Unreliable Metal Pricing Fueled Volatile Swings in Lithium ETFs

Rare earth metals like lithium and cobalt have been among the hottest commodities in recent years, but there are no actively traded contracts to help negotiate efficient pricing, adding to volatility in related lithium ETFs that track companies dealing with these metals.

For instance, the Global X Lithium & Battery Tech ETF (NYSEArca: LIT), which tracks the full lithium cycle from mining and refining through battery production, has declined 13.7% year-to-date.

Market weakness has also negatively affected the recently launched Amplify Advanced Battery Metals and Materials ETF (NYSEArca: BATT), which includes companies involved in the production of advanced battery technologies, such as lithium and cobalt. Over the past week, BATT declined 5.0% while LIT fell 2.7%.

Unlike most other commodities, lithium and cobalt don’t have actively-traded futures contracts tied to the metals, so investors are forced to rely on costly services that provide price estimates, which may differ from privately negotiated chemicals prices used by large miners and Chinese battery manufacturers, the Wall Street Journal reports. The uncertainty in pricing could further add to rapid price swings in the markets.

“The market is quite opaque,” Nick Page, a portfolio adviser for Fiera’s European division, told the WSJ. “It’s difficult to take any comfort from all of the different forecasts, which makes it more risky.”

Rare Earth Metals Supply & Demand

Meanwhile, supply and demand for the rare earth metals can move dramatically since they are tied to how quickly consumers adopt new technologies like electric cars, a trend that is still in the nascent stages.