BRISBANE, Australia, July 30, 2018 /PRNewswire/ --
JUNE QUARTER 2018 KEY HIGHLIGHTS1
OLAROZ LITHIUM FACILITY (ORE 66.5%)2
- Production for the quarter was the second highest on record at 3,596 tonnes of lithium carbonate, up 28% on the March quarter
- Record realised average price achieved of US$13,653/tonne on a free on-board basis (FOB)3
- Record quarterly sales revenue of US$44.4 million on total sales of 3,255 tonnes of lithium carbonate (varies from ASX release 2 July 2018 due to unforeseeable port shipping delays, these sales will now be recognised in the September quarter. See notes later)
- Cash costs for the quarter (on cost of goods sold basis)4 were down 13% quarter on quarter (QoQ) to US$3,800/tonne as a result of increased production and sales volumes
- Record gross cash margins of US$9,853/tonne were up 7% QoQ demonstrating the profitability and cash generation capability of the Olaroz operations
Fiscal Year 2018
- Production for fiscal year to 30 June 2018 was a record 12,470 tonnes, up 5% year on year (YoY)
- Total sales revenue for the year to 30 June 2018 was a record US$148.9 million, up 24% on the previous year.
LITHIUM GROWTH PROJECTS
- A US$40 million early works program has commenced as part of the Stage 2 expansion with the construction of ponds, roads and camp infrastructure. The US$40 million forms part of the total capital expenditure of US$285 million for Stage 2. The expansion will add 25,000 tonnes per annum (tpa) of lithium carbonate and bring Olaroz total production capacity to 42,500tpa.
- Orocobre and Toyota Tsusho Corporation (TTC) continue to advance plans for the proposed 10,000tpa Naraha Lithium Hydroxide Plant to be built in Japan. Negotiations continue for the Engineer, Procure and Construct (EPC) contract and are expected to be completed in the September quarter
- Progress continues to be made towards final investment decisions for both the Olaroz expansion and Naraha lithium hydroxide projects. In particular, work has advanced regarding debt packages for both projects and the JV structural elements for the hydroxide plant.
- Overall sales volume in the June quarter was up 16.6% on March quarter to 10,590 tonnes
- Sales have continued to steadily improve during the quarter with a strong focus on market development
- The Tincalayu Expansion Project feasibility study is in the final stages of internal review.
CAUCHARI JOINT VENTURE
(ADVANTAGE LITHIUM OPERATOR 75% / OROCOBRE 25%)
- An updated resource estimate was released during the June quarter detailing a +6-fold increase of the inferred resource to 3.0 Mt LCE at Cauchari at 450 mg/l lithium
- Advantage Lithium has now undertaken drilling at 12 locations within the Cauchari tenements and has completed Phase 1 and 2 of the drilling program with Phase 3 drilling underway to upgrade this inferred resource and underlying brine to measured and indicated resources
- The NI43-101 Technical Report on the resource upgrade of the Cauchari Lithium Project was completed and released late in the June quarter to support the conclusions presented in the updated resource estimate
- A Preliminary Economic Assessment is planned for completion in Q3 2018 followed by a Feasibility Study to be completed by early 2019.
- As at 30 June 2018, Orocobre Group had available cash of US$316.6 million (net of project debt6, cash is US$227.2 million)
- During the quarter, Orocobre received US$1.3 million from the sale of Lithium X and US$1 million in terms of the Salinas Grandes disposal to LSC Lithium
- Subsequent to Richard Seville announcing his intention to step down as Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Orocobre, the Orocobre Board commenced a global search for his replacement. The recruitment and transition processes are expected to take approximately 12 months.
OLAROZ LITHIUM FACILITY
The Olaroz Lithium Facility is located in the Jujuy province of Argentina. Together with partners, TTC and Jujuy Energia y Mineria Sociedad del Estado (JEMSE), Orocobre is now operating the first large scale brine-based lithium chemicals facility to be commissioned in approximately 20 years.
