|Item 1.Identity of Directors, Senior Management and Advisers|
|Item 2.Offer Statistics and Expected Timetable|
|Item 3.Key Information|
|Item 4.Information on The Company|
|Item 4A. Unresolved Staff Comments|
|Item 5. Operating and Financial Review and Prospects|
|Item 6.Directors, Senior Management and Employees|
|Item 7.Major Shareholders and Related Party Transactions|
|Item 8.Financial Information|
|Item 9.The Offer and Listing|
|Item 10.Additional Information|
|Item 11.Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures About Market Risk|
|Item 12.Description of Securities Other Than Equity Securities|
|Item 12.A. Debt Securities|
|Item 12.B. Warrants and Rights|
|Item 12.C. Other Securities|
|Item 12.D. American Depositary Receipts|
|Item 13.Defaults, Dividend Arrearages and Delinquencies|
|Item 14.Material Modifications To The Rights of Security Holders and Use of Proceeds|
|Item 15.Controls and Procedures|
|Item 16A.Audit Committee Financial Expert|
|Item 16B.Code of Ethics|
|Item 16C.Principal Accountant Fees and Services|
|Item 16D.Exemptions From The Listing Standards for Audit Committees|
|Item 16E.Purchases of Equity Securities By The Issuer and Affiliated Purchasers|
|Item 16E.Item 16F.	Change in Registrant's Certifying Accountant|
|Item 16G.Corporate Governance|
|Item 16H.Mine Safety and Disclosure|
|Item 17.Financial Statements|
|Item 18.Financial Statements|
|Note 1 Identification and Activities of The Company and Subsidiaries|
|Note 2 Basis of Presentation for The Consolidated Financial Statements|
|Note 3 Significant Accounting Policies|
|Note 4	Changes in Accounting Estimates and Policies|
|Note 5 Financial Risk Management|
|Note 6 Background of Companies Included in Consolidation|
|Note 7 Board of Directors, Senior Management and Key Management Personnel|
|Note 8 Equity - Accounted Investees|
|Note 9 Joint Ventures|
|Note 10 Cash and Cash Equivalents|
|Note 11 Inventories|
|Note 12 Related Party Disclosures|
|Note 13 Financial Instruments|
|Note 14 Intangible Assets and Goodwill|
|Note 15 Property, Plant and Equipment|
|Note 16 Other Current and Non - Current Non - Financial Assets|
|Note 17 Employee Benefits|
|Note 18 Provisions and Other Non - Financial Liabilities|
|Note 19 Disclosures on Equity|
|Note 20 Earnings per Share|
|Note 21 Contingencies and Restrictions|
|Note 22 Lawsuits and Complaints|
|Note 23 Mineral Resource Exploration and Evaluation Expenditure|
|Note 24 Gains (Losses) From Operating Activities in The Statement of Income, Included According To Their Nature|
|Note 25 Reportable Segments|
|Note 26 Borrowing Costs|
|Note 27 Effect of Fluctuations in Foreign Currency Exchange Rates|
|Note 28 Disclosures on The Effects of Fluctuations in Foreign Currency Exchange Rates|
|Note 29 Income Tax and Deferred Taxes|
|Note 30 Assets Held for Sale and Detail of Assets Sold|
|Note 31 Events Occurred After The Reporting Date|
|Balance Sheet||Income Statement||Cash Flow|
SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION
Washington, D.C. 20549
|o||REGISTRATION STATEMENT PURSUANT TO SECTION 12(b) OR (g) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934|
|x||ANNUAL REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934|
For the fiscal year ended December 31, 2019
|o||TRANSITION REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934|
for the transition period from to
|o||SHELL COMPANY REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934|
Date of event requiring this shell company report
Commission file number 33-65728
SOCIEDAD QUIMICA Y MINERA DE CHILE S.A.
(Exact name of Registrant as specified in its charter)
CHEMICAL AND MINING COMPANY OF CHILE INC.
(Translation of Registrant’s name into English)
(Jurisdiction of incorporation)
El Trovador 4285, 6th floor, Santiago, Chile +56 2 2425 2000
(Address of principal executive offices)
Gerardo Illanes +56 2 2425-2485, firstname.lastname@example.org, El Trovador 4285, 6th floor, Santiago, Chile
(Name, Telephone, E-mail and/or Facsimile Number and Address of Company Contact Person)
Securities registered or to be registered, pursuant to Section 12(b) of the Act:
|Title of each class||Trading Symbol(s)||Name of each exchange on which registered|
|Series B common shares, in the form of American Depositary Shares each representing one Series B share||SQM||New York Stock Exchange|
Securities registered or to be registered pursuant to Section 12(g) of the Act:
Securities for which there is a reporting obligation pursuant to Section 15(d) of the Act:
Indicate the number of outstanding shares of each of the issuer’s classes of capital stock or common stock as of the close of business covered by the annual report.
Series A Common Shares 142,819,552
Series B Common Shares 120,376,972
Indicate by check mark if the registrant is a well-known seasoned issuer, as defined in Rule 405 of the Securities Act. Yes x No o
If this report is an annual or transition report, indicate by check mark if the registrant is not required to file reports pursuant to Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. Yes o No x
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant (1) has filed all reports required to be filed by Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to file such reports), and (2) has been subject to such filing requirements for the past 90 days. Yes x No o
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has submitted, electronically every Interactive Data File required to be submitted pursuant to Rule 405 of Regulation S-T during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to submit such files). Yes x No o
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer, a non-accelerated filer, or an emerging growth company. See the definitions of “large accelerated filer,” “accelerated filer,” and “emerging growth company” in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act.
Large accelerated filer x Accelerated filer o Non-accelerated filer o Emerging growth company o
If an emerging growth company that prepares its financial statements in accordance with U.S. GAAP, indicate by check mark if the registrant has elected not to use the extended transition period for complying with any new or revised financial accounting standards † provided pursuant to Section 13(a) of the Exchange Act. o
† The term “new or revised financial accounting standard” refers to any update issued by the Financial Accounting Standards Board to its Accounting Standards Codification after April 5, 2012.
