Rutile and ilmenite prices increase

Beach Minerals

Sep 22 2016

Rutile and ilmenite prices increase

Published: Friday, 16 September 2016

Increased activity in titanium dioxide and tighter supply from China is edging up mineral sands prices.

Prices for titanium dioxide (TiO2) feedstocks seem to have turned a corner, particularly in sulphate ilmenite, which has seen a quick recovery in Q3, market sources told IM this week.

“It’s pleasing to see a recovery – it’s true to say winter had come and it’s nice to see the end of it. We are looking forward to a period of sustained recovery in the mineral sands sector,” one mineral sands supplier said.

Sources noted that prices for ilmenite in China have increased by 50% since the start of the year.

“The sulphate ilmenite market has rebounded fast, we’ve seen an increase from $80 up to $120 to China,” one source said.

Producers attributed the increase in prices to higher activity in TiO2 and rationalisation of the Chinese industry, as well as tighter ilmenite supply owing to lower iron ore prices.

Sulphide ilmenite is produced as a byproduct of magnetite, the mining of which takes place in conjunction with iron ore production. However, the slump in iron ore import prices on the back of higher imports has made magnetite mining uneconomical.

“Prices need to go up by more in China by at least another 50% before extra production takes place,” a producer said. “Increases are needed to warrant the mining of iron ore to produce just ilmenite.”

Chloride ilmenite prices have also seen an uptick, this week moving up to ranges of $140-160/tonne CIF China (54% TiO2).

This week, independent research firm TZ Minerals International (TZMI) released its quarterly market update for TiO2 feedstocks and zircon, outlining that unless new supply sources are created for sulphate ilmenite, the market will face a shortage by 2018.

The report warned that there are no new significant sulphate ilmenite mines under construction or ready to come on stream, and long lead times for the completion of studies and the construction of new supply, coupled with limited funding options, means that junior minors are ill-placed to fill the necessary supply gap.

While leading zircon and rutile producer Iluka Resources said earlier this year that the capital expenditure required to sustain the industry is “large and imminent” at $1.6bn, not all market participants agree.

“I’m not of the school of thought that more investment needs to be made in sulphate ilmenite to prevent a supply shortage. Let’s see some returns first off the investments that have already been made,” a producer told IM.

Rutile to follow

Increased activity in the TiO2 sector and the ramp-up of production at pigment plants has also resulted in an increase in the high-grade feedstock mix and pricing pressure on product headed for the welding sector, paving the way for price increases in rutile feedstocks for TiO2.

According to market sources, rutile (95% TiO2) prices have seen an uptick to $700-750/tonne FOB Australia, for bulk pigment.

“The increases reflect a recovery in the pigment market and high activity recently in TiO2, so welding customers will also need to pay higher prices,” one industry participant told IM.

Although much rutile material has already been sold under contract, another source said that price increases are being incorporated into future pricing negotiations, adding that “we believe rutile prices have turned a corner”.

Zircon stabilises

Since the $100 drop in prices in zircon in Q2, the mineral saw a slight uptick of around $60/tonne in the third quarter.

“There has been a trickle down of prices since 2012,” one market source told IM. “This has perhaps been arrested now in Q3 but that remains to be seen,” the source added, emphasising that it is unclear whether the price increase will be sustained in the fourth quarter.

“The indications are there that zircon prices have stopped falling.”

The zircon market is still in oversupply despite the idling of production, and demand will need to grow before the market comes into balance.

Previous price declines earlier in the year did not induce additional zircon consumption, but suppliers are hopeful that the growth of new end markets such as 3D printing will stimulate demand.

Further information on IM’s zircon prices and pricing trends can be found on the IM Pricing Database.

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