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Top 5 ASX Lithium Stocks

After reaching all time highs last November, prices for lithium hydroxide and lithium carbonate spent much of 2023 falling, with Q2 being the only time they saw some strength.

Weak Chinese demand played a large part in lithium's story last year, as the country's economy stumbled. Despite that setback, many experts remain optimistic about the commodity's future, and some lithium companies are seeing growth on the back of the industry's positive long-term outlook, meaning a tough market in the short term could be a buying opportunity.

Mergers and acquisitions were a theme last year. The biggest news was Australian lithium miner Allkem's merger with Livent. The resultant company, Arcadium Lithium (ASX:LTM,NYSE:ALTM), began trading in December. Two companies on this top gainers list also had big news related to potential acquisitions — while one has fallen through, the other is making its way through the final steps.

Those weren't the only thing driving lithium companies' share prices last year, however. Other companies on the list saw substantial gains in 2023 on the backs of news such as major property acquisitions and significant discoveries.

Here the Investing News Network takes a look at the top five ASX-listed lithium companies by year-to-date gains. The list below was generated using TradingView’s stock screener on January 5, 2024, and includes companies that had market caps above AU$10 million at that time. Read on to learn more about their activities so far this year.

1. Wildcat Resources (ASX:WC8)

Year-to-date gain: 2660 percent; market cap: AU$831.06 million; current share price: AU$0.69

Wildcat Resources is a lithium and gold explorer with an eye on Australia’s top mining provinces. The company’s lithium projects are its Tabba Tabba lithium-tantalum project and its Bolt Cutter lithium project in Western Australia's Pilbara region.

Wildcat’s share price spent early 2023 trading around AU$0.03 before it took off on May 17 when the company entered into a binding agreement to acquire Tabba Tabba, which was last explored in 2014. By the end of Q2, its share price had climbed AU$0.155, and it continued to move upwards through the majority of Q3. Following early surveying and field work that identified new pegmatites, Wildcat spent July and August drilling to discover priority targets. On September 18, Wildcat released the first assays from the exploration, which confirmed “high-grade lithium mineralisation from surface in northern and central pegmatite clusters.”

The company’s share price began Q4 at AU$0.49. On October 12, Wildcat completed its 100 percent acquisition of Tabba Tabba and shared the second batch of assays, highlighting the Leia pegmatite in the central cluster. However, it was the third batch of results released on October 22 — which included an interval at Leia of 85 metres grading 1.5 percent lithium oxide — that sent the company’s share price climbing to new heights.

Significant announcements continued coming in the following weeks. On October 26, Wildcat announced multiple changes to its leadership team, including the transition of non-executive director AJ Saverimutto to managing director and CEO, and on October 31, it announced that Mineral Resources (ASX:MIN,OTC Pink:MALRF) had become a substantial shareholder and now held a 19.85 percent stake in Wildcat after Global Advanced Metals, once Wildcat’s largest shareholder, sold its stake to MinRes.

The company’s share price climbed to a year-to-date high of AU$0.915 on November 5, which saw the release of its annual general meeting results and assays from Leia that included multiple thick, high-grade intervals with a highlight of 180 metres grading 1.1 percent lithium oxide. Days later, on November 9, Wildcat announced it successfully raised AU$100 million in a placement that included investments from major institutions and its own shareholders. Among other things, the proceeds will go towards accelerating drilling and development studies at Tabba Tabba, as well as exploration at Bolt Cutter and its other projects.

Following its November highs, the company’s share price trended downwards near the end of the month before stabilizing in December, ultimately closing the year at AU$0.695. Wildcat’s final Tabba Tabba news for 2023 came on December 20, when it released the first diamond drill results at the Leia pegmatite. These results continued the trend of thick, high-grade mineralization, with five holes containing stretches between 92 to 135 metres. At that time, Leia had been extended to 2.2 kilometres in strike with a width of 180 metres open. To start 2024, Wildcat recommenced exploration with an upgraded work camp.

2. Latin Resources (ASX:LRS)

Year-to-date gain: 113.64 percent; market cap: AU$698.45 million; current share price: AU$0.24

Latin Resources is focused on exploring its Salinas pegmatite project in Brazil’s Aracuai lithium province, which hosts the Colina, Colina West and Fog’s Block targets. Latin Resources expanded the project by over 350 percent in February, when it acquired tenements covering 29,940 hectares in the region. It also owns the Catamarca pegmatite project in Argentina and an 18 percent interest in Solis Minerals (TSXV:SLMN,OTCQB:SLMFF), a battery metals company in South America.