Indicate by check mark which basis of accounting the registrant has used to prepare the financial statements included in this filing:
|U.S. GAAP o||International Financial Reporting Standards as issued |
by the International Accounting Standards Board x
If “Other” has been checked in response to the previous question indicate by check mark which financial statement item the registrant has elected to follow. Item 17 o Item 18 o
If this is an annual report, indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a shell company (as defined in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act). Yes o No x
TABLE OF CONTENTS
|PRESENTATION OF INFORMATION||iv|
|CAUTIONARY STATEMENT REGARDING FORWARD-LOOKING STATEMENTS||vi|
|ITEM 1.||IDENTITY OF DIRECTORS, SENIOR MANAGEMENT AND ADVISERS||1|
|ITEM 2.||OFFER STATISTICS AND EXPECTED TIMETABLE||1|
|ITEM 3.||KEY INFORMATION||1|
|ITEM 4.||INFORMATION ON THE COMPANY||21|
|ITEM 4A.||UNRESOLVED STAFF COMMENTS||67|
|ITEM 5.||OPERATING AND FINANCIAL REVIEW AND PROSPECTS||67|
|ITEM 6.||DIRECTORS, SENIOR MANAGEMENT AND EMPLOYEES||85|
|ITEM 7.||MAJOR SHAREHOLDERS AND RELATED PARTY TRANSACTIONS||99|
|ITEM 8.||FINANCIAL INFORMATION||103|
|ITEM 9.||THE OFFER AND LISTING||109|
|ITEM 10.||ADDITIONAL INFORMATION||110|
|ITEM 11.||QUANTITATIVE AND QUALITATIVE DISCLOSURES ABOUT MARKET RISK||124|
|ITEM 12.||DESCRIPTION OF SECURITIES OTHER THAN EQUITY SECURITIES||125|
|ITEM 13.||DEFAULTS, DIVIDEND ARREARAGES AND DELINQUENCIES||127|
|ITEM 14.||MATERIAL MODIFICATIONS TO THE RIGHTS OF SECURITY HOLDERS AND USE OF PROCEEDS||127|
|ITEM 15.||CONTROLS AND PROCEDURES||127|
|ITEM 16A.||AUDIT COMMITTEE FINANCIAL EXPERT||128|
|ITEM 16B.||CODE OF ETHICS||128|
|ITEM 16C.||PRINCIPAL ACCOUNTANT FEES AND SERVICES||128|
|ITEM 16D.||EXEMPTIONS FROM THE LISTING STANDARDS FOR AUDIT COMMITTEES||129|
|ITEM 16E.||PURCHASES OF EQUITY SECURITIES BY THE ISSUER AND AFFILIATED PURCHASERS||129|
|ITEM 16G.||CORPORATE GOVERNANCE||129|
|ITEM 16H.||MINE SAFETY AND DISCLOSURE||129|
|ITEM 17.||FINANCIAL STATEMENTS||130|
|ITEM 18.||FINANCIAL STATEMENTS||130|
|CONSOLIDATED FINANCIAL STATEMENTS||133|
PRESENTATION OF INFORMATION
In this Annual Report on Form 20-F, except as otherwise provided or unless the context requires otherwise, all references to “we,” “us,” “Company” or “SQM” are to Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile S.A., an open stock corporation (sociedad anónima abierta) organized under the laws of the Republic of Chile, and its consolidated subsidiaries.
All references to “US$,” “U.S. dollars,” “USD” and “dollars” are to United States dollars, references to “pesos,” “CLP” and “Ch$” are to Chilean pesos, references to ThUS$ are to thousands of United States dollars, references to ThCh$ are to thousands of Chilean pesos and references to “UF” are to Unidades de Fomento. The UF is an inflation-indexed, peso-denominated unit that is linked to, and adjusted daily to reflect changes in, the previous month’s Chilean consumer price index. As of December 31, 2019, UF 1.00 was equivalent to US$37.81 and Ch$28,311.77 according to the Chilean Central Bank (Banco Central de Chile). As of March 16, 2020, UF 1.00 was equivalent to US$34.11 and Ch$28,542.28.
The Republic of Chile is governed by a democratic government, organized in fifteen regions plus the Metropolitan Region (surrounding and including Santiago, the capital of Chile). Our production operations are concentrated in northern Chile, specifically in the Tarapacá Region and in the Antofagasta Region.
We use the metric system of weights and measures in calculating our operating and other data. The United States equivalent units of the most common metric units used by us are as shown below:
1 kilometer equals approximately 0.6214 miles
1 meter equals approximately 3.2808 feet
1 centimeter equals approximately 0.3937 inches
1 hectare equals approximately 2.4710 acres
1 metric ton (“MT” or “metric ton”) equals 1,000 kilograms or approximately 2,205 pounds.
We are not aware of any independent, authoritative source of information regarding sizes, growth rates or market shares for most of our markets. Accordingly, the market size, market growth rate and market share estimates contained herein have been developed by us using internal and external sources and reflect our best current estimates. These estimates have not been confirmed by independent sources.
Percentages and certain amounts contained herein have been rounded for ease of presentation. Any discrepancies in any figure between totals and the sums of the amounts presented are due to rounding.
“assay values” Chemical result or mineral component amount contained by the sample.
“average global metallurgical recoveries” Percentage that measures the metallurgical treatment effectiveness based on the quantitative relationship between the initial product contained in the mine-extracted material and the final product produced in the plant.
“average mining exploitation factor” Index or ratio that measures the mineral exploitation effectiveness, based on the quantitative relationship between (in-situ mineral minus exploitation losses) / in-situ mineral.
“CAGR” Compound annual growth rate, the year over year growth rate of an investment over a specified period of time.
“cash and cash equivalents” The International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) defines cash and cash equivalents as short-term, highly liquid investments that are readily convertible to known amounts of cash and which are subject to an insignificant risk of changes in value.
“Controller Group” * A person or company or group of persons or companies that according to Chilean law, have executed a joint performance agreement, that have a direct or indirect share in a company’s ownership and have the power to influence the decisions of the company’s management.
“Corfo” Production Development Corporation (Corporación de Fomento de la Producción), formed in 1939, a Chilean national organization in charge of promoting Chile’s manufacturing productivity and commercial development.
“CMF” The Chilean Financial Market Commission. (La Comisión para el Mercado Financiero), formerly known as the Superintendence of Securities and Insurance (Superintendencia de Valores y Seguros or SVS).
“cut-off grade” The minimal assay value or chemical amount of some mineral component above which exploitation is economical.
“dilution” Loss of mineral grade because of contamination with barren material (or waste) incorporated in some exploited ore mineral.
“exploitation losses” Amounts of ore mineral that have not been extracted in accordance with exploitation designs.
“fertigation” The process by which plant nutrients are applied to the ground using an irrigation system.
“geostatistical analysis” Statistical tools applied to mining planning, geology and geochemical data that allow estimation of averages, grades and quantities of mineral resources and reserves.
“heap leaching” A process whereby minerals are leached from a heap, or pad, of ROM (run of mine) ore by leaching solutions percolating down through the heap and collected from a sloping, impermeable liner below the pad.
