Northern Minerals (ASX:NTU) is trying to make the case that rare earths are coming back but the numbers aren’t quite as clear as they’d like them to be.

The company says 99.5 per cent pure dysprosium oxide has fetched a 20 per cent price increase since mid-March, based on data they received from metal pricing site Asian Metals between February 18 to March 28.

But that entirely depends on where you get your dysprosium price.

The Shanghai Metals Exchange today listed the year-to-date price jump for 99.5 per cent pure dysprosium oxide at 21.5 per cent per kilogram.

Kitco’s 60-day price change is 5.16 per cent.

Even Asian Metals offers an alternative view.

On its website it says 99.5 per cent dysprosium out of China is up between 10.38 per cent and 13.6 per cent over the last 60 days.

A big jump would be in Northern’s interests however, as they are in the process of commissioning a 60,000-tonne-per-annum heavy rare earths pilot plant at the Browns Range project in WA.

Nonetheless, on all numbers it appears that dysprosium, which has been in a price desert for about a year might be on its way back up.

Rare earths ain’t rare

Rare earths are not rare nor are they earth, they’re a group of 17 metal oxides that are more common than gold or silver.

They are, however, much more difficult to extract.

Aside from a few bumps, the market for most rare earths such as praseodymium oxide and neodymium oxide hasn’t been great since a sharp drop off in 2015.

But recent interest in rare earths miner Lynas (ASX:LYC) by Wesfamers (ASX:WES) has industry players hoping it might be the start of a sustained uptick.

Indeed, when Wesfarmers made its now-rejected offer for Lynas in late March, more than half the 13 ASX-listed companies with exposure to rare earths made gains of between 7 per cent and 17 per cent on the back of the news.

Rare earths such as dysprosium, neodymium and praseodymium are also hailed as “magnet metals”, essential for electric cars.

Northern managing director George Bauk told Stockhead a year ago he hoped to start seeing some price movement on the back of growth in the electric vehicle industry.

China produces about 80 per cent of the world’s rare earth supply, which means that producers outside that country can gain an advantage when supplying other countries.

In 2012 the US, EU and Japan accused China via the World Trade Organisation of price manipulation by putting quotas on exports. China lost the case in 2014 and lifted the quotas.

But in the second half of last year it began restricting production by 36 per cent and delivering only enough to supply its own domestic needs, according to Reuters.