Tianqi Lithium says no cash flow improvement as debt clock ticks

Zhangjiagang production plant. (Image courtesy of Tianqi Lithium.)

Tianqi Lithium Corp said on Friday its financial situation has not improved in recent weeks as a major repayment deadline on a $3.5 billion loan looms and its application to adjust the terms is still under review.

Chengdu-based Tianqi Lithium, one of the world’s biggest producers of the commodity used in electric-vehicle batteries, is due to make a $1.88 billion payment at the end of November on a syndicated loan led by China Ciitic Bank, which was taken out to buy a stake in Chile’s SQM in 2018.

The Perth-based producer was hit by persistent low lithium prices amid oversupply

“Although the company has formally submitted an application for adjusting the structure of the loan terms to the syndicate, it is currently still under review,” Tianqi said in a Shenzhen Stock Exchange filing.

China Citic Bank did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Tianqi has posted losses for five consecutive quarters following a slump in lithium prices and warned in late September there was a risk it could default.

Six weeks on, Tianqi said its cash flow and tight liquidity have “not substantially improved”, and reiterated its earlier warning that its production and operations could be severely impacted if it cannot repay on time.

It also said it was still working on bringing in strategic investors to ease its liquidity problem but nothing binding has been signed.

A collapse of Tianqi, which has a stake in Australia’s Greenbushes mine and counts battery makers LG Chem and Northvolt AG among its customers, would rock a lithium sector that has already seen Australia’s Altura Mining go into administration this quarter.

The Perth-based producer was hit by persistent low lithium prices amid oversupply, exacerbated by a drop in demand brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.

(By Tom Daly and Leng Cheng; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

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