Like nearly all commodities, the price of antimony fell substantially in the last quarter of 2008. Average antimony metal prices fell by 38%. Prices rebounded slightly over the first half of the first quarter as we headed into the Chinese New Year holiday. This is an annual uptick in pricing due to reduced availability of material as manufacturing operations shutdown for the celebration. However, now that plants are coming back online after the holiday, availability and supply are returning to normal so prices have leveled off. Prices have stabilized at a level that is between 2008’s high occurring in September and 2008’s low in December.
It looks as though Chinese manufacturers are restricting exports in an effort to keep inventories, especially in European warehouses, to a minimum. Current equilibrium conditions should hold prices steady or possibly somewhat lower throughout the second quarter of ’09. Of course, this is predicated on the assumption nothing disrupts this equilibrium. A mine closure or similar event could cause prices to increase by 8% or 9%.
The lower metal prices of over the past two quarters is due mostly to a global manufacturing slowdown. There are hopes that the economic stimulus package recently passed by the United States congress will get manufacturing sectors to start producing again. If the stimulus is as effective as is hoped, demand for antimony metal and its derivative products will increase. A price increase of 5% based on increased demand is reasonable. However, from our perch on top of the supply chain, we believe that manufacturing activities will not increase before the third or fourth quarter of 2009.
China is the largest producer of antimony. Current estimates put China’s antimony output at 84% of the world’s total. This number signifies a return to the global dominance that China enjoyed over 100 years ago. In 1908-1914, over 80% of the antimony for use was from China. During the years 1922-1931, it accounted for 73%. The three decades following World War II mark an era in which China’s position in the global antimony market slowly declined. The downward trend bottomed-out in the ‘70s with China only producing about 25% of global output.
Antimony deposits can be found in Hunan, Guizhou, and in many other provinces throughout China. However, the richest deposits are in Hunan. In particular, Xikuangshan near Lengshuijiang City has long been celebrated for the quality and quantity of its antimony.
Toward the end of the Ming Dynasty, roughly 1591, what were originally thought to be tin deposits were discovered in Xikuangshan. In fact, the name Xikuangshan translates into “mountains of tin deposits.” However, the tin deposits turned out to actually be antimony. It was not until 1896 that the ore from Xikuangshan was identified as antimony. This area continues to be known as Xikuangshan despite the fact that mountains have antimony deposits instead of tin.
In 1908, several entrepreneurs, from Hunan founded the Wah Chang Mining & Smelting Company (Wah Chang). Representatives from Wah Chang went to France to purchase a new furnace technology known as the Herrenschmidt process. The Herrenschmidt process was an improvement to volatilization roasting techniques known at the time. Once they successfully acquired the Herrenschmidt process, Wah Chang applied for and received a Chinese patent which gave the company the exclusive use of these new processing methods within China. Shortly thereafter, Wah Chang constructed an antimony smelter in Changsha to produce antimony metal using low grade antimony ore. This smelter became one of 24 roasting furnaces and 19 reverberatory furnaces that made up Wah Change’s first plant. This plant is viewed as the start of large scale antimony production in China.
Wah Chang tried to protect its production technologies by keeping its competitors from copying the design of Wah Chang’s manufacturing equipment. Unfortunately for Wah Chang, a new fireclay Chinese volatilization roaster was soon developed by smelter operators with experience in volatilization roasting techniques. It suddenly became feasible for other companies to produce high quality antimony using low-grade ore as the raw material. Consequently, a number antimony plants were established across south-western China. The Hunan province was the most successful region. Antimony mines and smelters popped up throughout the province. At its peak, there were 74 antimony smelters in operation in this province alone. Another set-back for Wah Chang was the dramatic price decline for antimony following World War I. In 1918, Wah Chang went bankrupt and had to shut down most of its smelters. Many of the mines in Xikuangshan were able to weather the price decline, though.
