(In paragraph six, company clarifies utilizing 25 percent of lithium capacity at extraction sites, not 25 percent of total processing capability.)
Feb 20 (Reuters) - Albemarle Corp said on Thursday that none of its employees in China have contracted the coronavirus, but its lithium production facilities in the country will operate at reduced rates for the foreseeable future.
The company, the world's largest producer of the white metal for electric vehicle batteries, said it expects the virus to dent automotive demand, hurting the entire EV supply chain.
Albemarle produces lithium in Chile and Australia and sends it to China for final processing. The company's lithium is used in Teslas and other EVs.
"It is really difficult to know exactly how this is going to play out," Chief Executive Luke Kissam told investors on a Thursday conference call. "Every day, there's a new data point out there in terms of is it getting worse? Is it getting better?"
Albemarle said Wednesday evening that its earnings could drop double digits this year. Kissam on the Thursday call acknowledged part of that forecast was linked to coronavirus, which has killed more than 2,100 people in China.
The Charlotte, North Carolina-based company said it is utilizing only 25 percent of its production capacity at its mines in Australia and brine ponds in Chile due to slack demand and the virus. Albemarle has several production facilities across China, including in provinces close to the epicenter of the virus.
So far, there have been only "minimal" order reductions, though there have been myriad logistical delays on shipping product throughout China, Kissam said.
Shares of Albemarle rose 8 percent on Thursday morning to $96.51 after an analyst upgrade. (Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)