Nemaska Lithium fights bankruptcy amid market glut

Nemaska’s Whabouchi lithium deposit in Quebec’s James Bay region, 300 km northwest of Chibougamau. (Credit: Nemaska Lithium)

Canada’s Nemaska Lithium (TSX: NMX) said on Monday it had filed for creditor protection, following several months of attempts to find new investors in order to continue operations.

The Montreal-based company’s move seeks to avoid becoming the latest victim of an oversupply of the metal needed in the batteries for electric cars and high tech devices, which has squeezed the market this year.

Nemaska said it had received approval to apply to the Superior Court of Quebec for creditor protection under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) from its board of directors.

The company had been in talks with mine financier the Pallinghurst Group to secure a potential C$600 million equity investment, but no deal has been reached

While on CCAA, the firm anticipates to conduct a review of its operations and to seek approval from the courts for a formal investor solicitation process. Through the process, Nemaska aims to source additional financing, sell assets, enter a joint venture, or a combination of options.

The company had been in talks with mine financier the Pallinghurst Group,  the investment group led by former BHP boss Brian Gilbertson, to secure a potential C$600 million equity investment but has yet to announce a deal.

The miner’s shares, on which trade has been suspended, have dropped steadily since announcing plans last month to place its Whabouchi project in Quebec on care and maintenance.

Initially estimated to cost $ 1.1 billion, the company bumped up the total investment needed for the project to $ 1.5 billion in October.  

As proposed, Whabouchi contemplates an open-pit and underground mine, north-northwest of the municipality of Chibougamau, as well as a processing plant in Shawinigan.

The mine would have a production capacity of approximately 3,000 tonnes per day over an estimated mine life of 26 years.

Prices for lithium carbonate, the most common type used in EV batteries, doubled over 2016 and 2017. Since then, they have fallen by more than 40% to around $9.5 per kilo compared to the $18 per kilo mark they hit in May last year, according to S&P Global Platts.

The main factor behind the price slump is the avalanche of new supply that has hit the market over the past year, triggered mainly by mine expansions and a cut in government subsidies for purchasers of electric vehicles in China.

Nemaska Lithium goes bankrupt, victim of market oversupply
Wave of lithium supply coming online. (Source: BMO Capital Markets.)

Albemarle (NYSE: ALB), the world’s No. 1 lithium miner, noted in November that prices were down by about a third on last year and that the industry has two or three times more inventory than needed.

Trying to offset the glut, the company postponed in August plans to add about 125,000 tonnes of processing capacity. It also revised a deal to buy into Australia’s Mineral Resources’ (ASX: MIN) Wodgina lithium mine and said it would delay building 75,000 tonnes of processing capacity at Kemerton, also in Australia.

Nemaska Lithium goes bankrupt, victim of market oversupply

Chile’s Chemical and Mining Society (SQM), the world’s second-largest lithium producer, has also done its part, pushing back a key expansion at its Atacama salt flat operations from the end of 2020 to late 2021.

The Santiago-based lithium giant said in November that profit had fallen almost 28% in the three months to Sept. 30.