At the end of March, Latin Resources signed a memorandum of understanding with two Minas Gerais state government entities that will help the company as it develops Salinas and support building a lithium battery sector in the state. The government has designated Salinas a priority project. In April, the company completed a private placement of AU$37.1 million.

On June 20, Latin Resources released an updated resource estimate for the Colina deposit that increased its previous resource by 241 percent, which sent the company's share price flying upward from AU$0.20 to AU$0.28 over the following days. On June 28, it announced discoveries of two spodumene-rich pegmatites, indicating a “‘district scale’ lithium corridor within Latin’s tenements” that extends up to 26 kilometres southwest of the Colina deposit. Latin Resources’ share price continued climbing over the following month and hit a year-to-date high of AU$0.42 on August 3.

That month, the company released further high-grade assays as well as the results of metallurgical testing of Colina ore using dense media separation, which yielded spodumene concentrate grading 5.5 percent lithium oxide at a 93.1 percent recovery rate. Latin Resources ended Q3 by releasing a preliminary economic assessment for Colina, which it is now referring to as the Colina project. According to the document, the mine would have a two stage plan with anticipated Phase 1 annual production of 405,000 tonnes of 5.5 percent lithium spodumene concentrate with first production in 2026.

On October 29, the company announced that it had received a significant amount of interest in offtake partnerships for its future lithium since the release of its PEA, and was now beginning an offtake partner process to assess proposals.

In the second half of November, the company announced a new major spodumene discovery at Salinas, dubbed Planalto, and shared further high-grade results from Colina. Although its share price fell through much of that month, it turned around in December with the release of its updated mineral resource estimate for Colina and a maiden inferred estimate for Fog’s Block. The former’s resource is up 41 percent over June’s estimate, now reaching 63.5 million tonnes grading 1.3 percent lithium oxide, and the latter’s resource measured 6.8 million tonnes grading 0.9 percent.

Latin Resources ended 2023 with a share price of AU$0.285. The company plans to begin diamond drilling Colina and Fog’s Block in January and work towards another resource estimate update and its definitive feasibility study expected in mid-2024.

3. Future Battery Minerals (ASX:FBM)

Year-to-date gain: 41.51 percent; market cap: AU$38.43 million; current share price: AU$0.08

Previously Auroch Minerals, Future Battery Minerals changed its name in March to reflect its focus on lithium and nickel. The company has been particularly focused on its lithium projects, the wholly owned Kangaroo Hills hard-rock project in Western Australia and the 80 percent owned Nevada claystone project in Nevada, US.

FBM’s share price began climbing in late March as the company released news from its exploration. At Kangaroo Hill, the company’s Phase 1 drilling intersected thick, high-grade lithium-cesium-tantalum (LCT) pegmatites, and its diamond drilling completed in May identified seven high priority targets, FBM announced on June 7, including Big Red and Rocky.

At Nevada, the company discovered high-grade lithium claystone in April at the Western Flats prospect, and began Phase 2 drilling targeting three prospects on June 5. FBM’s share price hit a year-to-date high of AU$0.13 on June 12.

The Nevada drilling confirmed that its Lone Mountain prospect hosts shallow, thick lithium-bearing claystone, and the company described the results as exceptional, with one highlight of 179.8 metres grading 766 parts per million lithium. Big news came for Kangaroo Hills as well; on August 23, FBM shared that results from its Phase 3 drilling at Kangaroo Hills indicated “a far greater lithium-bearing system at the Rocky and Big Red Prospects than originally anticipated” and significantly increased the project’s size and tonnage. On September 14, FBM announced it received firm commitments for a AU$7.6 million placement to fund exploration at both its projects, and the company’s share price climbed to match its previous high that day.

FBM spent Q4 completing further drilling at both of its project, aiming to extend the strike of the pegmatite swarm at Kangaroo Hill’s Big Red and Rocky prospects and test the Lone Mountain claystone target at Nevada, respectively. While FBM continued to release results during the quarter, its share price began falling in mid-October, a month that also saw multiple board members retire and a shift in leadership as Nick Rathjen became managing director and CEO and Mike Edwards stepped down to become a non-executive chairman.