Olaroz produces high quality lithium carbonate chemicals for both the battery and industrial markets. It is the only operation in the world with an integrated purification circuit that permits it to produce, if desired, 100% battery grade lithium carbonate (+99.5%) on site.
The Olaroz Lithium Facility joint venture is operated through Argentine subsidiary Sales de Jujuy S.A. (SDJ). The effective equity interests are: Orocobre 66.5%, TTC 25.0% and JEMSE 8.5%.
PRODUCTION, SALES AND OPERATIONAL UPDATE
PRODUCTION AND SALES
Production for the June quarter was 3,596 tonnes, up 28% from 2,802 tonnes in the March quarter. Sales were 3,255 tonnes of lithium carbonate with a record realised average price of US$13,653 per tonne on a FOB basis and record total sales revenue of US$44.4 million. Operating costs (on a cost of goods sold basis) were US$3,800/tonne, down 13% QoQ due to increased production and sales volumes and the impact of the Peso devaluation resulting in lower local costs for the quarter.
Gross cash margins of 72% for the quarter were a record (US$9,853 per tonne, up 7% QoQ) with higher prices and lower costs. This demonstrates the robust cash generation ability and profitability of the Olaroz operations.
The sales figures presented in this report differ to those reported in ASX release 2 July 2018 owing to the previously noted delay in shipping with unforeseen port congestion. This simply represents a timing issue of when revenue is reported.
Average price received (US$/tonne)3
Cost of sales (US$/tonne)4
Gross cash margin (US$/tonne)
Gross cash margin (%)
Production in the June quarter was significantly higher than the March quarter with both the lithium carbonate plant and the pond system operating well. This result demonstrates improved pond management and harvesting practices despite lower than average evaporation rates through the half.
During the June quarter the first cycle of salt harvesting continued from the harvestable ponds (the final eight ponds in the system). The harvesting process occurs approximately every three years and involves the removal of the majority of salt (mainly halite and sylvite) which has precipitated through the evaporation process.
Construction of the salt stockpile area immediately adjacent to the existing harvest ponds has been completed. Three of eight harvest ponds have now been cleared of harvestable salts.
CARBON DIOXIDE RECOVERY
Carbon dioxide is used at the Olaroz Lithium Facility in the production of battery grade lithium carbonate. It is currently sourced from near Buenos Aires, Cordoba and Mendoza (transported up to 1,800 kilometres by truck), making it a significant component of total reagent costs.
Recent engineering studies have shown up to 50% of total CO2 used in the production process can be recovered, so the Company is currently installing CO2 recovery systems on various parts of the purification circuit to help significantly lower the total reagent costs.
Installation and operation of the permanent CO2 recovery equipment is expected in the second half of calendar year 2018, with capital expenditure on this project expected to be less than US$2M.
FUTURE PRODUCTION AND GUIDANCE
During the current quarter there will be a temporary closure of the plant for maintenance of approximately one to two weeks, during which time work will be undertaken on some minor modifications to the BEPEX (dry and bagging) circuit and electrical upgrades, in addition to normal preventative maintenance programmes. This is the first major maintenance shutdown since the plant opened in 2014.
As previously stated on the conference call of 2 July 2018 (https://www.orocobre.com/news/orocobre-june-production-update-conference-call/), Orocobre expects full year production (FY19) will be higher than that achieved in FY18.
Further guidance on pricing will be given when negotiations are concluded, however results achieved to date indicate continued strength in the contract market for high quality lithium carbonate chemicals.
STAGE 2 EXPANSION AT OLAROZ
The Stage 2 expansion of Olaroz is fully funded with cash and proposed debt funding arrangements. Final investment decision remains subject to Orocobre and TTC approvals, although work has commenced on long lead projects as noted below.
SCOPE OF STAGE 2 EXPANSION
Based on forecast strong demand growth the Joint Venture Partners have scaled the Stage 2 expansion to 25,000 tonnes per annum (total 42,500 tonnes per annum across the whole Olaroz site).
The increased expansion plans retain the simplified design to remove the purification circuit from the incremental production with the proposed development of a 10,000tpa Lithium Hydroxide Plant in Naraha, Japan.