“horizontal layering” Rock mass (stratiform seam) with generally uniform thickness that conform to the sedimentary fields (mineralized and horizontal rock in these cases).
“hypothetical resources” Mineral resources that have limited geochemical reconnaissance, based mainly on geological data and sample assay values spaced between 500–1000 meters.
“Indicated Mineral Resource” See “Resources—Indicated Mineral Resource.”
“Inferred Mineral Resource” See “Resources—Inferred Mineral Resource.”
“industrial crops” Refers to crops that require processing after harvest in order to be ready for consumption or sale. Tobacco, tea and seed crops are examples of industrial crops.
“Kriging Method” A technique used to estimate ore reserves, in which the spatial distribution of continuous geophysical variables is estimated using control points where values are known.
“LIBOR” London Inter Bank Offered Rate.
“limited reconnaissance” Low or limited level of geological knowledge.
“Measured Mineral Resource” See “Resources—Measured Mineral Resource.”
“metallurgical treatment” A set of chemical and physical processes applied to the caliche ore and to the salar brines to extract their useful minerals (or metals).
“ore depth” Depth of the mineral that may be economically exploited.
“ore type” Main mineral having economic value contained in the caliche ore (sodium nitrate or iodine).
“ore” A mineral or rock from which a substance having economic value may be extracted.
“Probable Mineral Reserve” See “Reserves—Probable Mineral Reserve.”
“Proven Mineral Reserve” See “Reserves—Proven Mineral Reserve.”
“Reserves—Probable Mineral Reserve” ** The economically mineable part of an Indicated Mineral Resource and, in some circumstances, Measured Mineral Resource. The calculation of the reserves includes diluting of materials and allowances for losses which may occur when the material is mined. Appropriate assessments, which may include feasibility studies, have been carried out and include consideration of and modification by realistically assumed mining, metallurgical, economic, marketing, legal, environmental, social and governmental factors. These assessments demonstrate at the time of reporting that extraction is reasonably justified. A Probable Mineral Reserve has a lower level of confidence than a Proven Mineral Reserve.
“Reserves—Proven Mineral Reserve” ** The economically mineable part of a Measured Mineral Resource. The calculation of the reserves includes diluting of materials and allowances for losses which may occur when the material is mined. Appropriate assessments, which may include feasibility studies, have been carried out and include consideration of and modification by realistically assumed mining, metallurgical, economic, marketing, legal, environmental, social and governmental factors. These assessments demonstrate at the time of reporting that extraction is reasonably justified.
“Resources—Indicated Mineral Resource” ** The part of a Mineral Resource for which tonnage, densities, shape, physical characteristics, grade and mineral content can be estimated with a reasonable level of confidence. The calculation is based on detailed exploration, sampling and testing information gathered through appropriate sampling techniques from locations such as outcrops, trenches and exploratory drill holes. The locations are too widely or inappropriately spaced to confirm geological continuity and/or grade continuity but are spaced closely enough for continuity to be assumed. An Indicated Mineral Resource has a lower level of confidence than a Measured Mineral Resource, but has a higher level of confidence than an Inferred Mineral Resource.
A deposit may be classified as an Indicated Mineral Resource when the nature, quality, amount and distribution of data are such as to allow the Competent Person, as that term is defined under Chilean Law No. 20,235, determining the Mineral Resource to confidently interpret the geological framework and to assume continuity of mineralization. Confidence in the estimate is sufficient to allow the appropriate application of technical and economic parameters and to enable an evaluation of economic viability.
“Resources—Inferred Mineral Resource” ** The part of a Mineral Resource for which tonnage, grade and mineral content can be estimated with a low level of confidence, by inferring them on the basis of geological evidence and assumed but not verified geological and/or grade continuity. The estimate is based on information gathered through appropriate sampling techniques from locations such as outcrops, trenches, pits, workings and drill holes, and this information is of limited or uncertain quality and/or reliability. An Inferred Mineral Resource has a lower level of confidence than an Indicated Mineral Resource.
“Resources—Measured Mineral Resource” ** The part of a Mineral Resource for which tonnage, densities, shape, physical characteristics, grade and mineral content can be estimated with a high level of confidence. The estimate is based on detailed exploration, sampling and testing information gathered through appropriate sampling techniques from locations such as outcrops, trenches and exploratory drill holes. The locations are spaced closely enough to confirm geological and/or grade continuity.
A deposit may be classified as a Measured Mineral Resource when the nature, quality, amount and distribution of data are such as to leave no reasonable doubt, in the opinion of the Competent Person, as that term is defined under Chilean Law No. 20,235, determining the Mineral Resource, that the tonnage and grade of the deposit can be estimated within close limits and that any variation from the estimate would not significantly affect potential economic viability. This category requires a high level of confidence in, and understanding of, the geology and controls of the mineral deposit. Confidence in the estimate is sufficient to allow the appropriate application of technical and economic parameters and to enable an evaluation of economic viability.
“Resources—Mineral Resource” ** A concentration or occurrence of natural, solid, inorganic or fossilized organic material in or on the Earth’s crust in such form or quantity and of such grade or quality that it has reasonable prospects for economically viable extraction. The location, quantity, grade, geological characteristics and continuity of a mineral resource are known, estimated or interpreted from specific geological, metallurgical and technological evidence.
“solar salts” A mixture of 60% sodium nitrate and 40% potassium nitrate used in the storage of thermo-energy.
“vat leaching” A process whereby minerals are extracted from crushed ore by placing the ore in large vats containing leaching solutions.
“waste” Rock or mineral which is not economical for metallurgical treatment.
“Weighted average age” The sum of the product of the age of each fixed asset at a given facility and its current gross book value as of December 31, 2019 divided by the total gross book value of the Company’s fixed assets at such facility as of December 31, 2019.
