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Livent Corporation (LTHM) Q3 2021 Earnings Call Transcript

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LTHM earnings call for the period ending September 30, 2021.

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Livent Corporation (LTHM 2.65%)
Q3 2021 Earnings Call
Nov 4, 2021, 5:00 p.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:

Operator

Good afternoon, and welcome to the Third Quarter 2021 Earnings Release Conference Call for Livent Corporation. [Operator Instructions] I would now like to turn the conference over to Mr. Daniel Rosen, Investor Relations and Strategy for Livent Corporation. Mr. Rosen, you may begin.

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Daniel Rosen -- Investor Relations

Great. Thank you, Celine. Good evening, everyone. Welcome to Livent's Third Quarter 2021 Earnings Call. Joining me today are Paul Graves, President and Chief Executive Officer; and Gilberto Antoniazzi, Chief Financial Officer. The slide presentation that accompanies our results, along with our earnings release, can be found in the Investor Relations section of our website. Prepared remarks from today's discussion will be made available after the call. Following our prepared remarks, Paul and Gilberto will be available to address your questions. [Operator Instructions] We would then be happy to address any additional questions after the call.

Before we begin, let me remind you that today's discussion will include forward-looking statements that are subject to various risks and uncertainties concerning specific factors, including, but not limited to, those factors identified in our release and in our filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Information presented represents our best judgment based on today's information. Actual results may vary based upon these risks and uncertainties. Today's discussion will include references to various non-GAAP financial metrics. Definitions of these terms as well as a reconciliation to the most directly comparable financial measure calculated and presented in accordance with GAAP are provided on our Investor Relations website. And with that, I'll turn the call over to Paul.

Paul W. Graves -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Dan, and good evening, everyone. We have a number of important topics to discuss today. We reported our third quarter results with both revenue and adjusted EBITDA in line with the second quarter, although the underlying business conditions were much stronger in Q3 compared to Q2. Livent achieved higher realized pricing, but this was offset by lower delivered volumes and higher costs, both of which were a direct result of various supply chain disruptions and operating interruptions in the quarter. Neither of these issues reduced our total LCEs available for customers, and we expect to recover the revenue lost due to lower delivered volumes in the upcoming quarters.

We will also go into the operational decisions Livent made in the third quarter that will provide the company with more opportunities to take advantage of current higher pricing conditions in the fourth quarter and into 2022. Given how we are entering the final quarter, we are further increasing our revenue and adjusted EBITDA guidance for the full year 2021. This is driven by a combination of higher anticipated realized pricing as well as a different customer and product mix. Lastly, we continue to progress on our carbonate and hydroxide capacity expansion activities, and remain well on track with all of our previously disclosed target dates. Before I provide further market commentary as well as some Livent specific updates, I will turn the call over to Gilberto to walk us through Livent's financial performance.

Gilberto Antoniazzi -- Chief Financial Officer

Thanks, Paul, and good evening, everyone. I will begin with our third quarter results on slide four. We reported revenue of $104 million, adjusted EBITDA of $15 million, and adjusted earnings of $0.03 per diluted share. Revenue was up 43% compared to the same quarter in 2020, driven by higher volumes as well as increased realized pricing across almost all Livent products. Versus prior quarter, revenue was flat, with higher realized pricing across all products, offset by a slightly lower total of LCEs sold. Third quarter adjusted EBITDA was meaningfully higher than the prior year, and slightly down versus the second quarter. Most of the improvement in realized prices compared to the second quarter was offset by higher costs and impact of supply chain issues.

Some of the higher costs relate to energy and raw material inflation in our business, including solvents and lithium metal fixed cost for our butyllithium business. We also incurred higher operating costs due to lower and less predictable production in China, as we were impacted by unscheduled power cuts imposed by government authorities on the industrial parts we operate. This government in both shutdowns have impacted many different problems in the industries, beyond just better materials. A second technical factor that impacted our results was the decision to prioritize higher lithium chloride production in Argentina in the quarter with the fulfillment of some legacy supply contracts.

This added operational costs that typically would have been spread more evenly throughout the year. Finally, like almost everyone who moves product around the globe, we experienced higher shipping and logistic costs and some delivery disruptions. The issues we faced include difficulty in securing available product containers and transportation, either by boat or truck. This meant we either did not deliver the product in the quarter as expected, or we had to incur higher costs to airfreight material to some key customers. Taken together, a large portion of this higher cost should be considered more temporary in nature, although, how long the cost will persist is difficult to predict. During the quarter, Livent prioritized fulfilling a large portion of its remaining 2021 full year volume commitments to customers.

These commitments reflected a lower price environment and to base market, as they were made prior to 2021. In a market with consistently higher rising prices and strong demand, many customers were eager to take product order than originally planned, and Livent, therefore, choose to prioritize these customers in the quarter. This means that, when the end of the fourth quarter, there's far more available volume to sell in the current price environment than we had in the first three quarters. As you may recall from our previous earnings call, we were all expecting to benefit more from higher pricing conditions in the later part of the year due to the changes of customer agreements and the index price lag in some of our contracts. However, the company now has created flexibility to take advantage of today's significantly higher price environment in the fourth quarter as well as in the year ahead.

We will also benefit from greater weighting of sales toward lithium carbonate in the upcoming quarter. As Paul mentioned earlier, we expect our lithium hydroxide production to be lower than planned due to four shutdowns of our China plants in the third and fourth quarter. But since our conversion plans are fed by our lithium carbonate, we are able to pivot fairly easily to selling this carbonate in place of the hydroxide. This provides us with great operational flexibility in single locations volume converge in China, and is something that we believe is unique to Livent. And since many of our customers use both hydroxide and carbonate, it enhances our ability to continue to support our customer base in times like today, when all suppliers of lithium are experiencing some type of disruption.

