Monsters of Rock: More lithium stocks flipping shares to raise cash
After Albemarle flipped $120 million worth of Liontown Resources (ASX:LTR) shares in a bid to bolster its balance sheet another lithium player has pulled a similar move.
American lithium hopeful Piedmont Lithium (ASX:PLL), which also has a 25% stake in Sayona Mining’s (ASX:SYA) surely marginal North American Lithium operations in Quebec, Canada, announced this morning it would pick up US$7.8 million in additional funds by trading 24.3m shares in Ghanaian lithium developer Atlantic Lithium (ASX:A11) to its top shareholder Assore International Holdings.
The deal will add to Piedmont’s cash pile after it held US$72m in cash and US$47.4m in ‘marketable securities’ on January 17.
It comes amid a pullback in lithium prices that has dulled the hopes of a hasty development of projects like Ewoyaa, which would be the first spodumene operation developed in Ghana.
According to Fastmarkets, 6% Li2O concentrate last week was fetching US$875/t on the spot market, down over 80% since the start of 2023.
In the past 12 months dual-listed and London-based Atlantic’s share price has fallen almost 40%, while Piedmont’s has sieved over 65%.
It plans to use Ewoyaa as feedstock for a proposed lithium hydroxide plant in Tennessee in the United States, holds 22.5% of the project and has the right to earn into a 50% stake by contributing a further US$70m to its development.
With an expected capex cost of US$185m, disclosed in a DFS last year, Atlantic had been hoping to produce spodumene concentrate from 2025, but prices have nose-dived since and dropped closer to its all in sustaining cost forecast of US$610/t.
Piedmont president and CEO Keith Phillips hinted of a measured approach to its development in response to the weakness in lithium prices.
“We remain confident about the potential of Ewoyaa as a logistically advantages, low-cost producer of spodumene concentrate, but are taking a disciplined approach to deploying capital in the current lithium price environment and positioning ourselves for the recovery we anticipate in the lithium market,” he said.
PLL says it retains a 5.2% stake in A11, with Phillips saying PLL always viewed its stake “as a potential source of capital”.
The world’s biggest lithium producer, US giant Albemarle, flagged $750 million of cost savings in an update this week that included the halt of the construction of a fourth train at its Kemerton lithium refinery in Australia, announced only in the middle of last year.
It also deferred spending on a new technology park in North Carolina and conversion facility to accompany its proposed Kings Mountain lithium mine restart in the same American state.
The materials sector closed up a tidy 0.42%, but it was coal stocks that led the day among the miners as energy prices ran higher and major producers announced strong production and positive price outlooks in their December quarter reports.
They included Yancoal (ASX:YAL) and Whitehaven (ASX:WHC), the latter of which revealed it plans to sell a minority stake in one of the two mines it will pick up in an up to $6.4 billion deal with BHP (ASX:BHP) in a bid to capitalise on steel makers’ hunger for metallurgical coal – currently at historically strong prices of US$336/t.
ANZ, meanwhile, said while lithium demand is expected to grow 25%, a case of oversupply could cap price increases this year. But commodity strategists Daniel Hynes and Soni Kumari warned lower prices would hurt plans to boost supply globally by as much as 40% this year.
“Current prices are already into the ‘cost of production’ curve, biting into margins for some producers. In an
oversupplied market, producers could start curtailing operations, as happened in the last downturn when Albemarle curtailed operations at Wodgina, in Western Australia,” they said in a note. “Lower prices are also likely to delay project ramp-ups in 2024.”
Hynes and Kumari also see little upside in nickel price in 2024, but said production costs globally of around US$16,500, slightly above current prices would limit price falls.
Fastmarkets reported last week that Huayue was rumoured to be pausing development on a Chinese HPAL project in response to the drop.
ANZ expects Indonesian nickel supply to rise 8% to 2.2Mt in 2024 after a 30% rise from 2021-2023 to become the supplier of 55% of the world’s primary nickel, a situation that has cut into margins for higher cost producers in Australia, with even BHP flagging cutbacks at its Nickel West business in WA this week.