reached 67,000 yuan a ton on May 10 as consumers stockpiled the metal in anticipation that supplies would decline, and fell to 55,000 yuan by the end of June, according to researcher and information provider Shanghai Metals Market.
The land ministry cut export quotas and said it stopped accepting applications for new antimony and tungsten mines. China capped this year’s antimony output at 100,000 tons, compared with 90,180 tons in 2009.
“Prices in May fell short of our target of 70,000 yuan and have finally reached those levels,” said Wang Wei, an antimony analyst at Shanghai Metals Market. “As long as the economy holds up, prices may well be set for another rally.”