The recently published Argus Tungsten Monthly Outlook from Metal Pages reports that prices for tungsten have continued their downward drift in the latter period of 2014 after rallying briefly in March. Chinese export prices for ammonium paratungstate (APT) were said to be down $10 mtu in October to a range of $325-335/mtu, and tungsten carbide powder was reported to be unchanged with the export price standing at $41-43/kg.
The World Trade Organisation (WTO) recently ruled that China, the world’s largest producer of the metal and the country with the largest reserves, should remove export quotas and taxes for tungsten. The relaxation of exports of tungsten from China is expected to lead to increased downward pressure on prices for APT, ferro-tungsten, tungsten oxides and tungsten carbide powder.
The report also reviewed markets and applications for tungsten. It states that global primary tungsten demand is expected to remain almost unchanged in 2014 compared with the previous year at around 80,000 tonnes. Consumption of tungsten in China continues to grow above the world average with official estimates putting the figure at just over 38,000 t in 2013. This figure is expected to increase by 4 to 5% in 2014 to between 40,000 and 44,000 t.
The USA showed little growth in demand for tungsten in 2014, whilst Europe showed consumption of tungsten to be well ahead in the first half of 2014 compared with the same period in 2013. Total demand for tungsten in Europe is expected to be over 19,000 t for the full year in 2014 with primary tungsten making up around half this total and recycled W making up the balance. In fact recycled tungsten has become an important global source of W supply with as much as 30% coming from secondary sources. The level of recycling varies from region to region with China as low as 10-15% to around 50% in Europe.
By far the largest application area for tungsten is tungsten carbide used to produce cemented carbide cutting tools and wear parts. In Europe cemented carbides consume around 65% of tungsten followed by steels/alloys at 12%, tungsten mill products at 10%, and chemicals 8%. In China cemented carbides accounted for 48% of the total in 2013 followed by mill products at 20%, and chemicals and other applications 7%.
The outlook according to the Tungsten Monthly Outlook is a narrowing of the supply/demand balance in 2015 and a slow improvement in tungsten prices.