Tantalum prices fell sharply during the second half of 2018, with the Asian Metal price for tantalum concentrate (30% min Ta2O5 CIF China) dropping from over US$100/lb mid-year to about US$80/lb by late November. With long-term demand for tantalum positive, there are obviously questions about why prices are falling, how fast they will fall, and how far. Roskill has released its Tantalum: Global Industry, Markets & Outlook report this month which provides answers to these questions as well as offering supply, demand and price forecasts for tantalum out to 2028.
At little more than US$50/lb, tantalum concentrate prices started 2017 at their lowest seen in years, a level at which mining was really only economic through co-product credits, high-priced contracts or artisanal mining. Even the last of those was of debatable viability.
They then began to rise rapidly and hit nearly US$90/lb by year-end and continued to rise until the middle of 2018. That was a recovery and not a spike, although tantalum is no stranger to spikes, and was attributable to several reasons, including supply disruption and downstream being caught short of inventory.
Things are now changing. Roskill expects demand for tantalum to grow by 4-5%py over the coming decade. At the same time, the hard-rock lithium projects in Australia are starting to kick in. The tantalum coming as a by-product of these operations will be plentiful and cheap, lower-priced, perhaps, than can be attractive even to artisanal miners in Central Africa. By-product from lithium mining has the added advantage of being unquestionably conflict-free, an issue that has been very much in the spotlight for some years.
Tantalum prices have further to fall and they will fall quite quickly over the short term, while the market comes to terms with the “new normal”, or what used to be “the normal”; i.e, Australia. Roskill anticipates that prices will eventually settle at a natural comfort level.
Roskill’s new Tantalum: Global Industry, Markets & Outlook report was published in November 2018. Click here to download the brochure and sample pages, or to access further information.