Looking forward, Livent has the option to hold inventory to support future hydroxide production and help smooth our supply chain challenges, or to sell carbonate volumes more opportunistically. Given the current pricing for carbonate in China, carbonate sales in the fourth quarter drove at higher margins than our contracted hydroxide sales. We expect this volume -- we expect this will continue to be an area of incremental opportunity for Livent in the future, especially, as we bring our first expansion online in just over a year from now. For these reasons, you will see on slide five that Livent is increasing its full year 2021 guidance for both revenue and adjusted EBITDA, as market conditions and the company's financial performance continue to strengthen. Guidance for revenue is now projected to be in the range of $390 million to $410 million, up $20 million at the medium line.

Adjusted EBITDA is expected to be $62 million to $72 million, which is 34% higher at the midpoint than our regional guidance at the start of the year. At midpoint, the new revenue guidance implies nearly 40% year-over-year growth with adjusted EBITDA roughly three times higher than last year's results. In addition to a further improved outlook for 2021, as Paul discussed, we expect Livent to see even greater benefit as we finalize our latest customer commitments for 2022 and beyond. This is due to the large portion of our volumes that are available to making new or expanded commitments in '22 with 100% of our volume commitments being made based on the price environment we're seeing in 2021. Finally, Livent's 2021 guidance for total capital spend remains unchanged at $125 million, as our capacity expansion projects continue to progress. While we have only spent $55 million through the three quarters of the year, we expect this to increase in the fourth quarter, and it's simply due to the timing of cash flows.

I will now turn the call back to Paul.

Paul W. Graves -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Gilberto. Moving now to slide six and some commentary on current market conditions. The strong lithium demand that we saw in the first half of this year continued in the third quarter, and showed no signs of slowing down. Behind this growing demand is higher electric vehicle sales, and of particular importance, record battery installations for EVs. It is battery installations rather than EV sales that drives battery material demand in the short term, and which helps to provide greater insight into the evolution of battery size, electrode technology, and specific battery material demand. In September, EV sales in China reached another high, with penetration rates approaching 20% levels. Total retail sales of new energy vehicles in China through September year-to-date are 1.8 million vehicles or over 200% higher versus the same period last year.

New energy vehicle battery installations in China set a record in the month of September, with 15.6 gigawatt hours of installed capacity. This is nearly twice the monthly average seen through August year-to-date, and is roughly three times the monthly averages seen in both 2019 and 2020. In key markets in Europe, year-over-year sales growth was over 50% in September, with penetration rates reaching new highs. And in the U.S., we've seen a number of new EV targets announced from leading OEMs, along with new battery partnerships and large capital commitments for localized production. The positive change behind demand for lithium-ion batteries do not end with electric vehicles.

We continue to see increased demand expectations for other areas of energy storage, including light commercial vehicles, e-bikes, stationary storage, and mobile devices. This energy storage demand growth has pulled through meaningful demand growth in batteries, capital materials and battery materials. The increase in lithium demand has been seeing both lithium hydroxide and lithium carbonate, with low usable inventory available in the market, whether that is finished lithium chemicals or spodumene-based feedstock, we've seen sharp lithium price increases across all products in the growing Chinese non-contracted market. Published lithium prices, both inside and outside of China, continue to move higher, and we're seeing some of this improvement reflected in the latest contracted prices as well.

The entire lithium market is tight today, and the strengthening demand picture, combined with the non-linear net nature of capacity additions, will likely result in further periods of tightness in the future. However, on the hydroxide side, the market China appears more amplified today due to reliance on the spodumene conversion rate. The well-publicized high auction prices for uncontracted spodumene feedstock, the stated price expectations for future contractor pricing from spodumene producers, and the reduced shipments of spodumene concentrate from Australia into China, which actually declined in Q3 compared to Q2, all impact hydroxide production more keenly than carbonate. For users of hydroxide, the challenge in obtaining supply is being compounded by the demonstrated struggles of many producers to get qualified in battery-grade applications. In fact, the qualification standards are actually becoming tighter, with most battery makers paying even more attention to the quality and consistency of their hydroxide supplies.

We are watching carefully to see how lithium producers respond to these challenges. Since in a period of high carbonate prices, complex manufacturing and qualification standards for hydroxide compared to carbonate, and the risks associated with not being able to sell low-grade hydroxide due to a lack of customers willing to use it, some converters may choose to switch to carbonate production. As I've noted before, once a converter makes that switch, and, therefore, withdraws from the hydroxide market, it is going to be more difficult for them to reenter in the future. Pressure remains on all global supply chains, including lithium. There have also been a number of issues specific to China, which remains a critical region for battery materials and broader EV production. These include seasonal production slowdowns, the lack of locally sourced lithium feedstocks, whether brine or hard rock based, creating a reliance on imported lithium feedstocks that are not growing at the same rate as conversion capacity, and energy consumption restrictions that have resulted in periodic production shutdowns and higher operating costs.

While it is hard to determine how long some of these operating and logistical pressures will remain, higher cost of lithium production are likely to remain for most in our industry, particularly for those producers that are not fully integrated back into a cost-competitive resource. More fundamentally though, we're seeing the challenges of operating production assets in China today. Although Livent has been impacted in this regard, like many of its peers, we are uniquely positioned with our operational flexibility of producing different lithium products and having an operational footprint both inside and outside of China. We also benefit from a more predictable cost structure, given our fully integrated operations. Automotive OEMs and battery producers want greater security of supply, and the input cost predictability that comes from not relying on volatile spot market prices.

In order to do this, they are realizing the need for fully integrated suppliers with a global footprint to be a core part of their volume needs, and they've seen firsthand the challenges of relying on new entrants or unproven greenfield development projects. It will be impossible to exclude China from battery supply chains, given how much battery cathode and lithium conversion capacity is located there. But over time, we expect a more complete battery infrastructure to develop in other parts of the world, in part as a result of the disruptions we are seeing today. Additionally, there is a greater understanding that the low market prices seen over the last few years are insufficient to incentivize reliable, long-term lithium capacity growth. And the firm multi-year commitments, which provide guaranteed minimum financial returns, are required, at least for a part of the OEM procurement portfolio.

