After four and a half years of decline, the price of antimony fell from US$16,542/t in April 2011 to a monthly low of US$5,087/t in December 2015, following a period of oversupply and sluggish demand. By the end of 2016, the price of antimony had recovered to around US$7,500/t as the market balance slowly tightened. The price of antimony has oscillated around an average US$8,300/t during 2017 and the first half of 2018.
China is the leading producer of antimony ores, antimony metal and antimony oxides. Primary mine production in China peaked in 2010 at over 110kt and, by 2017, had declined by 31% to around 80kt. The decline is associated with lower grades and exhausting reserves in some of the major producing mines, and closures of smaller producers as environmental inspections comb across the country. Declining domestic production has been met by increasing imports from international producers and roughly 70% of ores mined in the rest of the world make its way to China.
Because of its geological affinity to vein-hosted systems, antimony is commonly associated with gold mineralisation and several by-product deposits exist. In 2017, approximately half of the antimony mined by the top four producers was sourced from gold-bearing ores. This statistic will be skewed drastically in 2018 after Polyus, Russia’s largest gold miner, joined the antimony supply chain and is expected to supply 20% of the world’s primary antimony, instantly becoming the world’s largest antimony producer.
Flame retardants and lead-acid batteries make up the main consuming markets for antimony. Together these two end-uses are expected to account for more than 80% of antimony demand in 2018 and thus shape overall demand dynamics. In both cases, a similar situation prevails: while overall demand has been steadily increasing, the antimony loading within these applications has been reducing. In flame retardants, this is mainly because of previously high antimony prices prompting substitution of antimony, and legislative requirements forcing changes to flame retardant formulas. In batteries, lead-calcium-tin alloys are increasingly being used instead of antimonial lead in battery grids for sealed-for-life maintenance-free automotive batteries, also called valve-regulated lead-acid (VRLA) batteries.
Owing in part to these trends, Roskill believes the antimony market may soon experience a fundamental shift. Besides primary mine supply, antimony also enters the supply chain in the form of secondary antimonial lead via a well-established lead recycling industry. Growing secondary supply will surpass the declining lead-acid battery demand by the mid-2020s. As such, little or no primary antimony will be required for metallurgical applications, with that market effectively becoming “self-sufficient.”
This shift will see primary antimony supply being governed by the market dynamics of non-metallurgical applications, specifically flame retardants and plastics with smaller contributions from uses in glass and ceramics. Roskill forecasts a modest growth in demand for antimony in non-metallurgical end uses and envisages that an expected oversupply in 2018, mainly due to additional supply from Polyus, will balance out in the medium term.
Over the longer term, demand could start to outstrip supply levels. Higher supply would need to be met from an increase in mine output from existing producers or new supply from potential producers. Alternatively, processors might look to utilise the growing surplus of secondary antimony available from antimonial lead although such recovery is not yet available on a commercial scale.
Roskill’s new Antimony: Global Industry, Markets & Outlook report will be published on 31st August 2018.
For further information: https://roskill.com/market-report/antimony/
SOURCE Roskill Information Services