MetalMiner welcomes guest contributor Chelsea Craven of Zepol Corporation, a Minneapolis-based trade intelligence company.
If you’re in the tantalum supply business, I’d like to be your friend.
The rare, shiny transition metal (one of the so-called Conflict Minerals) is – yes, you guessed it – exploding with demand in the United States.
Just as tablets and smartphones are the latest and greatest fad in the consumer world, tantalum is the most recent craze in the metal world. For those of you in the business, that may not come as a surprise at all. The corrosion-resistant metal is actually a component in many electronic gadgets, including the computer, smartphone, or tablet you’re likely reading this article from.
The U.S. tantalum trade had a seesaw-like swing in 2012. Imports of tantalum were flying high, while exports were on the other side of the spectrum. How big is the spread, exactly?
In 2012, total imports of tantalum increased by 55%, with unwrought tantalum specifically seeing an 88% increase. Fun fact of the day: tantalum imports accounted for 0.05% of all U.S. air imports in 2012. Tantalum exports, on the other hand, dipped by 16%, with unwrought decreasing by 30%.
As far as tantalum imports into the United States are concerned, the No. 1 Supplier Award goes to China, keeping pace with the U.S. demand. Last year, imports of tantalum from China increased by 93% and totaled $109 million. Other notable increases came from Thailand (130%) and Indonesia (310%). The graph below shows the breakdown of where tantalum imports originate.
Often, and this is no exception, fads come with a hefty price…literally. The price per kilogram of tantalum imports to the U.S. increased by 170% in just one year. The rise in price was mostly seen in imports by air, as shown in the graph below. The average import price of tantalum went from $110 in 2011 to nearly $300 in 2012. The craze is continuing into 2013 as well, with January numbers showing the average price at $360.
As the newest gadgets and electronics continue to evolve, the demand for tantalum will prove it is more than just a short fad. One question we are asking is: how far can the price go until the demand plateaus? That, my friends, will have to wait for another article.
* Look for follow-up commentary and analysis from Lisa Reisman, MetalMiner’s managing editor, on exactly what’s behind the tantalum spike in the coming days!