Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The lithium boom is coming: The new bubble? (SQM)

Butch Cassidy: Kid, the next time I say, "Let's go someplace like Bolivia,"
let's go someplace like Bolivia.
- Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid (1969)
If you are looking for a play, start with Sociedad Quimica y Minera, the world's largest lithium miner. We have dozens of posts on lithium. I'll link to a few or you can use the search blog box.
From Reuters:
New vehicle emission standards will likely be a boon for everything from aluminum to new plastics, but the producers of lithium -- a mineral used in batteries that power new generation vehicles -- could be the big winners.

But while the few public companies that mine lithium will likely see surging revenue, they will also face the pressure that comes with all booms -- making supply meet ever-tightening availability.

Companies that mine lithium should see a long-term boost to their business, analysts said, although there are questions about whether there is enough lithium for all customers.

And some energy experts see the irony in lithium batteries replacing carbon-burning gasoline, since they believe

exploiting lithium could be just as destructive to the environment as pollution.

Lithium is generally mined from rock, but it can also be found in deposits in brine ponds. It comes mostly from one region -- the Andes mountains of Chile, Argentina and Bolivia, with some deposits in China. Chile's SQM is the world's largest producer, along with U.S. specialty chemical companies Rockwood Holdings Inc and FMC Corp.

There are enormous possibilities for profit.

"We are ready and able to expand production," said Tim McKenna, a Rockwood spokesman. "In fact, in the last 18 months, we completed capacity expansion of our Chile operations to keep pace with expected demand from the auto industry."

McKenna said the auto industry is not likely to bring lithium-powered cars to the wider market much before 2011, although the Mercedes S-class is expected to be the first lithium/hybrid car on the market late this year.

Rockwood, through its German subsidiary, Chemetall, produces lithium from brine lakes at Santiago Salar de Atacama in Chile and from a mine in Silver Peak, Nevada....MORE

Some prior posts:

Lithium-Ion Batteries and Bolivian Politics

Electric Vehicles-Lithium Supplies and Crucifixion in Bolivia

Mining lithium from geothermal 'lemonade'. And: Batteries That Don't Blow Up

Simbol Mining raises $6.7 million for "zero-waste" lithium extraction

Japanese industry set for a lithium rush (SQM)

Lithium: In Bolivia, Untapped Bounty Meets Nationalism

Can't Get Enough o' That Lithium. "Peak Lithium: Will Supply Fears Drive Alternative Batteries?"

Although Lilly introduced Prozac to the U.S. in 1988, they didn't really begin marketing it until 1991. Sales increased five-fold by 1994, the year the big bull market of the nineties kicked in.

The joke on trading desks was that this was the Prozac market, sort of the "What me worry?" approach to equities (which may explain the Nasdaq at 5048 in March, 2000).*

This excursion down SSRI lane was triggered by the thought "If we run out of lithium, what will the bi-polars do?"....

...*Cramer had similar thoughts, relayed in this NYT article from 2002:
...''My own view is that one reason the investor class, including me, missed the downside was serotonin,'' James J. Cramer, a former hedge fund manager and author of ''Confessions of a Street Addict'' (Simon & Schuster, 2002), said, referring to a substance in the brain that antidepression drugs augment.

''Prozac and all those other drugs banish the 'this is the end of the world' thoughts,'' Mr. Cramer explained. ''Which means you are not as anxious as you should be about an obvious down side.''...