Japan sees gold in Korean demand for refined lead

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Japan sees gold in Korean demand for refined lead

Japan is poised to its increase imports of refined lead as the country’s domestic scrap supplies are being snapped up by recyclers of the metal in Korea.

Korean imports of Japanese scrap lead jumped 72 percent last year after battery makers in Asia’s fourth-largest economy ramped up production from 2010 to meet demand in China, according to data from the Korea Nonferrous Metal Association in Seoul.

That has left Japanese companies, including Mitsubishi Materials, struggling to secure used batteries at prices that make recycling scrap profitable, said Kazuhiko Tamura, general manager of lead, tin and byproducts sales at the Tokyo-based company.

The export price of Japanese used batteries rose 18 percent year-on-year to 85.2 yen per kilogram in February, according to the finance ministry.

By volume, exports jumped 77 percent to a record 77,011 metric tons in 2012, finance ministry data show. Shipments in February, the most recent month for which statistics are is available, rose 56 percent from a year earlier to 7,752 tons.

“Used-battery prices went up beyond profitability, driving us at one point close to the brink of being unable to run a business,” Tamura said.

Refined lead imports by Japan rose 31 percent to 28,810 tons in 2012, the highest level since 2006, according to finance ministry data.

Mitsubishi Materials and Mitsui Mining & Smelting produce lead from scrap, such as automobile batteries, while Toho Zinc uses both scrap and imported ore, and Dowa Holdings uses only imported ore. Korea’s imports of lead scrap from Japan rose to 78,709 tons in 2012 from 45,763 tons a year earlier. Bloomberg
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