Monday 9 May 2016

Joe Lowry: Argentina Lithium Update - May, 2016.

Copyright Global Lithium LLC, used with permission.

  Joe Lowry brings us another update from his Lithium Kingdom, this time he shares his views and observations from Argentina, he is a must follow for everybody in our very small and explosively growing Lithium Universe at @globallithium. His call on the building up lithium shortages in 2015 was spot on the money: lithium increased threefold above $20,000 per LCE T from $6,000 just from the last summer!
  I will provide my previous  post with his insights into the "Opaque Lithium Kingdom" and you can study his work on the links. His work is very timely, as I believe that the next stage in the advance of the lithium market will be separating the hyped dreams from the real people with dreams and solid projects under development.

Race For Renewable Energy Technologies Charges Lithium Market. Chinese Lithium Leader Secures Supply Sources.

BNN: ILC team at Mariana Lithium Project site in Argentina placing access for North-side seismic testing this March

"Ganfeng has a strong commitment to supply Lithium product to various industries worldwide,” stated Ganfeng’s Director, Wang Xiaoshen, “so we clearly have a vested interest in these projects and have been very hands-on in the evaluation of ILC’s properties. Our company is the only one in the world that has commercial production capacities to extract Lithium from both brine and spodumene, and we continually implement cutting-edge technologies to our processes. I feel confident that this is a fit for our operations and the potential these projects hold."

Lithium Universe: Joe Lowry - "Price Flu" From China Is Spreading.

Copyright Global Lithium LLC, used with permission.

  "Joe Lowry reports that my outrages price prediction for 2016 with $15k per MT of LCE is already looks like new normal in China! This price spike maybe exaggerating the real situation for now, but only so far - the security of supply is now the most import issue for all Lithium Materials producers like Ganfeng Lithium and this new paradigm reflecting the tectonic shift in the post carbon economy. Lithium is the magic metal at the very heart of the Energy rEVolution.  International Lithium is building vertically integrated lithium business with Ganfeng. The new players are already claiming not only the market share, but investors' attention as well. Read more."

Lithium Universe: Joe Lowry - China "Big 2" Lithium Companies Performance Compared To The "Big 3".

Joe Lowry:

Argentina Lithium Update - May, 2016

"In February I shared my thoughts on the changing status of Argentina in the lithium world. The combination of a new government with a focus on supporting rather than impeding business development coupled with surging demand for lithium led me to believe that a new day had dawned for Argentina’s potential as a lithium power.
I spent last week traveling around Argentina – meeting with a cross section of lithium stakeholders:  lithium company executives, local industry experts, infrastructure companies as well as national and provincial regulators. My path crossed with people working for a total of six lithium projects over the course of the week. My last meeting was just minutes before I boarded my flight back to the US in an airport lounge. The lithium company executive sitting across from me seemed (sincerely) even more bullish than I am.
 So how do I see the Argentina scenario playing out?
First a brief recap of where we are. Over the past five years capacity additions of approximately 80K MT were expected: Galaxy’s Jiangsu, China plant was supposed to have a capacity of 17K MT. It has been sold to Tianqi and is still producing well below nameplate. Albemarle/Rockwood’s 20K MT expansion at La Negra was delayed. FMC’s “30%” expansion didn't result in increased output although a lot of capital was invested. Canada Lithium/RB Energy’s 20K MT plant was the biggest lithium failure in history. Finally, Orocobre's 17K MT project at Olaroz that was supposed to be producing “at capacity” at various dates depending on which of their announcements you read last- is still in an extended "start-up". Of the projects listed only about 18K MT of the anticipated 80K MT is currently in production.
Meanwhile, on the demand side, lithium in “electric transportation” seems to have finally gained traction (no pun intended) and the “era of ESS” seems ever closer. Demand for LCEs (lithium carbonate equivalents for new readers) will likely grow ~15K MT this year and continue to grow at an increasing rate which ultimately means a new 20K MT plant will be needed about once a year over the next few years. Growth from 2020 to 2025 will be at a much faster pace. My demand estimates are lower than the estimates of many others such as Goldman Sachs. The “bottom line” is that absent a complete collapse of demand growth – the world NEEDS Argentina to at least achieve brine production parity with its neighbor to the west (Chile, to those of you who may be geographically challenged). 
Even if investment begins this year on new projects in Argentina, product is unlikely to enter the market in a significant way until the end of the decade which means spodumene from Australia will play an increasing role in global supply over the next few years. Galaxy’s Mt Cattlin mine has restarted and Neometal’s Mt Marion project will also start-up this year. Neometal’s capacity will initially go to only one company – Ganfeng.  After their next expansion, Ganfeng will need almost 300K MT of spodumene to run their carbonate and hydroxide plants and will be a major force in keeping supply and demand in balance until new brine resources enter the market.
Developments in Australia will also play a key role in the future of at least one Argentina property. Since Neometal’s production is initially committed to Ganfeng, Galaxy is the only  uncommitted new supply of spodumene going to China until another resource (such as Pilbara) comes online later in the decade. I do not expect the Talison JV’s output to increase significantly in the next couple of years which means that Galaxy is in an enviable position to supply converters in China who currently cannot operate at capacity due to a shortage of raw material that has driven carbonate and hydroxide pricing in China up 3X since the end of Q3 2015. Unlike other junior companies, Galaxy is again a “real lithium company” (i.e. one with production) who will be able to sell their entire output for the foreseeable future and likely at a premium to the spodumene market price in China.
I took the digression through the Australia situation to make it clear that Galaxy is no longer the debt ridden mess they were just a short time ago but are now in a position to access capital markets on their own to develop Sal de Vida. Expect Galaxy, driven by cash flow from spodumene sales beginning in Q3, to be profitable sooner than their fellow ASX listed company, Orocobre. Once Galaxy develops Sal de Vida they will become the next lithium major. Yes, that is a prediction.
Galaxy has the best new brine project on the planet in Sal de Vida located on Salar del Hombre Muerto. This is the same salar that FMC has been producing great quality product on for almost 20 years. While it is unfortunate that FMC’s corporate leadership has recently shown no vision for the lithium business and has no plans to expand (or attempt another expansion) in Argentina, the “other side” of Hombre Muerto is likely be producing for Galaxy by the end of the decade.
Enjoyed being back in Salta and at Hombre Muerto last week.
Lithium Americas (LAC) another recently troubled junior has taken a different path to make development of their Cauchari - Olaroz lithium project in Argentina a reality. LAC’s recently announced JV with SQM for 50% of their Minera Exar subsidiary is a huge step forward. SQM has the financial ability, lithium core competence and motivation (given their contentious relationship Chile’s CORFO) to make the Cauchari – Olaroz project a reality. Whether SQM ultimately takes over LAC is a financial detail from my perspective. The important point is that now this project has a clear potential path forward.
The scenario where current producers FMC and Orocobre along with the new projects from Galaxy and SQM/LAC make Argentina the largest lithium producer on the planet by 2021 (even assuming Albemarle builds a third carbonate plant on the Atacama) is no longer a brine based "Field of Dreams” scenario. The Atacama will continue to have the lowest cost production but that is really a footnote in this story. The cost structure in Argentina is much closer to the Atacama cost than to the cost of hard rock production in China which accounts for over 40% of current global output. The high cost in China provides a "price umbrella" that ensures that the Argentina projects will be profitable if they successfully execute.
Yes, there are other lithium projects in Argentina. Enirgi, Eramet, Lithium X, International Lithium, POSCO and others are active in the country. I am not commenting in detail on those projects at this point. In a Goldman Sachs like demand scenario there will be more room for the next tier of projects. I am bullish on lithium demand and bullish on the potential in Argentina. From my perspective Galaxy and SQM/LAC are currently the best positioned to bring significant new capacity online in the fastest time frame.
In a meeting with the national minister of mining it was made very clear that Argentina is “all in” on developing the lithium industry. The previous government seemed to work hard to stymie development. It refreshing to see a supportive environment for resource projects in the country.
My trip last week was the first visit to Argentina in four years. It was by far the longest time I have been out of the country since I first visited in 1993. Normally I made the trek at least twice a year until 2012. I plan to follow the Argentina lithium story closely and look forward to spending more time there for lithium, beef and Malbec."

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