Livent is one of the few lithium producers with these global integrated multi-product capabilities, and the ability to offer and deliver multiyear fixed price supply arrangements. I want to conclude by providing a few specific business updates for Livent on slide seven. Although we are not yet providing 2022 financial guidance, there are a few key points we can provide about the upcoming year. We expect average realized prices to be notably higher year-over-year, and we have already agreed to new or expanded lithium hydroxide commitments with several leading OEMs and battery producers at prices that are more reflective of current market conditions. Livent's expected future hydroxide revenues will likely be derived from two separate approaches to the market. First, Livent plans to maintain a large portion of volumes under multiyear fixed price take-or-pay commitments with a small number of customers.

These should provide a base of stability and predictability around returns on its capital investments. Second, Livent plans to make firm annual volume-only commitments on the remaining smaller portion of its hydroxide volumes, with periodic pricing reviews that allowed for exposure to directional movement in market prices. We expect most of our hydroxide customers to transact with us on this basis, to do so for 2022. But we will continue to be opportunistic with regard to our participation in the lithium carbonate market. This includes selling lithium carbonate to a small number of existing hydroxide customers, as we have done in the past. For our remaining key lithium products, including butyllithium, we plan to continue committing volumes to our existing base of customers, but we'll likely see more intra-year price discussions taking place than we have seen historically.

As we continue to sign more longer-dated contracts with strategic customers, it reiterates why it is so important for us to continue to focus on expanding our low-cost, sustainable, global production footprint. Livent continues to progress on its near-term capacity expansions, tracking to the previously stated schedule. As a reminder, Livent's 5,000 metric ton hydroxide addition in Bessemer City and its initial lithium carbonate expansion of 10,000 metric tons in Argentina are expected to reach commercial production by the third quarter of 2022 and the first quarter of 2023 respectively. Additionally, our Phase II carbonate expansion for an additional 10,000 metric tons is expected to be in production by the end of 2023.

We expect the ramp-up period to run rate capacity on each of these units to be short, and you should expect 2023 volumes to reflect a large portion of the new carbonate and hydroxide capacity, and 2024 volumes to also include the second additional carbonate phase. We believe the funds raised from Livent's equity issuance in June, along with improving cash flow generation and access to our existing credit facilities will provide sufficient funding for these projects. And while we are not providing further capital guidance at this time, you should expect 2022 capital spending to be higher than 2021, and understand that we will look to accelerate the timing of our expansions wherever we can. As announced in a separate press release earlier this week, Livent announced the LIOVIX brand for its proprietary lithium metal product.

LIOVIX is a unique principle formulation of lithium metal and other specialty materials that improves the performance of lithium ion batteries, reduces manufacturing costs, enables the next-generation of battery technology, all while enhancing safety and sustainability. Our value long-term customers continue to look to us to create sustainable solutions that improve battery performance, safety and manufacturing efficiency. Initial auto and battery producer interest in this innovative product has been promising, and we look forward to sharing further details on our progress in the coming quarters. Finally, Livent continues to make progress on important sustainability initiatives that will help us to achieve our 2030 and 2040 sustainability goals.This includes work on process efficiency and renewable energy projects, further analysis of the company's climate change risks and opportunities, in alignment with the widely recognized TCFD framework, preparing for third-party auditing against the standards of IRMA, the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance, and ongoing collaboration in studies on lithium brine and freshwater aquifers in South America, working closely with our supply partner BMW Group and their co-sponsors.

In addition, prior to the United Nations Conference on Climate Change, which began this week Glasgow, we committed to the UN's Race to Zero initiative, and the business ambition for 1.5-degree Celsius campaign, both of which require external science-based validation of net zero and carbon reduction targets as well as the plans to achieve them. We plan to provide further details on the pathway to achieving our long-term sustainability targets over the coming quarters, which will likely include some innovative process changes as well as capital investment. Our ongoing efforts in this regard are underpinned by the belief that the responsibility to operate in a safe, ethical, socially conscious and sustainable manner, is a fundamental obligation of our right to operate and essential for the viability of our business.

I will now turn the call back to Dan for questions.

Daniel Rosen -- Investor Relations

Thank you, Paul. Celine, you may now begin the Q&A session.

Questions and Answers:

Operator

[Operator Instructions] We have our first question coming from the line of Chris Kapsch with Loop Capital Markets. your line is open.

Chris Kapsch -- Loop Capital Markets -- Analyst

Yeah, good afternoon. So I'm interested in getting a little bit more color around your comments about what sounds like structurally tighter aspects of the hydroxide portion of the market juxtaposed against your at least near-term pivot to supply more carbonate. So I guess we could conclude then that the lean toward greater carbonate volumes is temporary. Can you just comment on how long you see that tactical shift for next quarters?

Paul W. Graves -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yes. Part of the carbonate shift was in the fourth quarter -- has really been imposed on us by the fact that we were forced to reduce production of lithium hydroxide from that carbonate in China. And so we, frankly, have extra carbonate. And, I think, conversations with customers has always been quite fluid in that they know that we do have carbonate sometimes. And so many customers have asked us, well, if you can't supply lithium hydroxide, which I understand that we can't shut down, can we supply carbonate. So that's what we will be doing. It is clearly opportunistic. I mean, we are not yet long carbonate.

We still need all the carbonate for commitments that we've made in hydroxide. That doesn't mean we don't have sometimes the ability to move some -- take advantage of some carbonate situations, and we will do that. But I certainly don't expect in 2022 that we will suddenly become a large lithium carbonate seller. I think when Argentina phase one comes online, so really in 2023, I think we'll have more opportunity to do that. But even there, in the context of the size of the global lithium carbonate market, we will always be a small player in lithium carbonate.

Chris Kapsch -- Loop Capital Markets -- Analyst

Okay. The follow-up would be that, based on what you described, it sounds like with a structurally tighter hydroxide market, you'd expect maybe a premium for hydroxide pricing. That's not reflected in spot prices. But I understand the contract market and spot market are different. So -- but just wondering that, if there is this structural shift on the ability of converters to access the spodumene to supply hydroxide such that they would exit the hydroxide market, I would think customers would be aware of that, and that would be reflected in the conversations around long-term security of supply in your contract. Is that what's happening? Would one expect that there would be a more pronounced premium for hydroxide vis-a-vis carbonate long-term supply agreement?

