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SQM's Q1'19 earnings slip YOY on lower lithium prices, higher lease payments

Sociedad Quimica y Minera de Chile SA, or SQM, said May 23 that first-quarter earnings slipped to US$80.5 million, or 31 U.S. cents per share, from US$113.8 million, or 43 cents per share, a year ago.

Revenue inched down 2.8% to US$504.2 million from US$518.7 million in the prior year.

Results were hit by lower margins from SQM's lithium business due to lower average prices and higher costs related to a new lease payment structure with CORFO, the Chilean economic development agency, which took effect April 10, 2018.

Meanwhile, SQM's board approved an interim dividend of about 30.6 cents per share to be paid out June 12.

SQM CEO Ricardo Ramos expects sales to range between 45,000 and 50,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate equivalent this year on the back of higher sales volumes in the first quarter.

The Chilean producer is working on a US$280 million expansion to its lithium carbonate production to 120,000 tonnes per year, which it expects to complete in the second half of 2021. It is also working on increasing lithium hydroxide capacity to 29,500 tonnes in 2021 at a cost of US$100 million.

In March, Ramos said the lithium producer expects to triple its lithium sales to 150,000 tonnes per year by 2025.