Annual production consistently averaged more than 10,000 tons after World War I in the years from 1918 to 1936. However, in 1936, the Chinese government established the Antimony Industry Administration in the city of Changsha. The new administration created a government monopoly of antimony production by artificially restricting output and basing the purchase prices on foreign market conditions rather than domestic influences. The establishment of the Antimony Industry Administration would eventually mark the beginning of China’s long decline away from global dominance of the antimony market.
By 1937-1945, average annual production had dropped below 5,000 tons and the trend continued down from there. 1949 saw only 1,700 tons of antimony produced in China. That same year came the restoration and development of the national economy including China’s antimony industry. Xikuangshan was completely converted to state management. By 1953, annual output had grown to 5,500 tons. While China’s absolute numbers continued to rise, its relative numbers compared to the rest of the world declined into the 1970s.
Over the last 30 or 40 years, the growing importance of antimony has driven China to improve antimony mining and processing technologies. Many upgrades have been made to the planning and administering of the outdated shaft furnaces and their condensing and dust-collecting systems. The hearth area of reverberatory furnaces for antimony metal smelting has increased by more than 500%. Refining techniques have progressed to the point where 99.999% or more purity antimony is now feasible. In addition, a great deal of work was done to improve the blast furnace volatilization process which has produced better metallurgical results. The level of operating mechanization and automation has also greatly improved in recent years. The overall effective of these improvements has been to return China to the level of dominance it enjoyed at the beginning of the last century and to give Chinese high grade antimony trioxide the reputation of being among the best in the world. Photo: Dave Hogg
Antimony bucks commodities tend in economic crisis.
It has become clear that the world has entered an economic downturn that does not appear to leave any industry unscathed. Expect the antimony metal market, that is. Reduced demand in recent weeks for most commodity metals has caused a sharp downturn in price. Many metals are down by 33% or more.
However, the price of antimony has only declined by less than 5%. Most prices are falling due to a lack of demand because of the global recession. The antimony market has seen a lessening of demand as well, but also a large decrease in supply. In early October, the Chinese government closed many small to medium size antimony producers in Hunan province. These operations account for approximately 30% of the world’s antimony supply.
The closures are the result of government led investigations into the presence of arsenic in the environment. Arsenic is a byproduct of the antimony refining process and it appears that high levels of the metalloid have entered the water supply feeding the Zi River in Hunan province. Environmental authorities have closed the operations indefinitely in order to discover how the contamination is happening and how to stop it. Because of the reduced supply, the antimony market has so far avoided the drastic reduction in price of other metals markets. Photo: Grayskullduggery
REACH is a new European Regulation that went into effect on June 1, 2007. REACH stands for Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemical Substances. Although this is a European regulation, it affects any business that does business in Europe or wants to in the future. The main goal of REACH is to identify and classify all chemical substances and materials that come into any EU nation in order to protect the health of EU residents and their environment better. But what does it mean to a small American business like ours?
Since we have no European subsidiary or division of our business, we are required to appoint an Only Representative within the EU that can pre-register and register on our behalf any chemicals, chemical mixtures, or substances that we sell into the EU in a quantity greater than one ton. Of course, the pre-registration and registration has a cost associated with it. Pre-registration consists of identifying the chemicals and substances we sell into the EU and in what quantity. The deadline for pre-registration is November 30, 2008. Registration deadlines range from 2010 to 2018 depending on the volume and hazard level of the substance. Our Only Representative will be responsible for reporting any chemicals or substances that we export to the EU in quantities greater than one ton in exchange for a yearly fee.
Amspec found and hired an Only Representative and we have filed the necessary paperwork to pre-register the products that we currently sell into the EU. For now, that is all that we need to do. We will keep you posted as the registration process progresses and let you know any major hurdles we encounter. Good luck with your REACH experience and please let us know anything interesting you come up against or if you have any tips to share.
Mid August to mid September is generally the best time of the year to plant new grass seed. Hydroseeding is a very popular way of planting grass over large tracts such as golf courses or along roads. Hydroseeding is much more cost effective than laying down sod, and is generally faster and better than sowing dry seed.