Paul W. Graves -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yes. It's a really interesting question to think about, because you can go in lots of different directions. But the one thing that I've always said is there's not really any fundamental reason why hydroxide or carbonate should have necessarily a premium or a discount over the other. What we tended to find, though, over time, is much more stability in hydroxide pricing because of these commitments that -- people use a lot of lithium hydroxide, historically recognize that there is not the same diversity of supply. And therefore, achieving security of supply is pretty important. I don't think that's really changed. I don't think that though it's going to be anywhere near the breadth of qualified hydroxide producers out there that you will see in lithium carbonate. Lithium carbonate is, frankly, just much easier to produce, and it's much easier to produce at a battery grade. And you do get moments like today where carbonate pricing, which is much more volatile, does outperform lithium hydroxide pricing for periods of time.

And there's no reason why that couldn't continue for a while, especially as many OEMs are shifting over to carbonate-based batteries for at least part of their fleet, the LFP that's been talked about a lot. But again, it's an interesting dilemma for anybody, which is how far do you go in one technology over another, one interesting feature of -- everybody's suddenly decided that LFP is an important part of that portfolio, which we're starting to see that the actual total cost of an LFP battery now is approaching a high-nickel NCM battery. So where people run away from nickel and the high cost of nickel and NCM batteries, they're not being hit by the big price increase in carbonate that they're seeing. And it's all China carbonate prices, all the LFPs made by Chinese battery makers. So it's not an easy question to answer because, I think, in the long run, there will be fewer lithium hydroxide producers. I think they will be slightly more concentrated in their customer relationships. And I think, overall, the economics will be more favorable than carbonate because of price predictability over time.

Chris Kapsch -- Loop Capital Markets -- Analyst

Thank you.

Operator

We have our next question coming from the line of Stephen Richardson with Evercore ISI. Your line is open.

Stephen Richardson -- Evercore ISI -- Analyst

Thank you, Paul, I really appreciate some of the color around 2022 you provided. So if we could go back on a pretty basic question about the underlying earnings power, cash flow generation potential of Livent. If we know -- if we just take 2018 as a baseline, and we know what you all generated back then, close to $200 million of EBITDA, and we know that the market today -- and I don't think you're saying that you think the market is going to give back on pricing, and you're telling us that you're going to have more -- less exposed to contract and more spot. Can you just help us bridge like what is the cost structure and the product mix, and how it's changed at Livent relative to just four years ago? And why maybe that baseline is not the right starting point as we think about 2022?

Paul W. Graves -- President and Chief Executive Officer

It's an interesting reference point, I'd say, more than a baseline. And the reason I say that is the business has changed, right? Costs are certainly higher. Certainly, our direct cost of carbonate hydroxide actually hasn't changed, but a lot of the other costs around the business -- cost of public company are higher, cost of shipping and logistics are higher turn, energy and other related costs in -- in fact, our metals businesses is now higher today and probably remain higher for a while. I think the other difference back to 2018 was mix. We have less hydroxide and more carbonate than any people. If you go back and look at that point in time, carbonate pricing was much higher than hydroxide at that point in time.

So we have the ability to sell more carbonate at the higher price. And probably, the single biggest difference between 2022 and 2018 will be the fact we don't have that much carbonate. And when you look at 2023, though, and yet add an extra 10,000 LCEs that we will have, and we'll be on carbonate, then the business mix looks like a larger version of 2018. And so I put all those pieces together and say I think to achieve 2018 financial performance with the parent corporate, is by no means unachievable. I think where the pricing is going today and what pricing looks like for next year suggests that that's eminently achievable. I think what it will really boil down to is where does the price actually go to in 2020-'22, and how much of that, given the way we're structuring our business around more frequent pricing conversations with customers, how much we can capture during the year.

Stephen Richardson -- Evercore ISI -- Analyst

Appreciate that. Maybe as a quick follow-up. I mean, you did mention in terms of capex and the expectation that 2020 capex will be a little bit higher, acknowledging that you're progressing, and the expansion in Argentina, as you mentioned opportunities to accelerate I think was the word that you used. What could those look like on the margin in terms of what are the opportunities to kind of accelerate a little bit? Is it the customer? Is it in Argentina? Is it both? Maybe you could just help us size that a little bit.

Paul W. Graves -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yes. Look, I think the opportunity to accelerate is small. I mean, it's weeks, maybe a month or two quicker for each of the projects. And all of them in there could come in a little bit quicker. But it's not going to make a massive difference in 2022 to be perfectly honest. I'd be really surprised if we meaningfully moved our need into total LCEs by accelerating any of the projects right now.

Stephen Richardson -- Evercore ISI -- Analyst

Thank you.

Operator

We have our next question coming from the line of P.J. Juvekar with Citi. Your line is open.

P.J. Juvekar -- Citi -- Analyst

Hey, Paul. Good afternoon. If you the battery companies, or more importantly, the auto companies, are they willing to pay more for lithium, as prices spike, or the chip shortages for auto companies and lower profitability as a result making any of these conversations difficult?

Paul W. Graves -- President and Chief Executive Officer

It's an interesting analysis. I mean, because, if you stand back and look at the earnings performance of the battery companies, the vast majority of them are doing unbelievably well. Their earnings are not going down. And then perhaps the biggest reason for that is, structurally, they pass the cost of raw materials on them. So they're taking advantage of the scaling of their operations, getting scale benefits to drive higher profitability. So all the battery material costs are going on to the OEMs. The OEMs, though, are where we have the most pricing power they've had for ages. I'm sure you see many of them increasing their margin forecast for their businesses, because one advantage of shortness of vehicles is that you have more pricing power, you don't have as many discounts.

