September 12, 2019 / 2:14 AM / 6 days ago

Chilean lithium producer SQM bullish on white gold demand; shares rise

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Shares in Chilean lithium producer SQM jumped on Wednesday after it announced plans to invest about $2.1 billion in the next five years to strengthen its production amid an expected increase in demand for the ultralight battery metal.

About $1.332 billion of this investment would be in lithium operations, with further amounts going toward growing its nitrates and iodine capacity and maintenance between 2019 to 2023, Chief Executive Ricardo Ramos said in a presentation to investors in New York on Tuesday.

B-Series shares in SQM were up more than 5% in trading on Santiago’s blue-chip stock exchange following the promise of beefed-up investment.

Demand and prices of lithium have been stifled in recent months by global trade tensions, the scaling back of electric vehicle subsidies in China and new output.

But Pablo Altimiras, senior vice president for SQM´s lithium and iodine division, said he expects solid demand in the coming years.

“The fundamentals support a vision of significant growth in the coming years,” he said.

Ramos said he expected lithium sales volume to reach 173,000 tonnes by 2025 through operations in Chile and Australia.

“The opportunities for growth in the lithium business could result in a gross profit contribution of about $1 billion by 2025,” the company´s presentation said.

The average lithium price is expected to be between $10 and $15 per kilo by 2025, compared to the current $14.50, the company predicted, with demand set to grow between 16% and 20% by 2025.

“Considering both demand fundamentals and supply cost structure, equilibrium price could be higher than historic average, even in double digits,” the company presentation said.

It is also awaiting feasibility studies on its joint venture Mount Holland project here in Australia.

Reporting by Fabian Cambero and Dave Sherwood; writing by Aislinn Laing, Editing by Bernadette Baum and Rashmi Aich

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