Why should you invest in lithium stocks? In two words: electric vehicles (EVs). Lithium-ion batteries currently power nearly all electric vehicles sold globally, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.
According to Albemarle's (NYSE:ALB) latest investor presentation, global demand for lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE) is projected to grow more than eightfold from just about 0.3 million metric tons in 2020 to 2.5 million metric tons by 2030, driven almost entirely by demand for battery-grade lithium. LCE is the standard unit of measurement in the lithium industry, and Albemarle is the world's largest lithium mining company.
That's exponential growth, and it could mean massive opportunities for lithium companies. If you want to play the EV and lithium boom, here are the two best lithium stocks you could buy right now.
This lithium stock is taking a big leap
Albemarle has three reporting segments -- bromines, lithium, and catalysts. Right now, lithium is generating the highest revenue and profits for the company. Through the nine months ended Sept. 30, lithium brought in 39% of Albemarle's total revenue and nearly 53% of its adjusted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA).
Not surprisingly, Albemarle is laser-focused on expanding its lithium footprint. For example, it acquired the remaining stake in China-based lithium company Guangxi Tianyuan New Energy Materials in September. The acquisition includes a plant expected to start commercial production in 2022 with an annual capacity to convert 25,000 metric tons of LCE into battery-grade lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide. In October, Albemarle signed agreements with a couple of Chinese companies to build plants that can initially produce 50,000 metric tons of lithium hydroxide annually. Lithium hydroxide is the most preferred form of battery-grade material.
It is evident Albemarle is targeting the world's largest EV market right now, China. In fact, China is projected to deliver almost 40%-45% of Albemarle's total sales by 2026 compared to the current 20%, thanks almost entirely to lithium.
And, Albemarle just upgraded its 2021 revenue outlook to $3.3 billion-$3.4 billion as demand for lithium continues to rise. It may not be a lithium pure-play, but Albemarle has solid lithium assets, an incredibly strong foothold in the industry, and the financial standing to make it even bigger. Albemarle is also a Dividend Aristocrat, having increased its dividend every year for 27 consecutive years. I'd expect strong dividend growth as lithium bolsters Albemarle's growth.
A speculative yet compelling lithium stock
Lithium Americas (NYSE:LAC) is the boldest call I'm making right now, but if the company can deliver on its 2022 plans, it could be a winning lithium stock in the coming years. Here's the thing: Lithium Americas has not yet started commercial production, but the company's latest commentary and acquisition gives investors much to look forward to.
Lithium Americas owns a 49% stake in the Cauchari-Olaroz mine in Argentina, with China's Ganfeng Lithium owning the rest. The mine has been under development for nearly a couple of decades now, but a promising feasibility study encouraged management to increase annual production capacity at the mine to 40,000 tons of battery-grade lithium carbonate. Lithium Americas now says the mine is on track to start production by mid-2022, with operating costs expected to be as low as $3,600 per ton. The lithium carbonate price in China just hit a record high of 197,000 yuan, or more than $30,000 per ton as of this writing.
Lithium Americas also owns the Thacker Pass that's known to be the largest lithium resource in the U.S. After running into environmental and legal hurdles over several years, Lithium Americas expects to receive all permits and start construction at Thacker Pass in early 2022.
But here's the biggest deal: Lithium Americas is about to acquire Canada's Millennial Lithium in an all-stock deal worth $400 million. It includes the Pastos Grandes lithium project in Argentina that's expected to start production in 2024 and have an annual capacity of 24,000 tons of battery-grade lithium carbonate.
Lithium Americas calls this acquisition a "rare opportunity" to add a complementary lithium asset in close proximity to Cauchari-Olaroz. Moreover, an all-stock deal also means Lithium Americas can use existing cash -- it held roughly $482 million as of Sept. 30, 2021 -- to develop Thacker Pass.
Lithium Americas stock has already had a huge run-up this year, but if its 2022 plans pan out, its stock price could get another huge booster shot.