Lithium Americas makes $400 mln bid for Millennial to rival China's CATL

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A haul truck carries a full load at a mine operation near Elko, Nevada May 21, 2014. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

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Nov 1 (Reuters) - Lithium Americas Corp (LAC.TO), made a $400 million stock-and-cash offer for Argentina-focused lithium developer Millennial Lithium Corp (ML.V) on Monday, seeking to outbid China's Contemporary Amperex Technology Co Ltd (CATL) (300750.SZ) for a promising source of the ultra-light battery metal.

The bidding war comes amidst surging demand for lithium ion batteries used to power electric vehicles (EVs), with many global automakers planning to have fully electric fleets by 2035. There are not enough global lithium projects under development, though, to meet that target.

Millennial's Pastos Grandes lithium project in Argentina is "an asset that we see a lot of value in, and we feel we can unlock that value," Jon Evans, the Lithium Americas chief executive, told Reuters.

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The company's experience building the Cauchari lithium project with Ganfeng Lithium Co (002460.SZ) near Pastos Grandes should be appealing to Millennial's shareholders, Evans said. CATL, the world's largest EV battery manufacturer, does not produce lithium.

Lithium Americas is also developing the Thacker Pass lithium mine in Nevada. That and Cauchari will remain the company's focus, with Millennial a "potential future development," Evans said.

Each Millennial shareholder would receive C$4.70 ($3.80) per share, payable in Lithium Americas common shares, and C$0.001 in cash. Millennial shareholders will own about 9.9% of Lithium Americas, based on the company's closing price on Friday.

Shares of Millennial rose 27% in Monday morning trading, while shares of Lithium Americas fell about 2%.

A buyout of Millennial would give Lithium Americas an additional 24,000 tonnes per year of battery-quality lithium carbonate for 40 years.

The Lithium Americas offer trumped a C$3.85 per share bid that CATL made in September, which in turn had outbid July's offer of C$3.60 per share from Ganfeng, the largest Lithium Americas shareholder.

Evans said he did not see the Lithium Americas offer as reflective of any broader fight between two Chinese companies for Argentina lithium assets.

"There's no geopolitical angle at all. We purely look at this as an exciting future," he said.

Millennial has given CATL until Nov. 16 to revise the offer to match the proposal from Lithium Americas.

($1 = 1.2378 Canadian dollars)

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Additional reporting by Ruhi Soni in Bengaluru Editing by Shailesh Kuber and Mark Potter

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Thomson Reuters

Covers the future of energy and transportation including electric vehicle and battery technology, with a focus on lithium, copper, cobalt, rare earths and other minerals, politics, policy, etc. Previously covered the oil and natural gas, including a stint living in North Dakota’s Bakken shale oil patch.