The joint venture has committed to a US$40 million early works program which is being funded out of operating cashflow. This capital forms part of the overall US$285 million total capital program for Stage 2. This first phase of expansion activities includes the construction of new roads, vegetation clearing, construction of new ponds, the expansion of existing site infrastructure including a new sewage treatment plant and camp accommodation.
The first of three new harvest ponds has been completed and is now filled with concentrated brine replacing pond area that is temporarily unavailable due to salt harvesting activities.
The Company continues to actively seek opportunities to obtain services from the local community, e.g. labour hire and rental accommodation.
Key project milestones include:
Final joint venture approvals
Drilling of wells
2018 – 1H 2019
Construction of ponds
2H 2018 – 1H 2019
Construction of lithium carbonate plant
2H 2018 – 2H 2019
NARAHA LITHIUM HYDROXIDE PLANT
UPDATE ON PROGRESS
Orocobre and TTC continue to advance plans for the proposed 10,000tpa Lithium Hydroxide Plant to be built in Naraha, Japan. The proposed location is well situated near potential customers which reduces the common risks of caking and degradation of quality when lithium hydroxide is transported and exposed to humidity.
The process will utilise primary grade lithium carbonate sourced from Olaroz and locally sourced Japanese lime. The test work demonstrated that a very high-quality, battery grade, lithium hydroxide could be produced from a customised process.
Negotiations continue for the EPC contract and are expected to be completed in the September quarter.
Capital expenditure for the lithium hydroxide plant remains at approximately US$60-70 million (100% basis, pre-subsidies). Subsidies of US$27 million have been secured from the Japanese government.
Operating costs (excluding lithium carbonate feedstock) for the lithium hydroxide plant remain at approximately US$1,500/tonne, delivering a very favourable investment case.
A final investment decision remains subject to joint venture board approval with commissioning forecast in late 2019.
MARKET AND SALES
Total volume of lithium carbonate sold in the June quarter was 3,255 tonnes. Lithium carbonate prices increased to US$13,653/tonne (FOB) for the quarter.
Since operations commenced Olaroz has developed a strong customer base of >70 customers who have tested and accepted the high grade Purified and Prime products. The Purified product regularly tests at 99.9% lithium carbonate and is sold to battery and cathode end users. The Prime product regularly tests at 99% lithium carbonate and is sold to a variety of technical and industrial end users. Neither of these products require any additional processing for their respective markets.
During the June quarter ex-China lithium carbonate contract prices continued to edge higher, closing the gap with stagnant and declining China spot prices. The spot prices in China experienced decline during the quarter as a result of subsidy policy changes having an effect on demand due to the need for cathode and battery manufacturers to adjust to the new requirements and the need for raw material producers in China to move excess inventory. Key South American suppliers have guided toward strong H2 2018 pricing citing robust demand, particularly from cathode customers amidst a shortfall of battery grade lithium carbonate and hydroxide. The market had expected improved supply conditions with expansions expected to come on line in 2018 from Australian hard rock projects and Chinese conversion plants. But despite growing imports of Australian concentrate and direct shipping ore (DSO) through Chinese ports, the overall supply/demand balance continues to be tight as conversion plants reported significant technical difficulties commissioning new capacity and converting new supply.
As of the end of 2017 approximately 24kt LCE concentrate and almost 70kt LCE DSO was stockpiled in China due to restrictions at Chinese conversion plants with most operating below 70% of capacity. Given growing imports of new Australian spodumene concentrate supply, this bottleneck became more apparent. During the March quarter, approximately 70% of the concentrate and DSO volume was below a 6% grade concentrate* (import data sourced from Chinese Customs) and there were reports of growing stockpiles throughout the supply chain at ports, warehouses and plants.
Given only ~5% of Chinese imports of 'non-Greenbushes' material was at or above 6% during Q1 2018, several new hard rock producers have announced ongoing efforts to improve grade during H2 2018 via additional plant and equipment. Additionally, the leading DSO supplier has announced plans to progressively decrease supply for the remainder of the year. This decision comes amidst 12 months of market speculation regarding the technical and economic viability of DSO.