|*||The definition of a Controller Group that has been provided is the one that applied to the Company. Chilean law provides for a broader definition of a “controller group”, as such term is defined in Title XV of Chilean Law No. 18,045.|
|**||The definitions we use for resources and reserves are based on those provided by the “Instituto de Ingenieros de Minas de Chile” (Chilean Institute of Mining Engineers).|
CAUTIONARY STATEMENT REGARDING FORWARD-LOOKING STATEMENTS
This Form 20-F contains statements that are or may constitute forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. These statements are not based on historical facts and reflect our expectations for future events and results. Words such as “believe,” “expect,” “predict,” “anticipate,” “intend,” “estimate,” “should,” “may,” “likely,” “could” or similar expressions may identify forward-looking information. These statements appear throughout this Form 20-F and include statements regarding the intent, belief or current expectations of the Company and its management, including but not limited to any statements concerning:
|·||trends affecting the prices and volumes of the products we sell;|
|·||level of reserves, quality of the ore and brines, and production levels and yields;|
|·||our capital investment program and development of new products;|
|·||the future impact of competition; and|
Such forward-looking statements are not guarantees of future performance and involve risks and uncertainties. Actual results may differ materially from those described in such forward-looking statements included in this Form 20-F, including, without limitation, the information under Item 4. Information on the Company, Item Number 5. Operating and Financial Review and Prospects and Item 11. Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures About Market Risk. Factors that could cause actual results to differ materially include, but are not limited to:
|·||volatility of global prices for our products;|
|·||political, economic and demographic developments in certain emerging market countries, where we conduct a large portion of our business;|
|·||the impact of the global novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and any associated economic downturn on our future operating and financial performance;|
|·||changes in production capacities;|
|·||the nature and extent of future competition in our principal markets;|
|·||our ability to implement our capital expenditures program, including our ability to obtain financing when required;|
|·||changes in raw material and energy prices;|
|·||currency and interest rate fluctuations;|
|·||risks relating to the estimation of our reserves;|
|·||changes in quality standards or technology applications;|
|·||adverse legal, regulatory or labor disputes or proceedings;|
|·||changes in governmental regulations;|
|·||a potential change of control of our company; and|
|·||additional risk factors discussed below under Item 3. Key Information—Risk Factors.|
|ITEM 1.||IDENTITY OF DIRECTORS, SENIOR MANAGEMENT AND ADVISERS|
|ITEM 2.||OFFER STATISTICS AND EXPECTED TIMETABLE|
|ITEM 3.||KEY INFORMATION|
3.A. Selected Financial Data
The following table presents selected financial data as of and for the years ended December 31, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, and 2015. The selected financial data should be read in conjunction with the Consolidated Financial Statements and notes thereto, “Item 5. Operating and Financial Review and Prospects” and other financial information included herein.
|For the years ended December 31,|
|(in millions of US$) (1)||2019||2018||2017||2016||2015|
|Statement of income:|
|Cost of sales (2)||(1,383.6||)||(1,485.6||)||(1,394.8||)||(1,328.3||)||(1,185.6||)|
|Other income (3)||18.2||32.0||17.8||15.2||15.3|
|Other expenses by function (4) (5) (6) (7) (8)||(26.0||)||(36.9||)||(53.6||)||(82.5||)||(106.4||)|
|Other gains (losses)||0.4||6.4||0.5||0.7||3.8|
|Net impairment gains on reversal (losses) on financial assets||1.1||3.0||(8.0||)||(7.2||)||(2.9||)|
|Equity income of associates and joint ventures accounted for using the equity method||9.8||6.4||14.5||13.0||10.3|
|Foreign currency exchange differences||(2.2||)||(16.6||)||(1.3||)||0.5||(12.4||)|
|Income before income tax expense (4)||390.6||621.1||594.6||414.9||308.3|
|Income tax expense||(110.0||)||(179.0||)||(166.2||)||(133.0||)||(83.8||)|
|Profit for the year (4)||280.6||442.1||428.4||281.9||224.5|
|Profit attributable to:|
|Controlling interests (4)||278.1||439.8||427.7||278.3||220.4|
|Profit for the year (4)||280.6||442.1||428.4||281.9||224.5|
|Basic earnings per share (9)||1.06||1.67||1.63||1.06||0.84|
|Basic earnings per ADS (10)||1.06||1.67||1.63||1.06||0.84|
|Dividends per share (11) (12)||1.22||2.09||1.84||1.44||0.47|
|Dividends per ADS (11) (12) (13)||1.22||2.09||1.84||1.44||0.47|
|Weighted average (9) (10) shares outstanding (000s)||263,197||263,197||263,197||263,197||263,197|
|(1)||Except shares outstanding, dividend and net earnings per share and net earnings per American Depositary Share (“ADS”).|
|(2)||Cost of sales includes the payment obligations under lease contract with Corfo, which includes quarterly lease payments based on product sales from leased mining properties and since 2018, annual contributions to research and development, to local communities, to the Antofagasta Regional Government and to the municipalities of San Pedro de Atacama, María Elena and Antofagasta. The expenses related to Corfo were US$143.9 million in 2019, US$182.9 million in 2018, US$46.3 million in 2017, US$41.9 million in 2016 and US$23.2 million in 2015.|
|(3)||Other income for 2018 includes pre-tax income of US$14.5 million related to the sale of our interest in the Mínera Exar S.A. lithium project in Argentina.|
|(4)||Other expenses for 2014 includes provisions of US$7 million corresponding to payments made in 2015 to the Chilean Internal Revenue Service (Servicio de Impuestos Internos or “SII”) for expenses that may not have qualified as tax expenses under the Chilean tax code. However, since such payments were made after March 3, 2015, the date on which the Company filed its statutory consolidated financial statements filed with the CMF, such provisions were included in net income for the period ended December 31, 2015 for purposes of the Company’s statutory consolidated financial statements. [For more information, see “Item 3D. Risk Factors—Risks Relating to our Business—We could be subject to numerous risks as a result of legal proceedings and deferred prosecution agreements with U.S. and Chilean governmental authorities in relation to certain payments made by SQM between the tax years 2009 and 2015.”, and “Item 8.A.7. Legal Proceedings.”]|
|(5)||Other expenses for 2015 include a charge of US$57.7 million for impairment and severance indemnities related to the restructuring of our Pedro de Valdivia operations.|
|(6)||Other expenses for 2016 include a charge of US$32.8 million for impairment related to the closing of the train between Coya Sur and Tocopilla. Other expenses for 2016 also include charges of US$30.5 million related to the Company’s agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice and the administrative cease and desist order issued by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in connection the inquiries arising out of the alleged violations of the books and records and internal controls provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. For more information, see “Item 3D. Risk Factors—Risks Relating to our Business—We could be subject to numerous risks as a result of legal proceedings and deferred prosecution agreements with U.S. and Chilean governmental authorities in relation to certain payments made by SQM between the tax years 2009 and 2015.” and “Item 8.A.7 Legal Proceedings.”|
|(7)||Other expenses for 2017 include a charge of US$20.4 million relating to payment by our subsidiary SQM Salar S.A. to Corfo after entering into the Corfo Arbitration Agreement (as defined in “Item 3.D. Risk Factors - Risks Relating to our Business”) to terminate the arbitration proceedings and amend the existing Lease Agreement and Project Agreement (each as defined in “Item 3.D. Risks Factors - Risks Relating to our Business”). For more information, see “Item 8.A.7 Legal Proceedings.”|
|(8)||As a result of the adoption of IFRS 9, a reclassification was made to present gains on reversal (losses) separately from other expenses as function.|
|(9)||The Company has not conducted any transaction that would give rise to a potential dilutive effect on its earnings per share in any of the indicated years. The total number of outstanding shares as of each period end is the same as the weighted average shares outstanding.|
|(10)||The calculation of earnings per ADSs and dividends per ADS for the years indicated is based on the ADS ratio of 1:1.|
|(11)||Dividends are paid from net income as determined in accordance with CMF regulations. See “Item 8.A. Dividend Policy.” For dividends in Ch$, see “Item 8.A. Dividend Policy—Dividends.”|
|(12)||Dividend amount paid per calendar year to shareholders of the Company. See “Item 8.A. Dividend Policy.”|
|(13)||Dividend amounts per share paid in Chilean pesos were Ch$825.53 in 2019, Ch$1,310.05 in 2018, Ch$916.32 in 2017, Ch$993.41 in 2016 and Ch$316.06 in 2015.|
|As of December 31,|
|(in millions of US$)||2019||2018||2017||2016||2015|
|Balance sheet data:|
|Equity attributable to controlling interests||2,086.3||2,085.5||2,187.8||2,246.1||2,339.8|
|Equity attributable to non-controlling interest||48.2||52.3||59.6||61.2||60.6|
3.B. Capitalization and Indebtedness
3.C. Reasons for the Offer and Use of Proceeds
3.D. Risk Factors
Our operations are subject to certain risk factors that may affect SQM’s business, financial condition, cash flows, or results of operations. In addition to other information contained in this Annual Report on Form 20-F, you should carefully consider the risks described below. These risks are not the only ones we face. Additional risks not currently known to us or that are known but that we currently believe are not significant may also affect our business operations. Our business, financial condition, cash flows or results of operations could be materially affected by any of these risks.
