Albemarle cuts 2019 forecast on lithium price pressure

(Reuters) - Albemarle Corp ALB.N, the world's largest lithium producer, on Thursday cut its sales and profit forecasts for the year, hit by a continued slump in prices for the white metal, sending its shares down nearly 7% in extended trading.

A sign at the approach road leads to Albemarle's lithium evaporation ponds at its facility in Silver Peak, Nevada, U.S., January 9, 2019. Picture taken January 9, 2019. REUTERS/Ernest Scheyder

Demand for lithium, a key component of batteries used in cell phones, electric vehicles and other consumer goods, is widely expected to spike by 2025.

But global trade tensions, the scaling back of electric vehicle subsidies in China and increased production have pressured prices in recent months.

The company now expects adjusted earnings per share in the range of $6.00 to $6.20 in the year, compared with its previous estimate of $6.25 to $6.65.

Albemarle also trimmed its 2019 net sales forecast range to $3.6 billion to $3.7 billion, from $3.65 billion to $3.85 billion.

The company also reported preliminary third quarter adjusted profit of $1.53 per share hit by weakness in its lithium unit, which offset results from its bromine and catalysts units.

Analysts on an average expect the company to report an adjusted profit of $1.63, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

The company said lithium unit sales volume in the quarter was lower than expected mainly due to Typhoon Tapah, in late September, that caused lithium shipments from ports in Shanghai to be delayed into October.

Overall lithium pricing was flat to slightly up in the third quarter versus prior year with continued price pressure on lithium sales in China hitting its core earnings by about $5 million.

“Despite one-time items impacting our third quarter results and challenging market conditions heading into 2020, we remain confident in the long-term growth prospects of lithium,” said Chief Executive Officer Luke Kissam.

Reporting by Shanti S Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Maju Samuel and Shailesh Kuber