Chile’s SQM profits jump more than ten-fold on lithium price surge

Chilean miner SQM, the world’s second largest lithium producer, posted on Wednesday a ten-fold jump in third-quarter net profit, boosted by skyrocketing prices and record high sales of the metal that is a key component in rechargeable batteries.

The miner posted a net profit of $1.1 billion for the three months ended September. Quarterly revenue surged more than four times year-on-year to $2.95 billion, with lithium revenues growing more than 12 times.

Sales volumes for lithium and derivatives totaled 41,000 tonnes, the highest quarterly volume ever reported by the company, SQM said in its earnings report.

“Our positive results in the lithium market were due to sales volumes and prices significantly above average,” the company said. SQM also sells industrial chemicals.

Average lithium prices rose to record levels during the quarter at more than $56,000 per tonne, the company said.

Major carmakers are planning to shift away from combustion engines over the next decade as they look to comply with more stringent environmental rules and changing consumer tastes, driving a scramble for lithium, which is extracted from brine in South America’s sprawling salt flats.

SQM forecast global lithium demand to grow this year by at least 40% due to rising electric vehicles sales in China, where it estimates sales of these vehicles to exceed 6.5 million units, double last year’s amount.

Revenues for iodine and its derivatives nearly doubled to reach $215 million, the company said, as sales rose 9%.

Albemarle (ALB.N), the world’s top lithium producer, also reported a surge in sales earlier this month.

Both companies have major projects underway on Chile’s Atacama salt flats.