And so, it's not easy for me to sit here and say, wow, there's a massive profitability hit to the sort of global automotive or battery industries as a result of high battery material prices. Now do they always want lower prices? Of course, it's in their DNA. But actually, I think the conversations today are much more about securing supply. They have, I think, really now started to shift. I know you heard me say this most quarters that they need to, and they're not doing it. Well, I think they're starting to now. They're now starting to look at security of supply. And I do believe a number of them have been educated, if you will, about the challenges of securing supply. They've had contracts broken by some suppliers.

They've had some suppliers remove price commitments that they've made, and they've had some supply fail to get qualified, whereby in the OEM in the end doesn't control the qualification, the battery companies typically do. And so you can't just impose lithium carbonate or hydroxide on for battery producer, no matter how you try. And so I think what they're doing is, they're stepping back now and saying, OK, I get it, I need to find the most reliable suppliers, and I need to give them the incentive to supply me, and to grow their production in such a way that they can grow their supply to me in the future. That requires, as I mentioned, multiyear contracts, it requires take-or-pay commitments, and it requires economics that are sufficient to both incentivize and support expansions.

P.J. Juvekar -- Citi -- Analyst

That makes sense. And then I know, Paul, you have aspirations of having some production out of Argentina -- outside of Argentina. With an upcycle ahead of us in lithium, that seems like the case, and many junior companies still out there, if you wear your old banker hat, is this the right time to make a move to acquire any of the junior companies?

Paul W. Graves -- President and Chief Executive Officer

I burnt that banker hat 10 years ago, P.J. I learned -- it's an interesting question because, one of the famous I guess -- putting my banker hat back on again, one of the famous stories around most mining companies particularly is, they only go buying things when they're expensive. When the price of them goes up, out comes the M&A activity. And for the mining industry as a whole, that largely has never ended well. Having said that, I do think there are certainly opportunities where, clearly, as a junior developer, your confidence in delivering a project is probably not as great as mine is. When we line up what a risk-adjusted view of some of these resources is, the risk to me might seem a little lower than it does to an inexperienced mining team.

You only have to look around the world and see how many of these -- of how many chemical conversion plans are struggling to get up and running, either because they can't get them built or they build them and they don't operate properly. So I think it will create opportunities for those of us that actually have confidence in our ability to complete and bring into operation lithium projects.

P.J. Juvekar -- Citi -- Analyst

Thank you.

Operator

We have our next question coming from the line of Emily Keck with Goldman Sachs. Your line is open.

Emily Keck -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Hi, This is Emily Keck on for Bob. So my first question, as you guys are completing the 2022 contracting process, are most of the contracts going to start close to the beginning of the calendar year? Or do you think there'll be a delay in seeing some of the higher pricing?

Paul W. Graves -- President and Chief Executive Officer

No, I think they'll all start on January one mostly. We do have some of the spin toward the Chinese New Year, and a couple of very small ones start a little bit later than that, but the bulk of it is a calendar year basis.

Emily Keck -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Okay. And as a follow-up, do you guys have any more details around the projects you're working on in South America around responsible lithium extraction?

Paul W. Graves -- President and Chief Executive Officer

We will. We may be a couple of months too soon in that, but we've certainly got a lot going on in terms of how we can ensure that everything we do down there is done responsibly and is in line with our sustainability target. So I'll ask for a bit of patience from you on that one, and we'll give you more details in the coming quarters.

Emily Keck -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Thank you.

Operator

We have our next question coming from the line of Joel Jackson with BMO Capital markets. Your line is open.

Joel Jackson -- BMO Capital markets -- Analyst

Hi, good morning everyone. Sorry domestically and say it's a long day. All that I want to talk a little bit about the last three quarters. So -- and in your guide for the fourth quarter. So Q2, Q3 and Q4, interesting because you're recently guiding at the midpoint, so just over $100 million of revenue every quarter, Q2, Q3 and Q4, but you're guiding to extremely higher EBITDA in the fourth quarter versus Q2 and Q3. I think you talked about some higher costs around lithium chloride in the third quarter, but at least if you ignore that, you're pointing to a much higher level of earning in the fourth quarter on the same revenue level as the second quarter. And so can you explain a bit about what's going in the fourth -- because you seem to have a lot lower costs versus Q2 and Q3. Can you help me figure that out?

Paul W. Graves -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yes. But I think some of it -- we mentioned higher costs in Q3 that we don't expect to repeat in Q4. I think we've also mentioned a shift toward carbonate, which is attracting much higher margin. Every dollar of revenue generates a lot more profitability than what we saw earlier in the year. Earlier in the year, the vast majority has been satisfying contracts that were commitments made typically in late 2020, and so they were priced in like 2020. And if you go back and look at where pricing was in October, November and December last year, it's just a different price environment. And most of those contracts -- not all of them, but most of them didn't have annual ability to check back in and revisit those prices.

And in Q3, we recognized we needed to have the ability, if we were going to really show what we can do, to take advantage of the current market conditions. And so in the first part of the year, we have been satisfying a bunch of customers. So given what was going on, our contractor price was much lower than they could get it out there in the market. So they wanted to take more volume from us. But it means that in the fourth quarter, we just have more volume available to sell under current -- not under those commitments. So there's a bunch of factors at work. I think the two biggest, though, are the mix change -- product mix change to a higher-margin product, and the costs that we don't expect to repeat in Q4 that we saw in Q3.

Joel Jackson -- BMO Capital markets -- Analyst

So just a follow-up on that. Does that mean that you're selling carbonate that you had built up inventories in the year, you're not upgrading to hydroxide. So it just looks -- it's really good margin in the fourth quarter. And then also, outside that, you talked about lithium pricing you expect to be higher in '22 versus '21, as you get into discussions with customers with how your contracts will work out. Do you think you're more likely to have single-digit or double-digit average price increases in '22?

Paul W. Graves -- President and Chief Executive Officer

So to your first, fundamentally, if you think about it, if we were running our business, we move in carbonate, and it's sitting in China, not a lot of it are waiting to be processed into lithium hydroxide. And if the government comes and shuts down the industrial -- coming up in the plan, that carbonates just sat there. So it's in the right place. It's already incurred the shipping and transportation cost. It's pretty straightforward to see why that would be, given what you see in pricing at quite a high-margin opportunity for us to sell that carbonate, doesn't have to be a lot.

