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Tight supplies to curb China’s antimony price fall

Continued low buying interest from consumers has prompted Chinese antimony suppliers to reduce offer prices sharply this week to secure sales for profit-taking, but a shortage of supplies may prevent prices from falling significantly, according to market participants.

Argus last assessed prices for 99.65pc grade antimony metal at 63,000-64,000 yuan/t ($9,677-9,831/t) ex-works yesterday, down by Yn4,000/t from Yn66,000-69,000/t ex-works on 15 April.

Trading activity was flat in the past week as many buyers opted to operate from existing inventories and scale back purchases, although some suppliers reduced offer prices. Demand from the downstream plastic and rubber industries has been low as rising antimony feedstock costs have squeezed consumers' profit margins. Some buyers have reduced antimony trioxide purchases to monitor the market.

Several traders in south China have not received any fresh buying enquiries this week.

"Profit margins remain wide for some suppliers that have held stocks since the lunar new year holiday when production costs were much lower. But some traders are eager to sell stocks for profit-taking, although the shortages of concentrate and metal supplies have not yet eased in China," a producer said.

Nearly all metal producers in the major production hub of Lengshuijiang city have idled operations since early this month following the launch of a new round of environmental inspections. The smelters are not expected to resume production until mid-May. Seven private-sector producers in Lengshuijiang city have a combined capacity of 3,500-4,000 t/month for antimony metal.

Depleting domestic resources and reduced shipments from other countries have exacerbated the supply shortage of ore feedstock. Only 500t metal equivalent of antimony concentrate has been shipped to Lengshuijiang city this month, which is sufficient to meet only one smelter's monthly output.

Hsikwangshan Twinkling Star, China's largest antimony producer, has suspended its mining production since last year and has yet to confirm a restart date.

China's antimony concentrate imports fell further to 3,671t in March from 5,464t a year earlier, following a year-on-year fall of 67pc during January-February, according to customs data. Imports totalled 7,064t during January-March.