Hartleys lifted its net asset value estimate on Renascor Resources Ltd.'s Siviour graphite project in South Australia with China expected to become a net importer of graphite for the first time this year, a situation that will favor the ASX-listed junior.
After resources analyst Paul Howard attended a March 6 site visit at Siviour, Hartleys said in a March 14 note that it had lifted its NAV to 11.9 Australian cents per share from 10.9 cents but cautioned that the estimation was "very much dependent on project financing."
Hartleys also boosted its 12-month price target to 4.1 cents per share from 3.7 cents. Renascor was trading at 1.6 cents on the ASX on March 18.
Renascor Managing Director David Christensen said in a March 18 interview that securing off-take contracts that are creditworthy to service debt obligations is "difficult" as the customer base in the large Chinese market is made up of many small entities not often known to western debt providers.
"That's a real issue," he said. "If you're counting on paying someone back on the strength of a contract and the debt financiers don't know who that is, it's not a good credit risk."
Yet Christensen is buoyed by the Benchmark Graphite Price Assessment for March showing that China is well on its way to becoming a net importer of graphite, which he said plays well into Renascor's strategy.
The price assessment revealed that Chinese imports of graphite from Mozambique have surged. January imports already equal 20% of the Asian giant's total 2018 imports of the material.
Benchmark Mineral Intelligence also said increasing exports from Mozambique and Madagascar will continue this year, particularly from Syrah Resources Ltd., which wants to produce up to 250,000 tonnes this year.
Such imported material will displace some of the smaller Chinese graphite producers in the first half and could see China become a net importer of flake graphite for the first time this year, Benchmark said.
"That's interesting because that's telling us Syrah is producing and selling it at prices that may be displacing Chinese production or selling it for a lower price than the Chinese can produce it," Christensen said. "We know the Chinese are under cost pressures because they're depleting their better resources and are having environmental issues, making it more costly to operate."
The growth in China's domestic flake consumption continues to be driven by value-added production amid reports of increased domestic orders for spherical graphite in the first quarter, Benchmark said.
Howard said in an interview that China moving toward being a net importer of graphite concentrate helps Renascor as a big problem for Chinese graphite buyers is inconsistent supply from multiple small domestic producers. Siviour being one large, flat-lying, relatively shallow deposit is favorable for customers.
Christensen said China, the world's only spherical-graphite producer, is also increasing its production, and the lack of alternatives outside China was what drove Renascor to look into producing spherical graphite itself.
Spherical graphite is a key material in the anode component of lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles.
John Ciganek, executive director of BurnVoir Corporate Finance, which Renascor appointed this month to help arrange financing, said Siviour being in the lowest quartile of the international cost curve for graphite producers is "one of the key drivers for providing financiers with comfort against a substantial fall in graphite prices."