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China drives up prices of rare earth

China's exports of rare earth metals burst through the $100,000-per-tonne mark for the first time in February, up almost ninefold from a year before, while the volume of trade stayed far below historical averages.

world Updated: Mar 22, 2011 23:26 IST

China's exports of rare earth metals burst through the $100,000-per-tonne mark for the first time in February, up almost ninefold from a year before, while the volume of trade stayed far below historical averages.

China's squeeze on rare earths, which are used in a wide range of hardware including precision-guided weapons, hybrid car batteries and iPads, has forced prices up dramatically since July last year, when each tonne fetched a mere $14,405 on average.

The apparent price rises have averaged $10,000 per tonne per month but accelerated in February, galloping ahead by $34,000 per tonne, according to Reuters calculations based on data from China's Customs office.China's actions have infuriated its trading partners.

Last month each tonne of exports was valued at $109,036, including the cost of insurance and freight, almost half as much again as the average value in January.

China exported a total of 750 tonnes in February, slightly more than the 647 tonnes shipped in January but otherwise the lowest monthly volume since February 2009, when demand was hit by the global financial crisis.