The recent stability in global tin demand came to an end in 2019, with world consumption falling for the first time since 2015. Demand is expected to remain subdued in the short term, driven by falling output of consumer electronics amid a contracting global economy, as result of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. The long-term outlook remains bright for global tin demand, driven by new applications such as 5G network rollout, smart home devices and advances in lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries.
Around half of all tin demand comes from solder applications and primarily the use of solder in consumer electronics. In 2019, consumption in consumer electronics suffered its first decrease in five years, driven by falling output of conventional mobile phones, smartphones, and desktop computers. This trend is set to continue in 2020 as the impacts of COVID-19 are felt across the global economy, leading to a further slump in consumption of consumer electronics. Demand for consumer electronics is closely tied to GDP growth and a “V-shaped” recovery to the global economy, as appears to be occurring in China, is set to lead to an increase in consumer electronics consumption in 2021.
Over 70% of refined tin production is attributed to China, Indonesia, and Malaysia, with 14% of remaining refined output accounted for by Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil. This geographical concentration of the tin supply chain has left the refined tin industry relatively exposed to government responses to COVID-19, with several of the major refined tin producers implementing output cuts and operation suspensions as a result of the pandemic. Year-on-year refined tin production, between 2019 and 2020, is expected to fall by nearly 5% as a result of these measures.
A similar picture is expected for mine supply of tin, with over 50% of mine output attributed to China and Indonesia and nearly 20% centred in Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil. Mine supply is set to be more severely affected by the pandemic , with a 10% y-on-y fall. Many suspensions related to COVID-19 were in place for between one to two months in H1 2020, with only Peruvian tin producer Minsur’s suspension and Indonesian tin producer PT Timah’s 20-30% output cut extending beyond two months.
Much of 2019 was marred by oversupply of refined tin, which led to several of the major tin producers, including PT Timah and China’s Yunnan Tin, announcing output cuts in 2019. With demand for refined tin set to stutter in 2020, the cutbacks in response to COVID-19 will be vital in maintaining the health of the tin market. The supply/demand balance is set to move into a deficit in 2020, as drops to refined tin production will likely outweigh falls in demand.
Global tin demand is set to recover by 2021, buoyed by several new applications that are set to grow rapidly over the outlook period. The rollout of 5G networks is set to boost the telecommunications and other electronics sectors. Smartphones and conventional mobile phones account for nearly half of all consumer electronics and, with demand for conventional mobile phones rapidly falling, a boost to smartphone demand will be key to increased refined tin use in consumer electronics. The emergence of smart home devices over the last decade has boosted consumer electronics output; such devices accounted for only 2% of output in 2011, but rose to nearly 24% of the total in 2019.
The use of tin in Li-ion battery anodes is a sector that has shown some of the highest growth over the last decade, accounting for 0.4% of refined tin consumption in 2011 and growing to 3% in 2019. This trend is set to continue over the outlook period, with the degree of vehicle electrification expected to increase substantially over the coming decade. Advances in Li-ion battery materials indicate tin and tin compound materials offer increased stability to Li-ion batteries, which could become a major driver for increased used of tin in the sector.