It fell further on November 15 alongside the release of assays from Phase 3 drilling at Rocky, in which FBM reported that while the Rocky prospect has a shallow continuous mineralized system, compared to the Big Red prospect, it is thinner and lower grade on average. The company said it planned to focus on extending Big Red to the north, as well as drill further targets in that region. To that end, on December 18, the company released results of its optimised resistivity survey that covered Kangaroo Hills’ northern region. The survey identified the Big Red North and Big Red West targets and extended the larger Big Red strike length to over 2.2 kilometres, and also expanded and refined other existing targets.

FBM ended 2023 with a share price of AU$0.073. In Q1 2024, the company intends to begin drilling some of the northern targets at Kangaroo Hills and to release the maiden mineral resource estimate for Nevada.

4. Lithium Power International (ASX:LPI)

Year-to-date gain: 36.59 percent; market cap: AU$357.04 million; current share price: AU$0.56

Lithium Power International is a lithium company focused on bringing its Maricunga lithium brine project in Chile’s portion of the Lithium Triangle to production. The project is the country’s “largest, most advanced and fully permitted pre-construction lithium project,” according to LPI. While Maricunga was previously a joint venture, the company consolidated 100 percent ownership of it in December 2022.

Coming into 2023, LPI’s share price was falling alongside the price of lithium, and it continued moving down through Q1 before stabilizing in March and gaining through May. In April, the Chilean government announced its National Lithium Policy, which would see the country increase its involvement in and speed the development of its lithium industry through its state mining company Codelco. The news initially brought uncertainty for lithium companies working in the region, including miners Albemarle (NYSE:ALB) and SQM (NYSE:SQM).

LPI made a statement to shareholders with regards to the news, stating it had been in discussions with Chilean authorities, and provided shareholders with in depth information on how the policy related to its own assets. Additionally, it said it planned to work with the Chilean government on Stage 2 of Maricunga to create “the first example of a public-private alliance under the new parameters established by the new policy.”

The company announced it was selling its wholly owned subsidiary Western Lithium, which owned the Greenbushes lithium project in Western Australia to Albemarle for AU$30 in order to focus fully on Maricunga. The sale was finalized on July 3.

The company’s share price trended downwards through mid-September, when it reached a 2023 low of AU$0.225. However, this turned around by the end of the month. On September 28, released its annual shareholder report and separately addressed media speculation about a potential deal between LPI and Codelco, stating the two entities were in discussions and Codelco had been granted due diligence. Its share price spiked to AU$0.35 that day, and continued climbing in mid-October on further media speculation.

On October 18, LPI announced that it had officially entered into a binding scheme implementation deed in which Codelco will acquire 100 percent of its shares at a price of AU$0.57 each.

In the release, LPI CEO and Managing Director Cristobal Garcia-Huidobro stated, “The transaction provides certainty for LPI shareholders when compared to a stand-alone development scenario … and in the context of an uncertain economic outlook more broadly.” Following the news, the company’s share price spiked to AU$0.53 and remained at those heights to end the year at AU$0.55.

The next steps are a shareholder vote, which is scheduled for January 23; an approval by the treasurer on behalf of the Chilean government, for which the deadline was extended to February 9; and a second court meeting for the official approval on February 13. If everything progresses as planned, the scheme will be implemented on February 23.

5. Liontown Resources (ASX:LTR)

Year-to-date gain: 23.92 percent; market cap: AU$3.86 million; current share price: AU$1.58

Liontown Resources is constructing its Kathleen Valley lithium project, which is expected to begin production in mid-2024. The company commenced open-pit mining operations with the first blast at Kathleen Valley’s Mount Mann open pit on February 3, 2023.

Liontown made significant progress throughout 2023 at Kathleen Valley, including awarding necessary contracts for operations. For example, on May 10, it awarded the full open-pit mining services contract for the mine’s two open pits, and on July 19, it awarded the contract for spodumene and direct-shipped ore haulage.

The biggest came on August 17, when the company awarded the contract for underground mining services to Byrnecut. It is valued at about AU$1 billion over four years, a total that includes “operating costs, sustaining capital and capital associated with operating the underground mine,” according to Liontown.