Risks Relating to our Business
We could be subject to numerous risks as a result of legal proceedings and deferred prosecution agreements with U.S. and Chilean governmental authorities in relation to certain payments made by SQM between the tax years 2009 and 2015.
In 2015, the Chilean Internal Revenue Service (Servicio de Impuestos Internos or “SII”) and the Chilean Public Prosecutor brought a number of criminal and administrative proceedings following investigations related to the payment of invoices by SQM and its subsidiaries SQM Salar S.A. (“SQM Salar”) and SQM Industrial S.A., for services that may not have been properly supported or that may not have been necessary to generate corporate income, against (i) Patricio Contesse G., the Company’s former CEO whose employment was terminated in May 2015, (ii) Mr. Contesse and the Company’s then-current CEO, Patricio de Solminihac, as well as the then-current CFO (now CEO), Ricardo Ramos, in their capacities as the Company’s tax representatives and (iii) five then-current and former members of the Company’s Board of Directors. All the claims against Messrs. de Solminihac and Ramos were subsequently dismissed. The lawsuits against Mr. Contesse continue and the five Board members are appealing the fines of approximately US$36,000 imposed on each of them.
On October 14, 2015, two class action complaints then pending against the Company, our former CEO and then-current CEO and CFO, alleging violations of the U.S. securities laws in connection with the subject matter of the investigations described above, were consolidated into a single action in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. On November 13, 2015, our former CEO and then-current CEO and CFO were voluntarily dismissed from the case without prejudice. On January 15, 2016, the lead plaintiff filed a consolidated class action complaint exclusively against the Company. On January 10, 2018, the lead plaintiff filed a motion to certify a class consisting of all persons who purchased SQM American Depositary Shares (“ADS”) between June 30, 2010 and March 18, 2015, and such motion remains pending before the court. For more information on the consolidated class action, see “Item 8.A.7 Legal Proceedings.”
During 2015, the ad-hoc committee of the Board of Directors (the “ad-hoc Committee”) established in February 2015 to conduct an internal investigation into the matters that were the subject of the SII and Chilean Public Prosecutor investigation also conducted an investigation into whether the Company faced possible liability under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”). The ad-hoc Committee engaged its own U.S. separate counsel, which presented a report to the Board of Directors on December 15, 2015.
Following the presentation by the ad-hoc Committee of its findings to the Board of Directors, the Company voluntarily shared the findings of the ad-hoc Committee investigation with authorities in Chile and the U.S. (including the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”)).
On January 13, 2017, the Company and the DOJ reached agreement on the terms of a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (“DPA”) that would resolve the DOJ’s inquiry, based on alleged violations of the books and records and internal controls provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Among other terms, the DPA called for the Company to pay a monetary penalty of US$15,487,500 and engage a compliance monitor for a term of two (2) years. Upon successful completion of the three (3) year term of the DPA, all charges against the Company were dismissed. Also, on January 13, 2017, the SEC agreed to resolve its inquiry through an administrative cease and desist order, arising out of the alleged violations of the same accounting provisions of the FCPA. Among other terms, the SEC order called for the Company to pay an additional monetary penalty of US$15 million.
In the event that the DOJ believes that the terms of the DPA are not complied with, it is possible that such regulatory authority may reinstate the suspended proceedings against us and may bring further action against us, including in the form of additional inquiries or legal proceedings. Responding to our regulators’ inquiries and any future civil, criminal or regulatory inquiries or proceedings diverts our management’s attention from day-to-day operations. Additionally, expenses that may arise from responding to such inquiries or proceedings, our review of responsive materials, any related litigation or other associated activities may continue to be significant. Current and former employees, officers and directors may seek indemnification, advancement or reimbursement of expenses from us, including attorneys’ fees, with respect to the current inquiry or future proceedings related to this matter. The occurrence of any of the foregoing or adverse determination in litigation or other proceedings or similar actions could materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition, cash flows, results of operations and the prices of our securities.
Our mineral exploitation rights under the Lease Agreement and the Project Agreement relating to the Salar de Atacama concession, upon which our business is substantially dependent, will expire in December 2030. If we are not able to extend or renew these rights beyond 2030, it could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Our subsidiary SQM Salar S.A. (“SQM Salar”), as leaseholder, holds exclusive and temporary rights to exploit mineral resources in the Salar de Atacama in northern Chile. These rights are owned by Corfo, a Chilean government entity, and leased to SQM Salar pursuant to (i) a 1993 lease agreement over mining exploitation concessions between SQM Salar and Corfo (the “Lease Agreement”), and (ii) the Salar de Atacama project agreement between Corfo and SQM Salar (the “Project Agreement”). The Lease Agreement provides for SQM Salar to (i) make quarterly lease payments to Corfo based on product sales from leased mining properties and annual contributions to research and development, to local communities, to the Antofagasta Regional Government and to the municipalities of San Pedro de Atacama, María Elena and Antofagasta, (ii) maintain Corfo’s rights over the mining exploitation concessions and (iii) make annual payments to the Chilean government for such concession rights. The Lease Agreement expires on December 31, 2030.
