Rio Tinto shares slump as Serbia pulls plug on its $2.4 bln lithium project


MELBOURNE: Shares in Rio Tinto tumbled on Friday after Serbia revoked its lithium exploration licences over environmental considerations, hurting the Anglo-Australian miner’s ambition to grow to be Europe’s largest provider of the steel utilized in electrical autos.

The resolution by Serbia comes as it approaches a basic election in April, and as relations between Belgrade and Canberra have soured after Sunday’s deportation of tennis star Novak Djokovic from Australia over its COVID-19 entry guidelines.

It can also be a serious setback for Rio , which hoped the project would assist make it one of many world’s 10 largest producers of lithium, a key ingredient in batteries.

The mine is Rio’s solely lithium project and the corporate introduced only a month in the past a deal to purchase a second lithium asset for $825 million, as it appears to be like to construct its battery supplies enterprise.

Rio’s shares closed down 4.1% after falling as a lot as 5.1% within the Australian inventory market, its worst intra-day drop since August 2021. The benchmark index ended down 2.3%.

Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic informed a information convention in Belgrade that the choice got here after requests by numerous inexperienced teams to halt the $2.4 billion Jadar lithium project that had deliberate to start out manufacturing in 2027.

Thousands of individuals blocked roads final yr in a protest in opposition to the federal government’s backing of the project, demanding Rio Tinto depart the nation and forcing the native municipality to scrap a plan to allocate land for the power.

The resolution got here days after ties between Australia and Serbia hit all-time low as tennis star Djokovic was deported earlier than he may play within the Australian Open.

Djokovic spoke out in help of “clear air” in a December Instagram story put up captioning an image of the anti-mining protests, which was revealed by digital sports activities platform The Bridge.

Twitter customers have been fast to joke about Rio being deported from Serbia.

Rio mentioned it was “extraordinarily involved” by Serbia’s resolution and was reviewing the authorized foundation for it.

The Australian authorities mentioned it regrets Serbia’s resolution to revoke Rio’s licences.

“We word the robust financial advantages of the numerous funding by Rio Tinto in Serbia. Australian sources corporations have an excellent status world wide, notably on the subject of their experience,” the federal government mentioned in a press release to Reuters.

Rio has already spent US$450 million in pre-feasibility, feasibility and different research on Jadar to grasp the character of the deposit, the corporate mentioned in a project reality sheet in July.

“The stage of opposition to it has actually ratcheted up over the past six months,” Credit Suisse analyst Saul Kavonic mentioned of the Jadar mine.

“We’ve been highlighting for some time now there can be about $2 a share in danger if the federal government cancels it,” Kavonic mentioned.

This week, Rio pushed again the timeline for first manufacturing from Jadar by one yr to 2027, citing delays in approvals.


At full capability, the Jadar mine was anticipated to provide 58,000 tonnes of refined battery-grade lithium carbonate a yr, making it Europe’s largest lithium mine by output.

“There aren’t that many initiatives like Jadar, and the Western world isn’t going to have its personal provide chain if these are usually not developed,” Sam Brodovcky, Standard Chartered’s head of world metals and mining M&A.

“There shall be a fair larger scarcity of lithium and different essential and battery supplies.” Experts mentioned the world’s scarcity of lithium had been forecast to final for an additional three years not less than, however with the cancellation of the Jadar project, the shortfall would now final for a number of years.

“We’re on the level now the place lithium provide goes to set the tempo of electrical car rollout,” Kavonic mentioned.

Robust world demand for the steel far outstripping provide development has pushed lithium costs to a report in recent times.

Lithium futures, which began buying and selling on the CME in May final yr, have jumped 171% to a report $38/kg on Thursday, based on Refinitiv knowledge.

In China, money costs of lithium hydroxide monohydrate are buying and selling round a report 262,500 yuan ($41,387.47) per tonne, up by greater than 400% from a yr in the past.

Its state planner mentioned on Friday that restrictions on purchases of latest vitality autos together with EVs shall be progressively eliminated in a “vigorous” push to advertise “inexperienced consumption”, a plan more likely to additional improve demand for lithium. – Reuters

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