Clearly, the revenue in total is, as you quite rightly point out, pretty consistent, but we don't have to sell as much carbonate in this situation as we would have had to sell hydroxide to generate the same amount of revenue or profitability. And in terms of looking into 2022 for pricing, I mean, again, it's a wide, wide range of expectations. I think, as I've mentioned, most of the transacting that we do, which is not most of our volume, we will not set prices before the year starts. We will much more -- market pricing much of that volume. Where we do set prices and where we have set prices, it will certainly be double-digit price increases just at a very high level. I think the lowest price increase that we've agreed to so far is over 20%. And I think there will be a bunch of it much, much higher than that.

Joel Jackson -- BMO Capital markets -- Analyst

Thank you.

Operator

We have our next question coming from the line of Greg Cove with Piper Sandler. Your line is open.

Greg Cove -- Piper Sandler -- Analyst

Hey, Paul. You're Bertaux. Hi, good afternoon and thanks for taking the questions. So first question on the hydroxide plant in China. Do you think that's running at maybe, I don't know, three days a week for just a few hours a day? Or -- I'm just trying to understand like the utilization going on there. And then, on top of that, have you had any conversations with the government on when those power issues or electricity issues could get alleviated to continue operating the plant at higher utilization rate?

Paul W. Graves -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yes. The second one is a hard one because nobody really knows. In many cases, they're driven by factors that aren't easy to predict. While the policy remains in place, I think it's likely that there will be disruptions. Just have to know how long and where, and whether you'll be susceptible to them. In terms of -- it's impacted it in a couple of different ways. And just bear in mind the way we operate. We have three lines. And in some cases, the whole plant has been shut down. So all three lines have been down. In other cases, they've asked us to take a line or two down and only run one line to save energy. And so it's a little bit of a mix of different situations. Sometimes we have a line down for two days, and then it is allowed to come back up again. And we don't know until it happens exactly what's going to happen, or how it's going to work. So it's hard to generalize or plan or predict.

Greg Cove -- Piper Sandler -- Analyst

That's very helpful. And I guess from a big picture perspective, with this LIOVIX lithium metal announcement the other day, and I appreciate you've given some commentary this afternoon, I'm curious -- if I just think about the chloride facility in Argentina that typically runs at approximately 50% to 60% utilization, can we think maybe mid-decade that becomes a larger part of the business? Or any commentary that you could give there would be super helpful.

Paul W. Graves -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yes. Look, I think, it will become a larger part of the business. And interestingly, we -- as I'm sure you know, the reason the plant down there in Argentina runs at that rate is because we typically keep all that chloride, or have often kept that chloride largely for our own internal use and we only need so much. The second reason, frankly, is that we are typically having to choose, because we're constrained on brine capability between making carbonate or making chloride. And so we have the ability to ramp up that plant to much higher levels of chloride production without any more capital investment. It just means that will be taken away from carbonate at that point in time.

And so having said that, I do expect that apprentable lithium is going to grow really, really quickly. It's a small product today, and it's likely to be small for the next few years. But I certainly think it's going to become -- whether it's our technology or somebody else's technology, increasingly common to pre-lithiate, and when you do pre-lithiate, you do need a safe process that you can plug-and-play directly into what you're doing today. And that's what we have. We've created a way of pre-lithiating the -- generally speaking, for most battery producers, it's actually quite easy for them to do. So I do have pretty high hopes for that product.

Greg Cove -- Piper Sandler -- Analyst

Thank you.

Operator

We have our next question coming from the line of Christopher Parkinson with Mizuho. Your line is open.

Harris Fein -- Mizuho -- Analyst

This is Harris Fein on for Chris. Thanks for taking my question.You mentioned this a bit in your prepared remarks. Even though lithium prices are high right now, you're also seeing input costs inflation. You're seeing high spodumene costs, little controls in China, logistics. So I'm curious whether or not you are seeing any potential for non-integrated producers in China to potentially exit the market or for capacity to come out of the market over maybe a longer period of time?

Paul W. Graves -- President and Chief Executive Officer

I don't know. It's what I see, though. Mostly -- and generally speaking, a large international company with Chinese operations is going to be in a different place than a small single location producer who has only one relatively small conversion plan. I think it will be a function of, frankly, our ability to source spodumene concentrate in the future, because if you look at where -- obviously, it's all coming from Australia today, a lot of maybe some getting shipped in from a few other places like Brazil in the future. It's not really enough to feed all of the conversion plants that are there.

And I think while you have a shift of Australian spodumene miners wanting to be integrated themselves, wanting to build hydroxide plants either in Australia or in Korea or in other places, it's just going to reduce the ability to divert merchant spodumene concentrate into China. I think it's going to naturally derate that non-integrated conversion complex in China. Will they exit? That's a hard one to answer. I don't know. I don't know the answer to that. Will they find other sources of spodumene concentrate? Possibly. But it's certainly an interesting challenge for them.

Harris Fein -- Mizuho -- Analyst

And in the past, we've talked about how the supply chain was taken for granted, the idea that enough lithium will be out there for them to execute on their goals. Just anecdotally, are you sensing that there's a better appreciation for the need for security of supply? And any -- without naming any customers, but any conversations you've had where you've met resistance in the past that now you're seeing better reception to potentially longer term contracts with built-in price protection on your end?

Paul W. Graves -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yes. I would say, anecdotally, I can confirm we see that. I would say that contractually I can confirm that we've benefited from that. And I would say that with regard to future business and conversations that we're having, absolutely, the conversation is a more constructive one now about what it means to commit to each other, when it comes to supply of particularly in hydroxide. I actually am not convinced that lithium carbonate will be quite so easy for people to inform that view on. It's a bigger, deeper market. But in lithium hydroxide, given the challenges of qualification that we've seen out there, I think we absolutely will see that happen.

Harris Fein -- Mizuho -- Analyst

Thank you.