Our business is substantially dependent on the exploitation rights under the Lease Agreement and the Project Agreement, since all of our products originating from the Salar de Atacama are derived from our extraction operations under the Lease Agreement. For the year ended December 31, 2019, revenues related to products originating from the Salar de Atacama represented 37%, of our consolidated revenues, consisting of revenues from our potassium business line and our lithium and derivatives business line for the period. As of December 31, 2019, only 11 years remain on the term of the Lease Agreement and we had extracted approximately 25% of the total permitted accumulated extraction and sales limit of lithium under the lithium extraction and sales limits.
Although we expect to begin the process of discussing the extension or renewal of the mineral exploitation rights in the Salar de Atacama under the Lease Agreement and Project Agreement with Corfo well in advance of the December 2030 expiration date, we cannot assure you that we will successfully reach an agreement with Corfo to extend or renew our mineral exploitation rights beyond 2030. Any negotiation with Corfo for an extension or renewal could involve renegotiation of any or all of the terms and conditions of the Lease Agreement and Project Agreement, including, among other things, the lithium and potassium extraction and sales limits, the lease payment rates and calculations, or other payments to Corfo.
In the event that we are not able to extend or renew the Lease Agreement beyond the current expiration date of the Lease Agreement in 2030, we would be unable to continue extraction of lithium and potassium under the Lease Agreement, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Volatility of world lithium, fertilizer and other chemical prices and changes in production capacities could affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
The prices of our products are determined principally by world prices, which, in some cases, have been subject to substantial volatility in recent years. World lithium, fertilizer and other chemical prices constantly vary depending upon the relationship between supply and demand at any given time. Supply and demand dynamics for our products are tied to a certain extent to global economic cycles, and have been impacted by circumstances related to such cycles. Furthermore, the supply of lithium, certain fertilizers or other chemical products, including certain products that we provide, varies principally depending on the production of the major producers, (including us) and their respective business strategies.
We expect that prices for the products we manufacture will continue to be influenced, among other things, by worldwide supply and demand and the business strategies of major producers. Some of the major producers (including us) have increased or decreased production and have the ability to increase or decrease production. As a result, the prices of our products may be subject to substantial volatility. High volatility or a substantial decline in the prices or sales volumes of one or more of our products could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Our sales to emerging markets and expansion strategy expose us to risks related to economic conditions and trends in those countries.
We sell our products in approximately 110 countries around the world. In 2019, approximately 39% of our sales were made in emerging market countries: 8% in Latin America (excluding Chile); 6% in Africa and the Middle East (excluding Israel); 10% in Chile and 15% in Asia and Oceania (excluding Australia, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and Singapore). In Note 25.5 to our consolidated financial statements, we reported revenues from Chile, Latin America and the Caribbean and Asia and others of US$1.1 billion. We expect to expand our sales in these and other emerging markets in the future. In addition, we may carry out acquisitions or joint ventures in jurisdictions in which we currently do not operate, relating to any of our businesses or to new businesses in which we believe we may have sustainable competitive advantages. The results of our operations and our prospects in other countries in which we establish operations will depend, in part, on the general level of political stability and economic activity and policies in those countries. Future developments in the political systems or economies of these countries or the implementation of future governmental policies in those countries, including the imposition of withholding and other taxes, restrictions on the payment of dividends or repatriation of capital, the imposition of import duties or other restrictions, the imposition of new environmental regulations or price controls or changes in relevant laws or regulations, could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations in those countries.
Our inventory levels may vary for economic or operational reasons.
In general, economic conditions or operational factors can affect our inventory levels. Higher inventories carry a financial risk due to increased need for cash to fund working capital and could imply an increased risk of loss of product. At the same time, lower levels of inventory can hinder the distribution network and process, thus impacting sales volumes. There can be no assurance that inventory levels will remain stable. These factors could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Our measures to minimize our exposure to bad debt may not be effective and a significant increase in our accounts receivable coupled with the financial condition of customers may result in losses that could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Potentially negative effects of global economic conditions on the financial condition of our customers may include the extension of the payment terms of our accounts receivable and may increase our exposure to bad debt. While we have implemented certain safeguards, such as using credit insurance, letters of credit and prepayment for a portion of sales, to minimize the risk, we cannot assure you that such safeguards will be effective and a significant increase in our accounts receivable coupled with the financial condition of customers may result in losses that could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
New production of iodine, potassium nitrate or lithium from current or new competitors in the markets in which we operate could adversely affect prices.
In recent years, new and existing competitors have increased the supply of iodine, potassium nitrate and lithium, which has affected prices for those products. Further production increases could negatively impact prices. There is limited information on the status of new iodine, potassium nitrate or lithium production capacity expansion projects being developed by current and potential competitors and, as such, we cannot make accurate projections regarding the capacities of possible new entrants into the market and the dates on which they could become operational. If these potential projects are completed in the short term, they could adversely affect market prices and our market share, which, in turn, could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
We have a capital expenditure program that is subject to significant risks and uncertainties.
Our business is capital intensive. Specifically, the exploration and exploitation of reserves, mining and processing costs, the maintenance of machinery and equipment and compliance with applicable laws and regulations require substantial capital expenditures. We must continue to invest capital to maintain or to increase our exploitation levels and the amount of finished products we produce.
Mining industry development projects typically require a number of years and significant expenditures before production can begin. Such projects could experience unexpected problems and delays during development, construction and start-up.
Our decision to develop a project typically is based on the results of feasibility studies, which estimate the anticipated economic returns of a project. The actual project profitability or economic feasibility may differ from such estimates as a result of any of the following factors, among others: changes in tonnage, grades and metallurgical characteristics of ore or other raw materials to be mined and processed; estimated future prices of the relevant products; changes in customer demand; higher construction and infrastructure costs; the quality of the data on which engineering assumptions were made; higher production costs; adverse geotechnical conditions; availability of adequate labor force; availability and cost of water and energy; availability and cost of transportation; fluctuations in inflation and currency exchange rates; availability and terms of financing; and potential delays relating to social and community issues.
In addition, we require environmental permits for our new projects. Obtaining permits in certain cases may cause significant delays in the execution and implementation of new projects and, consequently, may require us to reassess the related risks and economic incentives. We cannot assure you that we will be able to maintain our production levels or generate sufficient cash flow, or that we will have access to sufficient investments, loans or other financing alternatives, to continue our activities at or above present levels, or that we will be able to implement our projects or receive the necessary permits required for them in time. Any or all of these factors may have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
High raw materials and energy prices could increase our production costs and cost of sales, and energy may become unavailable at any price.
