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Lead times grow for alumina, silicon carbide amid tightness in supply

Users of silicon carbide, brown-fused alumina and calcined alumina are having to wait longer to get their consignments amid limited availability and firm prices.

Market participants active in the distribution and consumption of refractory raw materials are reporting longer lead times for deliveries of minerals including silicon carbide, and fused and calcined alumina, which is thought to be related to the persistent tightness in the market.

While prices for refractory minerals have remained firm over the past two weeks, it is taking longer to deliver material after orders are placed, Industrial Minerals has heard.

Market participants listed silicon carbide as one commodity being affected. “It’s taking almost twice the time it normally takes to have material shipped,” one distributor to Western Europe said. “We have seen lead times for refractory grade SiC going from three to five weeks.”

Sellers active in the SiC market confirmed this situation, citing disruption to production in China as a principal factor.
“It has been harder to source from China, and more expensive in some cases [than to buy from Europe]. So demand has shifted to European suppliers, which are now swamped with orders,” one supplier said.

“It is true that prices are stable, but it is harder to find material,” a distributor added.

Industrial Minerals assessed the price of refractory-grade silicon carbide, min 95%, at €1,015-1,100 ($1,244-1,348) per tonne ddp Europe on Wednesday April 4, and the price of refractory-grade silicon carbide, min 98%, at €1,050-1,250 per tonne ddp Europe.

In brown-fused alumina (BFA), it is again the uncertain production situation in China that is contributing to longer lead times.

Henan province, the largest producing area for BFA, recently announced new rounds of environmental inspections that will take place at local facilities in the coming months.

This is making it harder for facilities to operate, and is helping to lengthen the supply times.

“It’s taking five to six weeks to have BFA ready for shipment [in China]. This is, of course, affecting schedules for deliveries to customers,” a trader said.

The price of refractory-grade brown fused alumina, min 95%, 0-6mm, rose to $800-820 per tonne fob China on March 22, against $780-800 per tonne in previous weeks.

Meanwhile, the price of abrasive-grade brown-fused alumina, min 95%, FEPA F8-220 grit, remained stable at $870-920 per tonne fob China, after an increase earlier in the year.

A similar situation with longer lead times is being seen in the calcined alumina market.

“So far, shipments have been for limited volumes, and have come late,” a trader said. “Customers are concerned that they won’t get as much [material] as they have ordered for the year.”

Another distributor to Europe has been receiving inquiries from calcined alumina buyers who could not get their original consignments, but said that he was unable to meet their requests for material due to limited supply.

As reported on March 1 during the 24th Bauxite & Alumina Conference in Montego Bay, Jamaica, calcined alumina producers told Industrial Minerals that they are oversold, due to a rebound in demand following previous years of weak markets. And they warned that there is not enough supply available to meet global demand.

Magnesia

In other refractory minerals, however, European traders and buyers reported fewer problems with sourcing, although opinions vary.

In magnesia, market participants said that they could find material and have it shipped within relatively normal time frames.

“My suppliers can still deliver a few thousand tonnes [of magnesia product], and can deliver right now. I don’t perceive that to be an issue at the moment,” a Europe-based trader said.

Industrial Minerals is also aware of a number of trades for high-grade dead burned magnesia (DBM) during the first quarter of this year with volumes between 2,000 and 6,000 tonnes.

A second western consumer told Industrial Minerals that he saw “continuing limited availability and firm prices” but was nevertheless able to place orders “for the volumes we require.”

Prices for China-origin caustic calcined magnesia (CCM), DBM and fused magnesia (FM) remained unchanged this week, following a previous downward adjustment for low-grade material.

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