We estimate 2020 supply lifted 11% YoY to 340kt, noting lower capacity utilisation as largely a function of bottom-of-the-cycle pricing through 2020. We anticipate that a majority of the ~460kt of cumulative potential capacity that was delayed/deferred over the last ~18 months could remain suspended pending a recovery in pricing to higher levels. Recent consolidation among concentrate operations (i.e. Altura>Pilbara, Wodgina>Albemarle) now sees control of large scale, marginal cost production lies with a small number of established producers who, in our view, lack incentive to switch on large volumes of new supply.
We further note that long lead times to delivering new capacity means that the +US $4.4bn in new equity raised by lithium companies since the start of 2020 is unlikely to lead to a meaningful supply response until the mid-2020s, by which point we expect the market to move into deficit. Our revised market balance forecasts now call for more modest market surpluses (5-7% over 2021-23), with our higher rates of demand growth now expected to outpace supply growth out to 2025. Beyond 2025, we continue to forecast significant market deficits, noting a ~7x increase in supply (i.e. ~240ktpa average increase in capacity) is required to meet our 2030 demand forecast.
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Supply Inelasticity Meets Rising Demand is the foundation of commodity bull markets. Lithium has been through one big boom and bust cycle already and perhaps the major producers have learned their lesson. The initial mining investment boom occurred almost a decade ago. That resulted in a lot of new supply hitting the market which depressed prices. It has taken significant growth in demand for electric vehicles to soak up that surfeit.