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Business trends

Japanese cobalt traders find there is none left to buy

Output struggles to keep up with demand for key electric car component

A worker at a cobalt mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo's Katanga Province. Harsh working conditions in the mines have drawn criticism from international human rights groups.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Prices of cobalt roughly doubled in 2017 as automakers scrambled to secure the silvery element, which is used in batteries that power emission-free vehicles. The global shortage is hitting Japanese traders of the metal.

One Tokyo trading company is feeling the heat. When it sought to purchase cobalt on short-term contracts in early December, the response from suppliers in China and Western countries was the same: Their stock for 2017 had already run out.

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