High Voltage: These 5 lithium explorers are outperforming in 2020
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Each month our High Voltage column wraps all the news driving ASX battery metals stocks with exposure to lithium, cobalt, graphite, manganese and vanadium.
Right now, COVID-19 is having a ‘freezing’ effect on the entire battery supply chain — from raw materials through to battery manufacturing and electric vehicle (EV) production.
In January, figures show Chinese EV output and sales falling about 55 per cent year-on-year. February figures could be even worse; early estimates suggest that numbers could plummet +90 per cent year-on-year.
The near-term outlook isn’t all bad. Despite the disruption, 59 out of 183 automotive suppliers in China — 32 per cent in the industry — had already reportedly resumed production by February 12, Benchmark Mineral Intelligence reports.
Scroll down for our Top 5 of 2020 (so far) >>>
Still, even if COVID-19 impacts are minimised the issues that plagued battery raw materials prior to the outbreak remain.
In February, spodumene concentrate prices nudged lower to an average $US463 ($697) per tonne — a 46 per cent drop from the same period last year — due to that ‘overhang’ in Chinese stockpiles.
WA hard rock producers like Pilbara Minerals (ASX:PLS), Altura Mining (ASX:AJM) and Galaxy Resources (ASX:GXY) have been curbing exports in response but this excess feedstock — estimated at 25,000t LCE (lithium carbonate equivalent) — is still expected to persist through the first half of the year at least, Benchmark says.
The medium-to-long term outlook still remains strong, underlined by Altura’s ability to lock in a crucial $305m financing package on Friday.
“We are pleased by the support shown by our existing lenders, their belief in the Altura lithium project, management and the global lithium sector,” managing director James Brown says.
“The combined sum of the financing package gives us considerable balance sheet strength and working capital headroom so we can continue to push through this period of market weakness.”
But investors are still rewarding the best development stories, even as pricing remains in the toilet.
This cluster of advanced ASX-listed lithium explorers — who aren’t exposed to prevailing low prices — are making appreciable gains in 2020.
Here’s a table of ASX battery metal stocks with exposure to lithium, cobalt, graphite, manganese and vanadium>>>
Scroll or swipe to reveal table. Click headings to sort. Best viewed on a laptop:
Market Cap: ~$42m
‘Lithium triangle’ brines explorer Galan peaked at ~61c per share in early 2019 before dropping precipitously, finishing the year at 13c.
In January, global battery metals behemoth Ganfeng Lithium joined the explorer’s register via a subsidiary, igniting a rocket under the Galan share price. Galan is also hitting remarkable grades this year, culminating in a record 330m-long, 1010mg/l lithium interval at Rana de Sal.
Market Cap: ~$155m
Like its peers, former market darling AVZ ended 2019 on a low. In 2020, investors are rewarding the stock as it drives the mammoth Manono project in the DRC toward a development decision.
“We are no longer an exploration company having commenced site works for mining and are migrating towards becoming a fully-fledged mining company,” managing director Nigel Ferguson said in February.
“With the DFS expected soon, financing and offtakes to soon follow, we are stepping up to ensure a successful mining operation is established at Manono.”
Market Cap: ~$24m
Lake, also in the heart of the ‘lithium triangle’, spun a partner’s own success into a pretty substantial share price increase.
In January, Lake soared after confirming that a disruptive lithium brine processing tech from California-based Lilac Solutions worked really well at its projects.
In February Lake jumped again — this time when a fund led by American software magnate Bill Gates invested $US20m into Lilac.
Market Cap: ~$9m
Vulcan listed in 2018 as Norway focused copper-zinc explorer Koppar Resources.
In 2019, the company rebranded and refocused after getting its hands on a large, lithium-rich geothermal brine project in Germany.
For the European battery sector, a local and sustainable raw materials supply chain is increasingly important.
This is Vulcan’s angle – the explorer reckons it can produce a “unique zero carbon lithium product” from this project, already the largest in Europe.
Market Cap: $177m
WA-based Liontown continues to perform remarkably as countless battery metals hopefuls slide into obscurity.
Up another ~30 per cent in 2020, the company talks often about benefiting from the next tsunami of lithium demand. It has pencilled in first production for 2024, about the time lithium demand is expected to climb strongly out of its current malaise.