Although refined tin use grew by 2% year-on-year in 2018, the International Tin Association (ITA) expects demand to contract for this year, primarily as a result of an unstable macroeconomic environment.
Releasing the results of its fifteenth annual report, on Thursday, the association said there had been a contraction in refined tin use in most sectors so far this year.
The report surveyed 141 companies, which account for about 43% of estimated global refined tin use.
Solder accounts for the largest global share of tin use and the sector’s demand grew by 2% in 2018.
Forecasts for 2019, both inside and outside of China, were significantly more negative because of weakening global manufacturing and supply chain issues, mainly linked with the US–China trade war, the association noted.
It added that electronics miniaturisation remained the greatest medium-term threat to tin demand, primarily in China, but this would be countered by growth in new markets, including fifth-generation communications and electric vehicles.
Tin use in chemicals continued to grow, although at a slower pace. In 2018, the sector grew by 3% compared with 6% the year before. This was mainly driven by growth in polyvinyl chloride stabiliser and polymer catalyst markets.
Tin use for all tin chemicals, including inorganic forms, was forecasted to decline this year.
The ITA further found that tinplate use continued a long-term trend of slow decline, contracting by 2% in 2018. This is likely to decrease again in 2019. Prospects are especially poor in China, despite continued reports of increasing capacity there.
Lower tin coating weights and competition from alternative packaging are challenging tin use. Changing tariffs are significantly disrupting global supply chains, said the ITA.
The survey further showed that lead-acid battery tin use achieved strong growth of 4% in 2018, reflecting market expansion in high tin use in start-stop hybrid vehicles, as well as motive batteries in forklifts.
The ITA expects modest growth in refined tin use in the lead-acid battery sector this year.
“The use of tin in electric bikes in China is a significant proportion of tin use but we expect it to flatten and decline under government pressure on lead-acid batteries and competition from lithium-ion,” the association stated.
Meanwhile, tin use in copper alloys and other metal product markets declined by 2% in 2018. Copper alloy producers in China reported weakness in domestic markets for bronze strip in electrical products, with some impact from the US–China trade war on exported high-end products.
Provisional estimates of total global tin use, including refined and unrefined forms, totalled 455 600 t in 2018, up 3% on 2017. The recycling input rate – the use of recycled tin as a proportion of total tin use – was calculated to be roughly constant at 32% in both 2018 and 2019 so far.
Pipeline refined tin stocks held by surveyed companies at the end of 2018 amounted to the equivalent of 3.9 weeks’ supply.
“If this ratio is extrapolated based on global consumption, it would imply that world consumer stock holdings were around 28 000 t. The survey indicates that many users are in the process of significantly running down their inventories this year,” the ITA said.