Global cobalt mine output growth forecast to slow in 2020: Antaike

YICHANG, China (Reuters) - Global cobalt mine output will increase at a slower rate next year than in 2019, providing some support for price of the chemical used in batteries for electric vehicles, research house Antaike said on Wednesday.

Cobalt production in 2020 forecast to rise by 5,000 tonnes, Antaike nickel analyst Joy Kong said. That would be a 3.5% increase to the 143,600 tonnes produced this year which would be less than the 2019 expected growth rate of 6.3%, she said.

Antaike predicts standard grade cobalt prices in 2020 at around $18 per pound, or around $40,000 a tonne, up from an average of $16 to $16.50 per pound in 2019, as private mining declines, Kong said in a presentation at the China International Nickel and Cobalt Forum in Yichang.

In August, global miner and trader Glencore said it would close its Mutanda mine for at least two years from the end of 2019 due to low cobalt prices, meaning there will be 25,000 tonnes less from that project next year.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where Mutanda is based, is estimated to account for over 73% of supply this year, and China is controlling a growing share of it, Kong said.

“By the end of 2019, Chinese companies are expected to have invested in more than 45,000 tonnes of annual cobalt capacity in foreign countries, about 26% of the world’s total capacity,” Kong said.

Glencore’s Katanga project in the DRC will almost double in output to 27,000 tonnes next year, while the Nkana mine in Zambia is set to bring 2,000 tonnes on line, Kong said.

Global consumption may increase 6.6% to 135,000 tonnes this year, but the growth rate is slowing, said Kong.

By 2025, there are expected to be 10 million electric vehicles globally and consumption of cobalt in EVs will reach 70,000 tonnes, versus about 30,000 tonnes this year, Kong said.

Three-month cobalt prices on the London Metal Exchange fell to $26,000 in August, down by around one-third from the start of 2019, as new supply overwhelmed the market, but have rebounded to $36,000 currently on the Mutanda closure.

Reporting by Tom Daly in Yichang, China; Editing by Christian Schmollinger