Given very little to no sales of battery grade material have been made in the spot market, the price is indicative of speculative trading rather than demand from the growing battery segment. In contrast, demand for battery grade material from suppliers to the contract market has grown reflecting robust demand conditions. Both SQM and Albemarle attest to strong demand growth rates of 20% and 18% CAGR to 2025 respectively, based on their customer's long-term order books.
This sentiment is echoed downstream by the battery supply chain with continued investment in additional capacity buoyed by car manufacturer targets. Battery manufacturing capacity is expected to more than quadruple, growing from 115GWh in 2017 to 470GWh in 2025 although continued expansion beyond this is likely. While numerous smaller players have announced expansions and new entrants are expected to be drawn into the industry by its growth prospects, over 50% of the capacity is forecast to be accounted for by Panasonic-Tesla, CATL and LG Chem (Benchmark Minerals, 2018).
As the downstream battery supply chain expands largely in line with company guidance, it has become increasingly apparent that the current deficit of lithium carbonate and hydroxide is likely to persist due to slower ramp-up profiles than expected. Significant technical improvements are required to lift output and unlock persisting bottlenecks. On this basis, it is the Company's view that tight market conditions will persist in the short-term with some lumpiness or variability to be expected in supply and demand as the market grows.
*'new' is defined concentrate or direct shipping ore entering the market since 2017. Lithium Carbonate Equivalent (LCE) has been calculated and adjusted for quality. Assumptions of grade based upon price achieved versus price agreed off 6% grade basis.
Borax Argentina continues to demonstrate good progress along the path to becoming a sustainable operational and financial business unit. The strategy of shifting to a product mix that will drive higher average pricing, improved margins and reducing unit costs at full production rates has demonstrated traction with steadily improving sales results achieved during the quarter.
New product development opportunities are beginning to be converted into sales, with a program of new initiatives to be converted throughout the 2019 financial year.
Borax Argentina will continue to drive greater sales share of these new products but recognises the need for customers to manage themselves out of their current supply arrangements before the financial benefits of these new initiatives can be realised. Unit costs continue to be near or at record lows.
Operations continue to focus on maintaining healthy stock levels with all stock levels remaining above the minimum threshold throughout the June quarter.
COMBINED PRODUCT SALES VOLUME BY QUARTER
Previous Year Quarters
TINCALAYU EXPANSION STUDY
The feasibility study on an expansion of the Tincalayu refined borates operation is currently under internal review. It is anticipated that the potential expansion will significantly increase efficiencies in the production of refined borates at Tincalayu and contribute to providing a step change improvement in unit costs. Approvals have been received for a new gas pipeline to supply the expanded plant and initial cost estimates are under review.
The Borax business has continued to develop marketing initiatives that reflect the changing needs of the market by working closely with customers to understand their product specification needs and delivery timelines. The business continues to focus on product development and creating creative customer solutions. Recent new product development initiatives have been gaining traction.
Market prices continue to remain in the trough of the price cycle and although there are some encouraging signs of market price improvement there is still nothing definitive at this point to signal ongoing market price improvement. These conditions underline the importance of product innovation and generating creative customer solutions in order to create value.
SAFETY AND COMMUNITY
At Borax, the Sijes mine site has achieved over 1021 days without a Lost Time Injury (LTI), Tincalayu achieved over 430 days without an LTI and Campo Quijano had achieved more than 113 days without a LTI prior to an injury occurring during March.
Borax is continuing to strengthen employee safety training to reinforce the importance of conducting thorough risk assessments. Ongoing defensive driving training courses are being delivered to all drivers of light vehicles within the company.
During the quarter Borax successfully gained recertification for ISO 9001 - Quality Management Systems and ISO 14001 - Environmental Management (certificated by Bureau Veritas).
Olaroz site has achieved over 170 days without a LTI.
