To Grow or Not to Grow? Lithium Producer Strategies Differ

This article first appeared on the BNEF mobile app and the Bloomberg Terminal.

  • Albemarle and Livent cut expenditures and slow expansions
  • SQM continues expansions to capture a greater market share

Three top global lithium producers are reacting differently to pressure from the Covid-19 pandemic. Projecting a loss of demand in the short term, U.S. companies Albemarle and Livent have opted for slower expansions and lower capital expenditures. Meanwhile, Chile’s SQM is keeping expansion targets in hopes of growing market share.

Albemarle cut capex for the year to $900 million, down 14%. Livent slashed capex by 50% to $115 million. These cuts affect 19,000 metric tons of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE) in mined resource expansions planned by 2022. Both companies have withdrawn their 2020 guidance, expecting the second half of this year to be more challenging.

SQM is more optimistic. Despite a 58% decline in lithium revenue for 1Q 2020, the company sees sales picking up for the rest of 2020. SQM also reduced capex 22% to $350 million, although it did not change expansion targets. It plans to accelerate spending next year to commission 60,000 metric tons LCE of planned capacity expansions by 2022.

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