Properties and Uses

Tin (Sn) is a silvery white metal which is highly malleable and ductile. The most important properties of tin are its low melting point, its non-toxicity, its resistance to corrosion, its attractive appearance and the ability to readily form alloys with most metals to create useful materials.

Tin is rarely used in its pure form because of it softness, it is almost always used in combination with other metals, either as an alloying element or as a coating.

Source: Economist Intelligence Unit

Demand Factors

Tin is primarily used in solders, tinplate, chemicals, brass and bronze and glass. In 2006, the EU banned the use of lead in consumer products. This has caused a shift by the electronics industry to tin solders as a replacement for lead and over a three year period from 2003 to 2005, tin solders have moved from approximately 30% to 50% of total tin consumption, while world consumption has grown by 10% over the same period.

Demand for refined tin fell in 2007 as global production levelled out and stocks fell, however consumption is expected to increase in 2008.

Supply Factors

CRU has recently reduced its 2008 production forecasts for both China and Indonesia, the world’s two biggest producers of tin. China’s exports of tin have been restricted due to the introduction of a 10% export tax on tin on 1st January 2008 while Indonesia has cracked down on illegal mining of tin which has reduced its national production.

China’s refined tin production this year is now predicted to reach only 130,000 tonnes (compared to local consumption of 141,000 tonnes), due to the production losses of Q1, ongoing raw material shortages and an upcoming major planned maintenance shutdown of YTC’s Gejui smelter. Indonesia’s PT Timah sold 24,000 tonnes of refined tin in January-June 2008, 21% less than the 30,456 tonnes sold during the first half of 2007.


Tin Prices 2003 – 2008

Source: LME

The price of tin on the London Metals Exchange (LME) has been rising steadily since the end of 2005. This can largely be explained by falling supply and increasing demand.

While there was a sharp drop in LME prices at the end of May, the market has since steadied and firmed again, although trading volumes are low. The main factor supporting increasing prices is falling production in Indonesia and China.