What happened

Shares of Chilean lithium miner Sociedad Quimica y Minera de Chile (SQM 8.04%) dropped in morning trading Monday, down 9% as of 11:10 a.m. EDT on no apparent news. Then again, it's probably not today's headlines that investors are worried about in regard to SQM -- it's "tomorrow's."

So what

I'm speaking figuratively here of Sociedad Quimica's upcoming Q1 2021 earnings report, which could come out "tomorrow," or the next day, or ... honestly, we don't know quite when it will arrive, because SQM hasn't announced a release date just yet.

What we do know is that the lithium miner announced its last quarterly earnings (for Q4 2020) on March 3, and filed that report with the SEC on March 4, a few days later on the calendar than it has done so for its Q4 reports in years past. Based on its recent history of delivering its first-quarter reports between May 18 and May 23, this year's first numbers could arrive any time in the next week or two.    

Given all of that, investors selling SQM stock lower on Monday may be anticipating bad news.

Panic selling as man in tie follows a bear down a red arrow

Image source: Getty Images.

Now what

According to analysts who follow the stock, SQM is expected to earn $0.25 per share for the fiscal first quarter -- on par with what it earned last year. That would be a disappointment, though, inasmuch as analysts also think SQM grew its sales 8% year over year to $512.4 million.  

If earnings don't grow at least as fast as sales, that would indicate weakening gross margins in the lithium business ... and that would be bad news not just for Sociedad Quimica y Minera de Chile, but for anyone else involved in the lithium industry, as well.