In the hydroseeding process, the landscaper prepares a mixture of seed, water, fertilizer, fiber mulch, and several additives and then sprays the mixture onto the desired area with a hose. One of the additives present in most hydroseeding mixtures is a crosslinker. Amspec sells one such crosslinker that some companies use in some hydroseeding applications, potassium pyroantimonate. The purpose of the crosslinker is to facilitate bonding of the grass slurry to the soil. The result is a kind of mat over the soil that allows enough rainwater to filter through without eroding the soil or washing away the seed. Hydroseeding slurries with a crosslinking agent are especially useful on steep slopes. Photo:defrost.ca
The Games of the XXIX Olympiad just began in Beijing, China on Friday, but the antimony market has felt their affects for some time already. Everyone knew that there would be temporary restrictions on manufacturing and transportation before and during the Games. Therefore, we anticipated short-term increases in price due to a lack of supply just before the Games until slightly after when smelters could ramp up production again. However, other factors have led to even more drastic reductions than expected.
Several months ago, the Chinese government decided to ration the use of all explosives severely in preparation for the Games. Reports that the Beijing Olympics could be a serious terrorist target and the possibility for violent pro-Tibet protests precipitated this action. That meant that almost all mining operations halted. Since Chinese mines produce about 85% of the world’s antimony, this caused a drastic fall in supply. Low supply and high demand have led to price increases. Threats of terrorism have also led the Chinese government to limit traffic in and out of their ports so this has caused an even tighter squeeze.
Everyone hopes that after the Games things will go back to normal, but it will likely take a few months for the mines and smelters to catch up with orders and for prices to start to fall.
Blogging is an increasingly important way for organizations, global consumers, and local community members to both disperse and find information on almost any subject. In order to stay on the cutting edge, Amspec has incorporated a blog into its new website. With our blog we will provide you with news and information about Amspec as well as the industries we touch. Our ultimate goal is to create an active online community where anyone who reads our posts will have the opportunity to respond. Responses can be anything from supplementary information, comments on our opinions, or additional questions that you would like us to answer. Once you post a response or comment, then anyone who visits our blog can read that as well. We are very excited about this new way to interact with our key stakeholders, who include our current customers, suppliers, prospective customers, and local community members.
In today’s fast paced and connected world many people look to find all the information they need online. It is crucial for any business to have a strong online presence including tools that make it easier for people to do business with you. It is also important to provide as much information as possible. To that end, Amspec is rolling out a new website utilizing Web 2.0 technology and many new tools that will make it easier for you to do business with us.
You can now find all of our product information online including technical datasheets complete with information about the appropriate uses for our products. Our home page now tells you about a featured product which will be updated monthly. This featured product section will tell you more detailed information about the product and offer special purchasing options as well. You will also notice the addition of a Blog section to our home page. We hope to offer news about Amspec as well as industry updates and notices. The flame retardant market has news relating to legislation and regulations often so we hope that amspec.net will be the place you check for those updates. Other changes include our “Contact Us” page. It is now much simpler which allows for faster submission and requests that are more general.
Amspec aims to stay on the cutting edge of technology in order to provide you with the most pleasant internet experience that we can. If you have any suggestions or comments on how to improve our website, then please do not hesitate to contact us.
Amspec has reached an important milestone of twenty-five years in business. Over the last quarter century, we have seen the end of the Cold War, at least one recession, and the emergence of China as a world economic power. Through all of these major events that have rocked the metals market, Amspec has remained a constant and reliable source for all your antimony trioxide and antimony based chemical needs.
In 1983, Antimony Products of America formed Amspec Chemical Corporation to purchase the former Harshaw Chemical Company antimony smelting operation in Gloucester City, NJ. Today, Amspec no longer focuses on producing our own antimony oxide. We have shifted our emphasis to distributing antimony trioxide and manufacturing an array of products using antimony trioxide as a key ingredient. While our business model has changed over the years, we have never stopped giving excellent customer service and delivering quality products to our customers.
We look forward to serving the plastics, textiles, adhesives, coatings, oil field service, petroleum refining, glass, explosives, aerospace, and many other industries for the next 25 years in our modern facility in Northern Delaware. We are excited for what the future holds for Amspec and our customers.