We rely on certain raw materials and various energy sources (diesel, electricity, liquefied natural gas, fuel oil and others) to manufacture our products. Purchases of energy and raw materials we do not produce constitute an important part of our cost of sales, approximately 16% in 2019. In addition, we may not be able to obtain energy at any price if supplies are curtailed or otherwise become unavailable. To the extent we are unable to pass on increases in the prices of energy and raw materials to our customers or we are unable to obtain energy, our business, financial condition and results of operations could be materially adversely affected.
Our reserve estimates are internally prepared and not subject to review by external geologists or an external auditing firm and could be subject to significant changes, which may have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Our caliche ore mining reserve estimates and our Salar de Atacama brine mining reserve estimates are prepared by our own geologists and hydrogeologists and are not subject to review by external geologists or an external auditing firm. Estimation methods involve numerous uncertainties as to the quantity and quality of the reserves, and reserve estimates could change upwards or downwards. A downward change in the quantity and/or quality of our reserves could affect future volumes and costs of production and therefore have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Quality standards in markets in which we sell our products could become stricter over time.
In the markets in which we do business, customers may impose quality standards on our products and/or governments may enact stricter regulations for the distribution and/or use of our products. As a result, if we cannot meet such new standards or regulations, we may not be able to sell our products. In addition, our cost of production may increase in order to meet any such newly imposed or enacted standards or regulations. Failure to sell our products in one or more markets or to important customers could materially adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Chemical and physical properties of our products could adversely affect their commercialization.
Since our products are derived from natural resources, they contain inorganic impurities that may not meet certain customer or government standards. As a result, we may not be able to sell our products if we cannot meet such requirements. In addition, our cost of production may increase in order to meet such standards. Failure to meet such standards could materially adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations if we are unable to sell our products in one or more markets or to important customers in such markets.
Our business is subject to many operating and other risks for which we may not be fully covered under our insurance policies.
Our facilities and business operations in Chile and abroad are insured against losses, damage or other risks by insurance policies that are standard for the industry and that would reasonably be expected to be sufficient by prudent and experienced persons engaged in businesses similar to ours.
We may be subject to certain events that may not be covered under our insurance policies, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations. Additionally, as a result of major earthquakes and unexpected rains and flooding in Chile, as well as other natural disasters worldwide, conditions in the insurance market have changed and may continue to change in the future, and as a result, we may face higher premiums and reduced coverage, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Changes in technology or other developments could result in preferences for substitute products.
Our products, particularly iodine, lithium and their derivatives, are preferred raw materials for certain industrial applications, such as rechargeable batteries and liquid-crystal displays (LCDs). Changes in technology, the development of substitute products or other developments could adversely affect demand for these and other products which we produce. In addition, other alternatives to our products may become more economically attractive as global commodity prices shift. Any of these events could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
We are exposed to labor strikes and labor liabilities that could impact our production levels and costs.
Over 91% of our employees are employed in Chile, of which approximately 66% were represented by 21 labor unions as of December 31, 2019. As in past years, we renegotiated four collective bargaining agreements with four unions by December 31, 2019, one year before the expiration of the agreements other than the collective bargaining agreement with Soquimich Comercial S.A., which was completed one month before its expiration date. The new collective bargaining agreements were renegotiated for a three- year period from the date they were signed. We are exposed to labor strikes and illegal work stoppages that could impact our production levels. If a strike or illegal work stoppage occurs and continues for a sustained period of time, we could be faced with increased costs and even disruption in our product flow that could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Chilean Law No. 20,123, known as the Subcontracting Law, provides that when a serious workplace accident occurs, the company in charge of the workplace must halt work at the site where the accident took place until authorities from either the National Geology and Mining Service (Servicio Nacional de Geología y Minería or “Sernageomin”), the Labor Board (Dirección del Trabajo or “Labor Board”), or the National Health Service (Servicio Nacional de Salud), inspect the site and prescribe the measures such company must take to minimize the risk of similar accidents taking place in the future. Work may not be resumed until the applicable company has taken the prescribed measures, and the period of time before work may be resumed may last for a number of hours, days, or longer. The effects of this law could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
On September 8, 2016, Chilean Law No. 20,940 was published and modified the Labor Code by introducing, among other things, changes to the formation of trade unions, the election of inter-company union delegates, the presence of women on union boards, anti-union practices and related sanctions, and collective negotiations. Due to these changes to the labor regulations, we may face an increase in our expenses that may have a significant adverse effect on our business, financial condition, and results of operations.
Lawsuits and arbitrations could adversely impact us.
We are party to a range of lawsuits and arbitrations involving different matters as described in Note 22.1 to our Consolidated Financial Statements and “Item 8.A. Legal Proceedings.” Although we intend to defend our positions vigorously, our defense of these actions may not be successful and responding to such lawsuits and arbitrations diverts our management’s attention from day-to-day operations. Adverse judgments or settlements in these lawsuits may have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations. In addition, our strategy of being a world leader includes entering into commercial and production alliances, joint ventures and acquisitions to improve our global competitive position. As these operations increase in complexity and are carried out in different jurisdictions, we may be subject to legal proceedings that, if settled against us, could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
We have operations in multiple jurisdictions with differing regulatory, tax and other regimes.
We operate in multiple jurisdictions with complex regulatory environments that are subject to different interpretations by companies and respective governmental authorities. These jurisdictions may have different tax codes, environmental regulations, labor codes and legal framework, which adds complexity to our compliance with these regulations. Any failure to comply with such regulations could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Environmental laws and regulations could expose us to higher costs, liabilities, claims and failure to meet current and future production targets.
Our operations in Chile are subject to national and local regulations relating to environmental protection. In accordance with such regulations, we are required to conduct environmental impact studies or statements before we conduct any new projects or activities or significant modifications of existing projects that could impact the environment or the health of people in the surrounding areas. We are also required to obtain an environmental license for certain projects and activities. The Chilean Environmental Evaluation Service (Servicio de Evaluación Ambiente) evaluates environmental impact studies submitted for its approval. The public, government agencies or local authorities may review and challenge projects that may adversely affect the environment, either before these projects are executed or once they are operating, if they fail to comply with applicable regulations. In order to ensure compliance with environmental regulations, Chilean authorities may impose fines up to approximately US$9 million per infraction, revoke environmental permits or temporarily or permanently close facilities, among other enforcement measures.
