Antimony Sky-High and Rising

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"Prices show remarkable upward movement; up 230% since April 2009."

Antimony, the minor metal used in flame-retardants and microelectronics, has been showing remarkable upward movement lately. Prices are up 230% since April 2009, when fears of depression forced inventory supplies to dwindle (see the dip in the following graph).

dwindling antimony inventory supplies

The price stands at $13,600–$14,200/ton this week—a 45% increase since last August.

The environmental havoc that antimony smelting can bestow should not be underestimated, especially its effects on human health. That's largely why supply constrictions have caused the price to rise. According to a Reuters report, the Chinese government began shutting down "small or illegal" antimony smelters in the Hunan province last year as it bore down on stricter environmental cleanups and supply management. Evidently, "hundreds" of illegal antimony smelters were shut down in late-March last year. Smelting is more of the culprit behind supply tightness—the metal concentrate itself is extracted from stibnite ore and is a byproduct of copper, lead and silver mining. (China produces ~90% of global antimony supply.)

Global antimony production 2009

Given China's environmental restrictions, it's easy to see why antimony prices are at historic highs. The rare earths regulation frenzy has also affected antimony and other metals like it. Reports show that 2010 licenses for rare earths, tungsten, tin, and antimony fell from 400–116 in 11 provinces and regions in China.

This, ultimately, is bad news for antimony buyers and consumers, as the metal's applications are found in countless devices. Antimony is essential to ensure plastics used in computer casings and TVs don't melt. But we see certain indications that sky-high antimony prices can't last; for example, China's exports metal increased 13% in 2010. The key to tracking antimony's forward-looking activity will be to watch how China's environmental ministry is keeping the smelters in check.

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