During the quarter Sales de Jujuy successfully completed external audits, achieving recertification for ISO 9001 - Quality Management Systems, ISO 14001 - Environmental Management and OHSAS 18001 Occupational Health and Safety Standard (certificated by IRAM). Sales de Jujuy continue to comply with REACH - Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals and ISO 31000 - Risk Management in their operations.
SHARED VALUE PROGRAM and community
During the June quarter several community engagement initiatives continued through the Company's shared value program.
Education programs continued for community employees, with language and literacy courses evaluated in May and biology studies commencing in June. Construction of the Music Room at Olaroz, which will provide local community members with a space to develop their creative skills, commenced in June. The contract for development of the facility was awarded to the Company SIDEA who committed to: engaging the local community and developing construction techniques and capabilities; contracting services from the local community in terms of transport, machine hire and labour; and procuring building materials from local companies.
Transparency initiatives continued in the quarter, with participatory environmental monitoring activities and the delivery of community presentations on operational environmental performance. In addition to environmental transparency, presentations were also held in the communities to provide a progress update on microfinance projects, employment and supply contracts (both awarded and upcoming) as part of the ongoing operation and expansion activities.
Empowerment of our communities through our microcredit program saw punctual, complete repayment of loans across our 10 communities (51% of invested funds now recovered) and the ongoing training of beneficiaries who continue to receive technical assistance and business set-up support. The pilot project in Huáncar and Pastos Chicos to construct a building using recycled plastic bottles (a stable and durable construction material) is underway. Thus far the building's walls are over 1m high with more than 2,300 bottles used.
Production and Natural Resources projects during the quarter included the delivery of commercial training to local artisans in collaboration with Argentina's National Industrial Technology Institute (INTI). The training program included: productive business models and structures; customer-centred design; defining product price points; management of production costs; and the identification, analysis and optimization of production processes. The program also promoted the importance of teamwork and collaboration between artisans.
Health programs and initiatives are undergoing review as we explore collaborative delivery mechanisms with the provincial government.
Throughout the quarter the Company also launched a detailed survey of our ten communities to evaluate their perception of our shared value programs and their current needs and expectations. The outcomes of the survey will inform our community investment strategy and focus for the coming years. The communities of Jama, Catua and San Juan have been covered, with the remaining seven communities to be surveyed in the coming quarter.
Advantage Lithium Corp (AAL) manages a portfolio of high quality assets in Argentina, including the Cauchari joint venture in which Orocobre holds a 21.25% interest. Orocobre also holds approximately 33% of the issued shares of AAL following participation in a capital raise by Advantage in July.
CAUCHARI JV PROJECT
The Cauchari Project is located in Jujuy province in NW Argentina and AAL also has a 100% interest in five other lithium properties that were previously held by Orocobre totalling 85,543 hectares.
During the June quarter the joint venture partners announced an updated resource estimate for the Cauchari Joint Venture Project based on the Phase 2 drilling results. The update, prepared by FloSolutions S.A.C, increased the Inferred Resource to a volume of approximately 1,200 million cubic metres of brine at an average grade of 450 mg/l lithium and 4,028 mg/l potassium for 3.0 Mt of Lithium Carbonate Equivalent (LCE).
This is an expansion of more than six times the previous estimate of 0.47 Mt of Lithium Carbonate Equivalent. The average grade of the entire resource has increased to 450 mg/l Li and 4,028 mg/l K. Locally higher grades were encountered in the NW Sector in areas such as production hole CAU07 (601 mg/l during 48 hr pumping test) and in the Deep Sand unit in CAU11 (515 mg/l during 48 hr pumping test).
The updated resource covers a significantly larger area and extends to greater depths in the NW and SE Sectors, with the brine resource covering an area of 92.6 km2. With significant potential for additional resource expansion at depth, the brine has excellent chemistry for processing and the Mg/Li ratio averages 2.5, very similar to the Olaroz operation.
The NI43-101 Technical Report on the resource upgrade of the Cauchari Lithium Project was completed and released late in the June quarter to support the conclusions presented in the updated resource estimate.
