Roskill reports sharp increases in the price of cobalt metal have driven considerable interest in the market. Metal Bulletin’s Cobalt High Grade Free Market price reached above $24/lb on February 24, up from US$17.5/lb a month previously.
Many market commentators have pointed to the impact of speculative stockpiling from funds. The Financial Times reported last week that half a dozen funds have purchased and stored an estimated 6,ooo t of cobalt, worth as much as $280 million. As detailed in Roskill’s upcoming Cobalt Report, there has already been material taken out of the market in recent years. China State Reserve Bureau (SRB) has moved to purchase considerable quantities of cobalt since 2014.
The cobalt market is prone to volatile prices, although the last few years have seen relative stability underpinned by oversupply despite strong demand. Significant price rises were seen over the 2003 to 2008 period, driven by undersupply, perceived fears over future supply shortages, and high levels of global economic growth underpinned by strong Chinese demand. In 2003 the price of high grade cobalt averaged just under $11/lb but grew to reach an average of over $38/lb by 2008. At the peak in March 2008, high-grade cobalt metal was sold at over $52/lb.
As such, the recent price rises do not necessarily reflect the ‘new normal’ and the possibility of a correction is considerable. Importantly, concentrate supply is growing rapidly as DRC output expands and with chemical production able to meet demand the battery industry should be well supplied. Nonetheless, with strong overall demand set against a tight metal market, compounded by recent (albeit some temporary) shutdowns, Roskill anticipates higher average prices over the coming years than those seen in recent years.
Roskill’s Cobalt: Global Industry, Markets & Outlook report will be published in Q2 2017.