December 20, 2018 / 8:13 AM / 6 months ago

Orocobre says lithium carbonate prices slump, does not see recovery soon

MELBOURNE, Dec 20 (Reuters) - Shares in Orocobre Ltd tumbled on Thursday, dragging on other lithium producers, after it said prices it received for its lithium carbonate sank sharply this quarter, and that it did not see prospects for a strong rebound early next year. Orocobre will receive an average of $10,800 per tonne on approximately 2,850 tonnes of lithium carbonate in the fourth quarter, a drop of 26.5 percent from $14,699 a tonne in the prior quarter.

The pricing was much weaker than analysts had expected for the raw material used in batteries for electric vehicles, and suggests the industry will face slimmer profits next year. The news sent Orocobre’s shares tumbling by 13.6 percent, with stocks of other lithium miners following them lower.

“The pricing achieved recently has been affected by soft market conditions in China having a direct impact on shorter term contracts,” Chief Executive Richard Seville said on a conference call.

“I’m reluctant to provide guidance on pricing at this point. We are in negotiations for next year’s contracts with our customers. I’d have to say it’s not feeling strong. We are not expecting a rebound in pricing at this point in time.”

Prices dropped in China this year as more local production came on line, and after a change in subsidies for electric vehicle batteries in May dampened sales to battery makers who were forced to change up their product mix.

“That’s probably quite some negative news (about Orocobre’s sales) ... We had a declining price profile, but this quarter was below where we were seeing pricing next year,” said analyst Tim Hoff of Deutsche Bank on the call.

Prices of lithium carbonate AM-995C-LTCB traded in China have halved this year as supply has ramped up, bottoming at three-year lows of 66,000 yuan a tonne in October, data from Asian Metal shows.

Lithium carbonate was last trading around 69,500 yuan ($10,059) a tonne on Thursday, according to the pricing and information provider.

But given China’s still strong electric vehicle sales, a recovery in prices for the specialty metal had been expected before the year-end.

Seville said that Orocobre’s ex-China customers had also come under pressure given how much of their ultimate customer base was in the Asian nation.

“Orocobre sent their product both into China and ex-China, so you thought they had a little bit of buffering from the Chinese spot price,” said another analyst, who declined to be named.

Shares in other Australian lithium miners Kidman Resources and Galaxy Resources fell 13 and 10 percent, respectively. Mineral Resources and Pilbara Minerals both shed around 7 percent amid a broad sell off in the resources sector.

$1 = 6.9092 yuan Reporting by Melanie Burton; Editing by Tom Hogue

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