Despite weak lithium prices, Albemarle beats on cost cuts

By Thomson Reuters Feb 14, 2024 | 3:59 PM

(Reuters) – Albemarle, the world’s largest lithium producer, posted a better-than-expected adjusted quarterly profit on Wednesday as aggressive cost cuts helped offset plunging prices for the metal used to make electric vehicle batteries.

The slowing pace of EV adoption globally, combined with lithium overproduction in China, has dragged down lithium prices and financially dented Albemarle and its peers.

A basket of lithium prices compiled by Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, for example, has dropped 80% in the past year. Albemarle, which supplies Tesla and other automakers, sells most of its lithium on long-term contracts linked to market pricing.

Albemarle said last month it would cut jobs and defer spending on a U.S. refinery project as part of a wide-ranging plan to preserve cash. The move was part of a plan to save $750 million in cash flow.

“We are taking actions to enhance our financial flexibility,” Kent Masters, CEO of the Charlotte, North Carolina-based company, said in a press release on Wednesday.

Albemarle posted a fourth-quarter net loss of $617.7 million, or $5.26 per share, compared with a net profit of $1.13 billion, or $9.60 per share, in the year-ago quarter.

Excluding onetime items, Albemarle earned $1.85 per share. By that measure, analysts expected earnings of $1.01 per share, according to IBES data from LSEG.

The company’s overall revenue fell roughly 10%, but would have been worse had it not been for an increase in sales at its division that sells catalysts to oil refineries.

For 2024, Albemarle said it expects lithium prices to remain flat. Executives plan to hold a conference call on Thursday to discuss the results and outlook.

Despite the cost cuts, Albemarle has signaled it will continue to fund its Arkansas direct lithium extraction project, which it plans to discuss at a Little Rock conference on Thursday and Friday.

The company’s stock fell 2.5% to $111.50 in after-hours trading.

(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; Editing by Leslie Adler and Jonathan Oatis)