Spodumene producer Altura Mining goes into receivership

Australian spodumene producer Altura Mining has entered receivership, according to a filing on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) on Monday October 26.

Richard Tucker and John Bumbak of Australian advisory and investment firm KordaMentha were appointed as receiver and manager respectively.

The news means the receivers and managers appointed for the company are now in control of the company’s assets, undertaking and operations.

According to the statement published on the ASX’s website, an urgent assessment of the company’s financial position is currently being carried out with the intention of transitioning its operations into care and maintenance in the coming weeks.

Additionally, the company’s appointed administrators have immediately started the process to either sell Altura and its assets or seek recapitalization opportunities.

Altura Mining was contacted by email but no reply has been received by the time of publication.

Altura is a key player in the production of spodumene concentrate sourced from hard rock mined at its operation at Pilgangoora in Western Australia.

Altura’s project is adjacent to another key producer of spodumene concentrate from Western Australia, Pilbara Minerals.

Altura miner started production in 2018 and reached commercial output in early 2019 with a nameplate capacity of 220,000 tonnes per year of lithium spodumene concentrate.

A feasibility study to expand the operation to reach 440,000 tpy of lithium spodumene concentrate was completed in 2018 and was subject to Altura entering long-term offtake agreements with customers, access to funding and board approval, according to the company’s website.

In a press release dated September 24, James Brown, Altura’s managing director at the time, said the company was in discussion with its senior lenders to optimize debt structure and strengthen its overall balance sheet to achieve reduced financing costs.

Low prices
Spodumene mined from hard rock in Western Australia is a feedstock material used in the production of lithium chemicals that go into batteries for electric vehicles (EVs). Spodumene is mined and crushed to form a concentrate. This mineral concentrate is then sold to chemical companies that use the feedstock to produce lithium chemicals. As a result, spodumene pricing patterns are traditionally linked to the performance of lithium chemicals prices.

Oversupply of lithium salts and subsequent price falls caused the upstream spodumene 6% Li2O min, cif China price to tumble over the past two years from $870-950 per tonne in January 2018 to $370-400 per tonne in the latest monthly assessment on September 30, 2020.

Lithium capacity expansion in response to surging prices for lithium during 2016 and 2017 meant supply outstripped demand growth between 2018 and 2019, triggering a slump in global prices.

The effect of the Covid-19 global pandemic on end-sector demand added further bearish pressure to lithium prices over the first half of 2020.

“Altura tried to outrun the downturn but it looks like it ran out of road,” Fastmarkets head of battery raw materials and base metals research William Adams. “While we think the lithium market is bottoming out with demand looking set to grow strongly again, prices may well be capped for longer as there is considerable idle capacity around.”

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