Operator

We have our next question coming from the line of Kevin McCarthy with Vertical Research. Your line is open.

Kevin McCarthy -- Vertical Research -- Analyst

Good evening, Paul, in your prepared remarks, you talked about two different contracts paradigms. And I guess my question will be, what percentage of your production for 2022 would you intend to sell into the multiyear fixed-price contract category? It sounded like that would be a majority, but can you provide a little bit more color as to what that split might be?

Paul W. Graves -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yes. In hydroxide, it's going to be way north of 50%, but less than 80%. It's going to be in that kind of range for hydroxide. I -- though, as I said, if you add it to our LCE basis, it's probably between 50% and 60% or so because when you factor in carbonate, when you factor in butyllithium and other molecules that we sell, it's in that kind of range for the hydroxide business. So it's a meaningful proportion of that business that will be sold that way.

Kevin McCarthy -- Vertical Research -- Analyst

Okay. That's very helpful. And then secondly, is there any update on your investment in Nemaska? As I recall, they were working toward an optimization study that was expected, I guess, around now or by year-end 2021. Any incremental thoughts on the path forward there?

Paul W. Graves -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yes. I think, as we mentioned before, you're correct, we have some important final decisions and reports coming our way in the next few weeks. And we certainly expect that by the next time we sit down on an earnings call with you guys, I hope we can talk a little bit more about what it is. But it is -- so far so good. We're happy with what we see. It has challenges, developing any resource in a new part of the world in a different physical climate than where people typically mine spodumene it's not to be smooth. And I think thinking about the infrastructure issues that people start to realize or building some of these chemical plants also create some interesting issues. But they're all surmountable, that none of them are challenges that can't be overcome. And so we feel pretty good about what track is that.

Kevin McCarthy -- Vertical Research -- Analyst

Thank you.

Operator

We have our next question coming from the line of Mike Harrison with Seaport. Your line is open.

Mike Harrison -- Seaport -- Analyst

Hi, good evening. Was wondering if you could talk in a little bit more detail about these changes in customer mix. It sounds like you have some legacy contracts that you were trying to get out of the way during the first part of this year so that you have better exposure to higher prices late in the year. My question is, do we still have some overhang from these legacy contracts as we get into 2022, '23 and beyond? Or are a lot of them rolling off at this point?

Paul W. Graves -- President and Chief Executive Officer

100% of our 2022 volumes, regardless of product, will be -- the pricing will be set even now in this market or next year in terms of where the market is. So we have no legacy carrying forward into the future at all.

Mike Harrison -- Seaport -- Analyst

All right. And then a question for Gilberto. I'm curious when do you stop capitalizing the interest that's coming off these bonds right now? And what does the interest expense look like once you have to start accounting for that in the P&L?

Gilberto Antoniazzi -- Chief Financial Officer

So the capitalized increase is really associated with our capital spending. And as long as we're going to continue to invest in the expansions, we will continue to capitalize those interests, because they're essentially supporting the capex that we're doing.

Mike Harrison -- Seaport -- Analyst

Thank you.

Operator

We have our next question coming from the line of Aleksey Yefremov with KeyBanc. Your line is open.

Aleksey Yefremov -- KeyBanc -- Analyst

Thank you. Good evening, Paul, you mentioned challenges that new entrants are seeing in getting their hydroxide specifications. Could you elaborate on that and maybe tell us how competitive landscape in this higher end hydroxide markets -- when you say, has that changed at all? Do you see new entrants that were successful?

Paul W. Graves -- President and Chief Executive Officer

I think the new entrants that have been successful are largely existing successful producers who add more capacity. I mean that generally has been successful. I think -- but that is -- I don't think there's been a true new entrant get into the hydroxide market in any kind of scale who's been able to get qualified that I'm aware of. Look, I don't have perfect visibility in that, but lithium hydroxide floating around that is lower standards required for it, it's a market, but that's not where we typically play, and it's not typically a growth market in the same way. But the challenges that they've had really come from one or two areas. The first chance they've had is, maybe they have legacy plants that have to make hydroxide, but they won't build it to make battery grade.

So they can't actually -- structuring physically cannot do it. And so they're waiting to bring new capacity on it in order to that actually -- to produce today's quality of hydroxide. And to be clear, the quality of hydroxide required today is on a different level than it was even a year ago. I think you maybe recall, at this time last year, we took some downtime in North America to have to upgrade our facility there to be able to meet current levels of specifications. And even there, when we talk to many of our customers today, likely will require small amount -- small capital for us to continue to improve our products. And we think we make the best hydroxide in the business. I certainly have not found anybody we haven't been able to get qualified with. But it's more and more difficult to do so.

The second issue they run into has been, frankly, nothing up to build a new plant in a timely way or in a successful way. There's a couple of very well-known examples of that in our industry that I won't quote right now, but these are meaningfully sized plants, but just aren't able to actually produce battery-grade lithium hydroxide.

Aleksey Yefremov -- KeyBanc -- Analyst

Thank you.

Operator

We have our next question coming from the line of David Deckelbaum with Cowen. Your line is open.

David Deckelbaum -- Cowen -- Analyst

Good evening. Paul and everyone. Thanks for taking my questions. Night pleasure. I'm curious just to follow-up a bit on LIOVIX and the printed lithium metal. You talked about, obviously, the opportunity for carbonate and hydroxide and contracts this year. Are you receiving contracts already specifically for LIOVIX? Or are you going to be withholding some of your own upstream supply in order to sort of create this market and lead some of your customers?

Paul W. Graves -- President and Chief Executive Officer

So let's just step back a little and maybe help you think about that in the context of what pre-lithiation actually generally is. Pre-lithiation does not use a huge amount, but actually relatively very small amounts of lithium. And all it's designed really to do is to make more of the lithium ions that are in the battery available after that first charge, because you don't lose the lithium ions the first time the battery is charged. And so it actually makes a huge difference to available lithium in the battery without actually adding a lot. The value in it is less amount of lithium in those, but actually, the delivery method -- I think you probably see many, many years now, people trying to solve a lithium foil challenge, which is how to make lithium foil small enough and how to make it stable enough and then how to actually integrate into manufacturing process.