A big storyline for Liontown last year was a potential acquisition by Albemarle. Liontown’s share price rocketed upward from AU$1.53 to AU$2.57 on March 28, when the company rejected a takeover bid from the lithium major at a price per share of AU$2.50. Liontown had previously rejected offers of C$2.20 and C$2.35 from Albemarle. Its share price remained elevated and hit a year-to-date high of AU$3.15 on June 16.

In September, Albemarle made a final non-binding offer of AU$3 per share, and Liontown’s board stated that if a binding proposal was made at that price it would unanimously recommend that shareholders accept the offer. However, the situation changed in October — Hancock Prospecting, which is owned by Australian billionaire Gina Rinehart, increased its stake in Liontown in stages to ultimately reach 19.9 percent, a significant enough holding to allow her to block the deal. As such, the lithium major withdrew its proposal on October 15 due to what it called “growing complexities” with the deal. Liontown’s share price plunged on the news to under AU$2.00 and ended the month at AU$1.56.

In the chair address for Liontown’s AGM on November 30, Chair Tim Goyder shared the company’s outlook moving forward.

“(We are) looking at an independent future once more. A position we are entirely comfortable with,” he said. “We had done all the preparation for the debt and equity package and were able to execute promptly following Albemarle's withdrawal. With funding locked in, we are in a position to complete the construction of the Kathleen Valley project … (and) the project remains on schedule.”

Since then, Liontown announced on December 4 that it secured a 10 year agreement for port access to export its lithium spodumene from the Port of Geraldton, which was the final agreement the company needed for its supply chain. It will have options to extend the agreement by an additional 10 years and 3 years. After falling to a low of AU$1.23 that day, the company’s share price ended 2023 at AU$1.65.

FAQs for investing in lithium

What is lithium?

Lithium is the lightest metal on the periodic table, and it is used in a wide variety of applications, including lithium-ion batteries, pharmaceuticals and industrial applications like glass and steel.

How do lithium-ion batteries work?

Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries work by using the flow of lithium ions in the battery's cell to power a device.

A lithium-ion battery has one or more cells, depending on the amount of energy storage it is capable of, and each cell has a positive electrode and negative electrode with an electrolyte separating them. When the battery is in use, lithium ions flow from the negative electrode to the positive electrode, running out of power once all have transferred. When the battery is charging, ions flow the opposite way.

Where is lithium mined?

Lithium is mined from two types of deposits, hard rock and evaporated brines. Most of the world's lithium production comes out of Australia, which hosts the Greenbushes hard-rock lithium mine. The next-largest producing country is Chile, which like Argentina and Bolivia is located in South America's Lithium Triangle. Lithium in this famed area comes from evaporated brines, including the Salar de Atacama. Lithium can also be found in sedimentary deposits, but currently none are producing.

Where is lithium found in Australia?

Australia is the world’s top producer of lithium, and the country’s lithium mines are all located in Western Australia except for one, which is Core Lithium’s (ASX:CXO,OTC Pink:CXOXF) Finniss mine in the Northern Territory. Western Australia accounts for around half of global lithium production, and the state is looking to become a hub for critical elements.

Who owns lithium mines in Australia?

Several companies own lithium mines in Australia, including some of the biggest ASX lithium stocks. In addition to the entities discussed above, others include: Pilbara Minerals (ASX:PLS,OTC Pink:PILBF) with its Pilgangoora operations; Arcadium Lithium with the Mount Cattlin mine; Jiangxi Ganfeng Lithium (HKEX:0358), which owns the Mount Marion mine alongside Mineral Resources (ASX:MIN,OTC Pink:MALRF); and Tianqi Lithium (SZSE:002466), which is a partial owner of Greenbushes via its stake in operator Talison Lithium.

Who is Australia’s largest lithium producer?

Australia’s largest lithium producer is Albemarle, which has interests in both the Greenbushes and Wodgina hard-rock lithium mines. Greenbushes is the world’s largest lithium mine, and Albemarle holds 49 percent ownership of operator Talison Lithium’s parent company. Albermarle also has 60 percent ownership of Mineral Resources’ Wodgina mine, and owns the Kemerton lithium production facility as part of a 60/40 joint venture with Mineral Resources.

Don’t forget to follow us @INN_Australia for real-time updates!

Securities Disclosure: I, Lauren Kelly, currently hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.


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