The metal in a 'silent bull market'

Is tin the most unloved future metal?

Kristie Batten
  Credit: A_Pobedimskiy, via iStock

Credit: A_Pobedimskiy, via iStock

Not many people have noticed, but the tin price is on a tear so far in 2024.

While the focus has mainly been on other commodities including gold, uranium and more recently, copper, tin is up by more than 20% since the start of the year.

It closed on Tuesday at US$31,185 per tonne, the highest level since the beginning of 2023.

"The current year, 2024, is shaping up to probably be the second-best tin year on record," Hallgarten + Co strategist Christopher Ecclestone said last week.

"This favourable confluence of events is further augmented by the focus widening out on critical metals from the cyclopic attention to lithium and the declining production and grades (and attendant higher costs) in alluvial deposits in Malaysia and Indonesia."

Cerutty Macro Fund's Chris Judd surprised delegates at a conference last week when he singled out tin as the commodity his fund liked the most right now.

Judd said Cerutty preferred to invest in things that were on page 17 of The Australian Financial Review, before they made it to the front page.

"We also like silent bull markets – tin's on a tear. Not a lot of people are speaking about it," he told a Resources Rising Stars event in Adelaide, Australia, last week.

"It's really what we saw with gold until recently. We're bullish on it."

Unloved future metal

In 2018, Rio Tinto commissioned the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to conduct a survey on new technologies and come up with a list of metals required to meet this evolving demand.

The study determined that tin was the metal most impacted by new technology, pointing to growing demand due to a rise in use of autonomous and electric vehicles, advanced robotics, renewable energy, energy storage and advanced computation and information technology.

Judd reproduced the slide last week and described tin as the "unloved future metal".

"Anything with an electric circuit board has tin solder in it," he said.

"It's a small price of the overall product that it's in, so even if tin prices spike significantly, manufacturers aren't incentivised to manufacture it out of the supply chain – a not too dissimilar dynamic you see with uranium."

Its use in solar panels has increased more than sixfold in the past decade.

According to the International Tin Association (ITA), solar panels comprise many individual solar cells, connected by "solar ribbon". 

Solar ribbon is a copper wire, coated in a thin layer of tin solder. The ribbon carries the charge to the edge of the panel, where it feeds into junction boxes. 

"Solar ribbon now represents around 12% of solder production and is emerging as a major new use," the ITA said. 

According to Mining Journal's recent in-depth look at critical minerals lists, tin is listed as critical by the US, UK, Canada, India and South Korea.

Supply risks

The global tin market is small and fairly concentrated.

In 2023, just 10 smelters accounted for 59% of global production.

The largest producer by a considerable margin is China's Yunnan Tin and China accounts for about 50% of refined production overall.

A large proportion of mine production comes from Myanmar and Indonesia, which Judd pointed out were both the focus of environmental concerns.

"We think there's a potential risk that supply doesn't meet growing demand," he said.

Last week, the ITA also warned that M23 rebels had disrupted tin supply routes North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo, after previously occupying Masisi territory, another key tin supply region.

"ITA is not aware of current tin supply disruptions outside of Masisi, but ongoing conflict poses a threat to key supply areas and routes critical to the trade of tin concentrates," the ITA said. 

"Delays may be expected as mineral shipments are rerouted further north and south away from rebel-controlled areas."

All of this is against a backdrop of very little new supply.

"We have raised the alarm over the lack of investment in new mining projects for other critical minerals, but tin is almost in a league of its own with global tin mine production forecast to grow just 0.6% from 2023-2032, in comparison to 3.2% year on year from 2013-2022," Oregon Group said last week.

"And, just like other critical minerals, with demand set to double, investment is needed now as it can take more than 10 years to develop a new tin mine."

A growing series of reports, each focused on a key discussion point for the farming sector, brought to you by the Kondinin team.

A growing series of reports, each focused on a key discussion point for the farming sector, brought to you by the Kondinin team.


Mining Journal Intelligence Project Pipeline Handbook 2024

View our 50 top mining projects, handpicked using a unique, objective selection process from a database of 450+ global assets.


Mining Journal Intelligence Investor Sentiment Report 2024

Survey revealing the plans, priorities, and preferences of 120+ mining investors and their expectations for the sector in 2024.


Mining Journal Intelligence Mining Equities Report 2023

Access an exclusive, inside look on the quarterly mining IPOs and secondary raisings data and mining equities performance tables with an annual Stock Exchange Comparisons supplement.


Mining Journal Intelligence World Risk Report 2023 (feat. MineHutte ratings)

A detailed analysis of mining investment risks across 121 jurisdictions globally, built on 11 ‘hard risk’ metrics and an industrywide survey.