A year in review: 2016

Turbulence: significant unrest, volatility and instability.

Every year I like to choose a word that epitomises the year. Usually, this is an impossible task but in 2016 turbulence seemed to work in every way.

2016 saw the underdog become President of the United States, Brexit become an actual word that everyone knows (if not yet understands), the situation in Syria reach a new level of awfulness, and terror become very real thing in Europe.

From an industry perspective, lithium ion batteries went into overdrive with the three megafactories being tracked by Benchmark Mineral Intelligence evolving into 14. Nearly every major auto-manufacturer is now chasing new all-electric offerings before the end of the decade.

Lithium’s continuing price surge throughout the year was also a defining factor for the space but had little to do with these megafactories – the majority of which are yet to be switched on.

The graphite industry waited until December to join the party with China scrapping its flake graphite export tax and developing a pollution tax for 2018, while Imerys Graphite & Carbon and Syrah Resources developed new African flake graphite mines ready to enter the market in the New Year.

On the graphite anode front, Hitachi Chemical followed China’s BTR by announcing a huge expansion of its anode capacity both in Japan and abroad over the next four years, a sign of things to come for the lithium ion anode space.

And while all this was happening, cobalt’s price “crept up” 40% and its leading producer, the Democratic Republic of Congo, was thrown into political turmoil with the incumbent president refusing to leave office after losing a general election.

For all at Benchmark Mineral Intelligence is has been a year of significant change and rapid growth through the addition of new services and team members.

Our team has worked tirelessly all year to execute the blueprint we set out to achieve 12 months ago.

Lithium price assessments launched

The launch of our lithium price assessment service and the first price index in May 2016 was the first step of many towards a trustworthy, independent source of market pricing for the industry. It followed in the footsteps of our graphite service which launched in 2015.

Benchmark | Data – Lithium had been in development for 12 months up to the point of launch and the price volatility being experienced in the lithium industry at that time underlined the need for independent prices from a team that has been active in lithium for many years.

In an age where misinformation, driven by social media, is prevalent, there were increasing calls from the lithium ion battery supply chain for the true lithium price range for carbonate and hydroxide.

Benchmark’s monthly lithium price assessments addressed this need and we could not have asked for a better reception. This has led us to the launch our cobalt price assessments,  Benchmark | Data – Cobalt, which will begin in H1 2017.

Not only was the demand for subscriptions high, but Benchmark’s analysts were again being cited together with our prices in the most influential of global media institutions including: The Wall Street Journal, Times of London, Financial Times, Bloomberg, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune and The New York Times.

The world’s largest brokers and investors were also using our prices, data and market intelligence in significant reports that shape major investment decisions. For example, Goldman Sachs continued its excellent work on the Low Carbon Economy, bolstered by input from Benchmark on lithium and battery cells.

For our focused business, the emphasis has always been on trustworthiness of our analysis, quality of our products, our network and our services. One of our greatest achievements of 2016 was the growth in the level of this quality we experienced.

This was epitomized by two workshops we hosted in Seoul and Tokyo.

Our Seoul workshop was a private affair for all the major players in the Korean lithium ion battery industry, and six months later, we hosted Japan’s industry in Tokyo as part of Benchmark World Tour 2016.

The quality and importance of these meetings was a milestone for the company. This emphasised the Benchmark ethos that being on the ground and building relationships is the only real way to gain unrivalled, accurate insight into the supply chain.

These experiences are at the heart of what we do at our company.

In this industry, you have to be global, be seen, and be accountable.

Global exposure

With lithium ion battery capacity being built in Asia, North America and Europe, face to face meetings on all continents are a must. The World Tour series of investment seminars has been at the core of this global exposure.

In 2016, we increased the number of host cities to 11, our attendees by 52%, and added UBS, Dundee Capital Partners, and Hi-Tech Materials Advisory as hosts. Our speaker/sponsors – without whom the event could not happen – increased to 20, many of which chose to speak in multiple cities.

After two very successful tours, it has become the world’s leading forum for lithium ion battery supply chain discussion.

This engagement was continued with the launch of our first ever industry conference, Graphite Supply Chain 2016. This private three-day event in Newport Beach, US, allowed us to engage with the core of the industry and create a platform to discuss, in detail and in private, an industry in flux.

The success and quality of the meeting means Graphite Supply Chain 2017 will take place from 5-7 November 2017 in Newport Beach once again.

For all at Benchmark, engagement and accountability are integral to what we do.

Creating free investor forums and industry conferences, all of which include rigorous Q&A and face-to-face discussion, not only allows us to engage with the target audience but be held accountable to the prices, data and analysis we publish.

In a world where people are all too eager to be heard, but far less open to being questioned, the Benchmark blueprint stands us apart and we hope it will serve your critical business decisions well in 2017.

Simon Moores, Managing Director, Benchmark Mineral Intelligence 

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