PHASE 3 DRILL PROGRAM
The Phase 3 resource definition drilling program is currently underway at the Cauchari project site. The Phase 3 program will include additional diamond holes in the NW and SE Sectors to upgrade the resource classification by Q2 2019 to support the Project's Definitive Feasibility Study.
The Phase 3 drilling program is designed to provide a combined borehole density sufficient to upgrade the current inferred resources to the Indicated and Measured categories. The Phase 3 drilling is also aimed at further defining resources in the Deep Sand unit.
Currently the Phase 3 drilling and testing program is ongoing and consists of infill resource drilling (10 core holes) to a depth of up to 600 m to convert the Inferred Resources to M+I Resources in support of the Project Definitive Feasibility Study (DFS) for completion in 2019.
CAUCHARI JV DEVELOPMENT TIMELINE
The updated resource estimate for Cauchari released during the June quarter is being followed by a Preliminary Economic Assessment (PEA), planned for completion in early Q3 2018. The PEA will evaluate project development options and establish the preliminary project economics, summarised in a NI 43-101 Technical Report.
AAL has contracted Tier-1 global engineering consultancy WorleyParsons to complete the PEA based on the production of 20ktpa of lithium carbonate.
AAL has also completed a detailed project development schedule and budget and is fully funded through the completion of the Phase 2 program, the updated resource estimate, the Preliminary Economic Assessment and the Phase 3 drill program which will support the definitive feasibility study targeted for early 2019.
CORPORATE AND ADMINISTRATION
VAT refunds of US$2.3M were received on a timely basis by SDJ during the quarter.
CASH BALANCE, DEBT POSITION AND STANDBY LETTERS OF CREDIT
As at 30 June 2018, Orocobre Group had available cash of US$316.6 million (net of project debt7, cash is US$227.2 million). During the quarter, Orocobre received US$1.3 million from the sale of Lithium X and US$1 million in terms of the Salinas Grandes disposal to LSC Lithium. Approximately US$1.3 million was provided to Borax Argentina to support a build of working capital.
Corporate operating costs were US$1.7 million, strategic placements costs were US$0.5 million. Interest received on Term Deposits was US$0.4 million, partially offset by foreign exchange losses of US$0.3 million. A further US$1.3 million was paid for development activities.
INFLATION VERSUS DEVALUATION
The AR$/US$ exchange rate weakened by 43% during the quarter from AR$20.15/US$ at 31 March 2018 to AR$28.85 at 30 June 2018 whilst inflation for the same period was 7.7%. When looking at the accumulated 12-month period from 1 July 2017 to 30 June 2018, devaluation of the AR$ against the US$ was 73% versus inflation of 26%. This resulted in balancing US$ costs for ARS peso denominated expenses for the period considering the delayed response in devaluation vs inflation from the first six-month period, resulting in lower costs at Borax Argentina and to a lesser extent, SDJ. The effect of inflation and devaluation over time generally shows that they cancel each other out.
Subsequent to Richard Seville announcing his intention to step down as Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Orocobre, the Orocobre Board commenced a global search for his replacement. The recruitment and transition processes are expected to take approximately 12 months.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT:
1 All figures presented in this report are unaudited
2 All figures 100% Olaroz Project basis
3 Orocobre report price as "FOB" (Free On Board) which excludes additional insurance and freight charges included in "CIF" (Cost, Insurance and Freight or delivered to destination port) pricing. The key difference between an FOB and CIF agreement is the point at which responsibility and liability transfer from seller to buyer. The Company's pricing is also net of TTC commissions. FOB prices are used by the company to provide clarity on the sales revenue that flows back to SDJ, the joint venture company in Argentina
4 Excludes royalties and corporate costs
5 Full year sales volume is two tonnes less than the previously reported quarterly sales volumes due to rounding
6 The Orocobre Group cash balance includes US$11 million of restricted funds in a Debt Service Reserve Account for the Olaroz project finance facility provided by Mizuho Bank
7 The Orocobre Group cash balance includes US$11 million of restricted funds in a Debt Service Reserve Account for the Olaroz project finance facility provided by Mizuho Bank
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