Nobody's cracked that code, and, frankly, we never believe anybody ever would. And so ours is a process and a system that allows you to get lithium metal directly into the anode. It means that we don't just charge for the lithium. Being -- having the lithium available is important. And it's interesting, we do get some customers asking us to put some lithium metal out there in the future. They clearly have plans to pre-lithiate themselves. But it's likely that our product, the economic argument behind it is less about the lithium content and more about the performance benefits it brings, and the ease of implementation into existing battery processes.

David Deckelbaum -- Cowen -- Analyst

Appreciate that color, Paul. Very helpful. Just the last one for me. Certainly, you've talked about in the past the importance of scale. Nemaska obviously represents some resource upside. There's resource upside at Salar Hombre as well. As you think about the rest of the market, we've seen a number of non-producing projects, particularly in Argentina, some other brine projects in South America being acquired for all equity. Is that something that we should expect that you're actively involved in canvasing? Is there an impetus, especially just given your vertical integration, to try to go out there and find some more, perhaps, advanced development resource that's out there right now?

Paul W. Graves -- President and Chief Executive Officer

It's very high on our objectives. It's how do we grow more quickly, how do we get bigger. What is the best way to do that, which one creates the most value for our shareholders, which creates the most value for our customers. I think the one thing we do know is that it still is not an option. Still, just being the size we are, it just doesn't -- that doesn't work. So we certainly have to solve that problem for sure.

David Deckelbaum -- Cowen -- Analyst

Thank you.

Operator

We have our next question coming from the line of Matthew Sio with Bank of America. Your line is open.

Matthew Sio -- Bank of America -- Analyst

Thanks. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit more about the battery storage capacity phenomenon that you touched on, on the call a little bit. I know you gave some nice stats around that, but how does that change the arc of lithium demand and buying patterns? I guess would think about it in a normalized world where you have a demand function on a vehicle level, but obviously that might be different when a battery plant starts up. And when that does, is this large -- yes, I guess the starts and I guess on the back end, is there a cool off period here? Or do we just see more battery plants coming and we're just not going to catch up from areas?

Paul W. Graves -- President and Chief Executive Officer

The way the data factors are being built, there's clearly an expectation that there's going to be exponential growth clearly continuing in required batteries, whether it's for EVs or whatever it's for. I mean -- and in fact, I think if you -- if I look at some of the consultants out there, they produced some interesting, but ultimately theoretical exercise. If all of these battery plants today were up and running at 100% capacity -- battery materials that they demand and we know what they're building, and when they're outside it's how much would they demand. In every case it's two times to three times of what actual demand is today, and that sort of reflects the start of our -- what we tend to find is a couple of things during the start-up.

Yes, they run at lower capacity. They are typically still proving themselves. They typically have a very high wastage. So they use more lithium in each battery than they will do when they're up and running and running stable. So you have this kind of odd off where they start to use more lithium at first, and then slowly but surely become more efficient until they get closer to sort of the theoretical lithium consumption per gigawatt-hour. So clearly building battery capabilities is one thing. But in the end, you've got to run them and you've got to find someone for the batteries when to fill. Otherwise, that will stop. And that's why we talk about battery installations being so important. Having the battery made is one thing, but having it then put into use is what really creates the demand for the next battery to be built, the next giga battery to be built and, therefore, starts to pull all the battery materials through.

Matthew Sio -- Bank of America -- Analyst

Okay. And then as we think about just the cost inflation year-over-year, and it's obvious, I would assume some of the reagents, stuff like that are moving up. But what do we think on a percent inflation for 2022? And then kind of longer term, I guess my general assumptions for inflation are low single-digits, but clearly, the demand pull on some of these products is growing just as fast, or perhaps maybe it's growing just as fast as the lithium demand itself. And so should we think about cost inflation as a higher number than that, just given everything that's going on?

Paul W. Graves -- President and Chief Executive Officer

I think for us, it's a little difficult to answer that because if you think about what our really true direct costs are, it's energy costs. It is -- in some cases, it's solvents and reagents. In many cases, we pass those costs on, in some we don't. So we certainly carry some of that cost in our organization, shipping and logistics costs. And it's hard to know how long these costs remain elevated. I mean, clearly, we can manage that by simply taking longer to deliver product or carrying more inventory so that we don't have to airfreight material, that we are fine with longer supply chains because of the way we built the business, but that will have a capital cost clearly if we carry more inventory.

It's hard for me to answer that question for everybody else, because everybody else has a different cost structure. So as an industry, there's no doubt that if you mine spodumene concentrate, the cost of production is about five times what it was. Cost of spodumene concentrate anyway, maybe as much as five times what it was a year ago. Again, I'm not close enough to that market to know whether that's where it's going to stay forever.

Matthew Sio -- Bank of America -- Analyst

Thank you.

Operator

There are no further questions at this time. I will now turn the call back over to Daniel Rosen for any closing remarks.

Daniel Rosen -- Investor Relations

Thanks. That's all the time that we have for the call today, but we will be available following the call to address any additional questions you may have. Thanks, everyone, and have a good evening.

Operator

[Operator Closing Remarks].

Duration: 64 minutes

Call participants:

Daniel Rosen -- Investor Relations

Paul W. Graves -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Gilberto Antoniazzi -- Chief Financial Officer

Chris Kapsch -- Loop Capital Markets -- Analyst

Stephen Richardson -- Evercore ISI -- Analyst

P.J. Juvekar -- Citi -- Analyst

Emily Keck -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Joel Jackson -- BMO Capital markets -- Analyst

Greg Cove -- Piper Sandler -- Analyst

Harris Fein -- Mizuho -- Analyst

Kevin McCarthy -- Vertical Research -- Analyst

Mike Harrison -- Seaport -- Analyst

Aleksey Yefremov -- KeyBanc -- Analyst

David Deckelbaum -- Cowen -- Analyst

Matthew Sio -- Bank of America -- Analyst

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