Australian hard rock lithium producer Altura enters administration

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australian lithium producer Altura Mining Ltd AJM.AX has entered receivership, administrator KordaMentha said, hit by a prolonged period of low prices for battery materials that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

KordaMentha was appointed as administrator on Oct. 26 by Altura’s security agent, BNY Trust Company of Australia Ltd.

It is conducting an urgent assessment of Altura’s financial position to begin moving the miner’s Pilgangoora operations in Western Australia into care and maintenance in the coming week, the administrator said in a filing late on Monday.

It also called for interested parties to get in touch for sales or recapitalisation opportunities.

Prices for the lithium raw material known as spodumene have dropped 22% this year to $390 a tonne as restrictions on movements aimed at curbing the spread of the novel coronavirus have hit demand for electric vehicles, extending a decline from $950 at the start of 2018.

Altura’s shares were delisted on Aug. 8, at which time the miner was capitalised at A$209 million ($149 million) versus a peak of A$1.5 billion on Jan. 3, 2018.

Altura in September said it expected spodumene production of 43,000 to 45,000 wet metric tonnes (wmt) in the July-September quarter in line with previous quarters, for shipping to long-term off-take partners.

It has supply agreements with Hunan Yongshan Lithium Co, a unit of its shareholder Ningbo Shanshan Co Ltd 600884.SS, as well as Ganfeng Lithium Co Ltd 002460.SZ, Guangdong Weihua Corp 002240.SZ, Shandong Ruifu and Lionergy Ltd, Altura said in a March presentation.

Ningbo Shanshan, which has a 15.1% stake in Altura, said it was still verifying the news and could not comment. A spokesman for Ganfeng said the company, one of the world’s biggest lithium producers, would not be affected much as it only took a few cargoes of spodumene from Altura per year.

Guangdong Weihua declined to comment.

In a separate filing on Tuesday, infrastructure contractor NRW Holdings Ltd NWH.AX which provides mining and drill and blast services to Altura, said that, together with subsidiary Action Drill & Blast, it had around A$9 million of exposure.

Reporting by Melanie Burton; additional reporting by Tom Daly; Editing by Edwina Gibbs, Christopher Cushing and David Evans