Lithium miners are bulking up for a booming future when electric cars go mainstream. But speed bumps loom, with prices tumbling on a burst of new production and demand growth slowing in China.
Between mid-2015 and mid-2018, prices for lithium, the soft, silvery-white metal crucial for rechargeable batteries, almost tripled as the world’s fleet of electric vehicles hit the 5 million mark, and the auto industry began to fret over the supply of raw materials.
That sparked the opening of six lithium mines in Australia since 2017 as companies raced to gain from an evolving technology. But while the EV boom is coming, it isn’t here yet. Sales growth is slowing in China, the top market, and the drive to fill the battery supply chain has cooled. The result: A 30% price plunge for lithium that’s spurring concern over where the bottom may lie.
“The latest EV data did reveal slowing growth, inferring that on top of excess supply, demand is now a problem,” Vivienne Lloyd and other analysts at Macquarie Capital Ltd. wrote in a report this month. “The key interest for investors should be who is likely to survive.”
On Monday, shares were largely down for lithium producers worldwide. Charlotte, North Carolina-based Albemarle Corp. fell 1% at 10:06 a.m. in New York trading, while Philadelphia-based Livent Corp. slipped 0.9%.
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