Rice, Lithium and Metals at Risk in China’s Extreme Summer


Drought and power curtailments across a swath of southern China are threatening supplies of everything from grains and aluminum to battery materials used in electric vehicles.

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(Bloomberg) — Drought and power curtailments across a swath of southern China are threatening supplies of everything from grains and aluminum to battery materials used in electric vehicles.

Sichuan extended industrial power cuts as the most intense heat wave since 1961 depletes reservoirs used for hydropower. Other regions along the Yangtze River are also battling severe temperatures. While the disruptions may be short-lived, rice harvests will be at greatest risk if the severe weather is prolonged, according to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. 

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Here’s a breakdown of sectors hit by the scorching heat.

Rice

The six areas suffering drought — Sichuan, Chongqing, Hubei, Henan, Jiangxi and Anhui — accounted for almost half of China’s rice output in 2021, Goldman wrote in a note. China’s agriculture ministry said over the weekend that high temperatures and unusually low rains since July have posed “a severe challenge” to fall grain production.

The ministry has asked local authorities to strengthen capital and resources investment to combat the drought, and properly allocate drought-resistant equipment and seeds. In Henan province, more than 15 million mu (1 million hectares) of crops have been affected, according to a CCTV report. 

Lithium & Batteries

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Sichuan produces more than a fifth of China’s lithium, according to BloombergNEF, making it one of the industries most exposed to the province’s power cuts. Top global battery producer Contemporary Amperex Technology Co., which has its second-biggest production base in Sichuan, has already halted production there. 

Goldman said the power curbs could cost about 5% of China’s monthly output for lithium chemicals, but flagged a potentially bigger impact on lithium hydroxide and so-called “LFP” cathode used in batteries. But it also said EV-related sectors will probably get priority when industries are allowed to ramp up again.

The Sichuan disruptions add fuel to lithium’s blistering rally in the past year. The price of lithium carbonate reached its highest since April by the end of last week, and isn’t far from a new record.

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Solar Sector

About 15% of polysilicon used in solar panels comes from Sichuan, and prices for the material were already at a decade-high on strong demand for clean energy. The extension of the electricity curbs will reduce supply and likely offer more support to prices of both polysilicon and lithium, Daiwa Capital Markets wrote in a note.

Jinko Solar Co., one of the world’s largest solar module manufacturers, said two of its plants in Sichuan have been affected by the power shortage, and said it was unclear when the units could return to full capacity. At least two polysilicon plants — run by GCL Technology Holdings Co. and Tongwei Co. — face production interruptions, the China Silicon Industry Association said last week. 

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Aluminum & Copper

Power-intensive aluminum smelters are often at high risk when governments want to cut electricity use. Goldman says some 360,00 tons of annualized aluminum capacity has been closed, with a further 300,000 tons at risk — adding up to about 1.5% of China’s capacity. While Sichuan is a notable aluminum producer, it lags far behind top provinces Shandong and Xinjiang. And neighboring Yunnan — a major source of new output — hasn’t been hit by weather disruptions.

Earlier in August, one of China’s biggest copper producers based in Anhui province cut output as local authorities ordered power curbs.

Diesel

There’s also a demand boost for some sectors. Diesel purchasing is on the rise in Sichuan as industries seek alternative fuels. Local suppliers of diesel generators have already sold out after electricity rationing spurred some business owners to find alternative power supplies, industry consultant OilChem said in an online note. Some industrial users were loading diesel into barrels from retail stations, and demand has risen by up to 6%, it said.

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