Chilean environmental regulations have become increasingly stringent in recent years, both with respect to the approval of new projects and in connection with the implementation and development of projects already approved, and we believe that this trend is likely to continue. Given public interest in environmental enforcement matters, these regulations or their application may also be subject to political considerations that are beyond our control.
We regularly monitor the impact of our operations on the environment and on the health of people in the surrounding areas and have, from time to time, made modifications to our facilities to minimize any adverse impact. Future developments in the creation or implementation of environmental requirements or their interpretation could result in substantially increased capital, operation or compliance costs or otherwise adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
The success of our current investments at the Salar de Atacama and Nueva Victoria is dependent on the behavior of the ecosystem variables being monitored over time. If the behavior of these variables in future years does not meet environmental requirements, our operation may be subject to important restrictions by the authorities on the maximum allowable amounts of brine and water extraction. For example, on December 13, 2017, the First Environmental Court of Antofagasta ordered the temporary and partial closure of certain water extraction wells located in the Salar de Llamara. These wells allow us to extract approximately 124 liters per second of water, almost 15% of the water used in our operations in the First Region of Chile for iodine and nitrate production. In October 2018, the First Environmental Court of Antofagasta accepted our claim, and dismissed the restrictions without prejudice. It is possible that third parties could seek to reinstate these restrictions in the future. In addition, on December 26, 2019, the First Environmental Court of Antofagasta ruled that the environmental compliance plan presented by SQM Salar S.A. with respect to the Salar de Atacama and approved by Chilean Environmental Authority (Superintendencia del Medio Ambienel) or SMA, in January 2019 did not comply with certain proposed measures of the completeness and efficiency requirements of the Chilean environmental legislation. In January 2020, the SMA announced that it would appeal the environmental court’s ruling. We believe that the environmental compliance plan, which was evaluated by the relevant regulatory authorities, safeguards the protection of the environment and is evaluating all courses of action available under applicable law with respect to this ruling.
Our future development depends on our ability to sustain future production levels, which requires additional investments and the submission of the corresponding environmental impact studies or statements. If we fail to obtain approval or required environmental licenses, our ability to maintain production at specified levels will be seriously impaired, thus having a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
In addition, our worldwide operations are subject to international and other local environmental regulations. Since environmental laws and regulations in the different jurisdictions in which we operate may change, we cannot guarantee that future environmental laws, or changes to existing environmental laws, will not materially adversely impact our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Our water supply could be affected by geological changes or climate change.
Our access to water may be impacted by changes in geology, climate change or other natural factors, such as wells drying up or reductions in the amount of water available in the wells or rivers from which we obtain water, that we cannot control. The use of seawater for future or current operations could increase our operating costs Any such change may have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Any loss of key personnel may materially and adversely affect our business.
Our success depends in large part on the skills, experience and efforts of our senior management team and other key personnel. The loss of the services of key members of our senior management or employees with critical skills could have a negative effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations. If we are not able to attract or retain highly skilled, talented and qualified senior managers or other key personnel, our ability to fully implement our business objectives may be materially and adversely affected.
A significant percentage of our shares are held by two principal shareholder groups who may have an interests that are different from that of other shareholders and of each other. Any change in such principal shareholder groups may result in a change of control of the Company or of its Board of Directors or its management, which may have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations
As of December 31, 2019, two principal shareholder groups held in the aggregate 57.86% of our total outstanding shares, including a majority of our Series A common shares, and have the power to elect six of our eight directors. The interests of the two principal shareholder groups may in some cases differ from those of other shareholders and of each other.
One principal shareholder group is Sociedad de Inversiones Pampa Calichera S.A. and its related companies, Inversiones Global Mining Chile Limitada and Potasios de Chile S.A. (together, the “Pampa Group”), which currently owns 32% of the total outstanding shares of SQM. As reported to the CMF by Inversiones TLC SpA, a subsidiary of Tianqi Lithium Corporation (“Tianqi”), on December 5, 2018, Inversiones TLC SpA currently owns 25.86% of the total shares of SQM.
Until November 30, 2018, the CMF considered the Pampa Group the controller of SQM. On this date, the CMF determined that in accordance with the distribution of the shares of SQM, “the Pampa Group does not exert decisive power over the management of the Company, and is therefore not considered a controlling shareholder”. The CMF could change its decision in the future if circumstances change.
The divestiture by the Pampa Group or Tianqi, or potential changes in the circumstances that have led to the determination of the CMF related to the controller status of the shareholders of the Company, or a combination thereof, may have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Tianqi is a significant shareholder and a competitor of the Company, which could result in risks to free competition
Tianqi is a competitor in the lithium business, and as a result of the number of SQM shares that it owns, it has the right to choose up to three Board members. Under Chilean law, we are restricted in our ability to decline to provide information about us, which may include competitively sensitive information, to a director of our company. On August 27, 2018, Tianqi and the Chilean antitrust regulator, the Chilean National Economic Prosecutor’s Office (Fiscalía Nacional Económica), or FNE, entered into an extrajudicial agreement, under which certain restrictive measures were implemented in order to (i) maintain the competitive conditions of the lithium market, (ii) mitigate the risks described in the agreement and (iii) limit Tianqi’s access to certain information of the Company and its subsidiaries, which is defined as “sensitive information” under the agreement.
During the approval process of the extrajudicial agreement before the FNE, we expressed our concerns regarding the measures contained in the extrajudicial agreement since, in the Company’s opinion, the measures (i) could not effectively resolve the risks that Tianqi and the FNE have sought to mitigate, (ii) are not sufficient to avoid access to our “sensitive information” that, in the possession of a competitor, could harm us and the proper functioning of the market and (iii) could contradict the Chilean Corporations Act.
The presence of a shareholder which is at the same time a competitor of ours and the right of this competitor to choose Board members could generate risks to free competition and/or increase the risks of an investigation of free competition against us, whether in Chile or in other countries, all of which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Our information technology systems may be vulnerable to disruption which could place our systems at risk from data loss, operational failure, or compromise of confidential information.
We rely on various computer and information technology systems, and on third party developers and contractors, in connection with our operations, including two networks that link our principal subsidiaries to our operating and administrative facilities in Chile and other parts of the world and ERP software systems, which are used mainly for accounting, monitoring of supplies and inventories, billing, quality control, research activities, and production process and maintenance control. In addition, we use cloud technologies, which allows us to support new business processes and respond quickly and at low cost to changing conditions in our business and of the markets. Our information technology systems are susceptible to disruption, damage or failure from a variety of sources, including errors by employees or contractors, computer viruses, cyber-attacks, misappropriation of data by outside parties, and various other threats. We have taken certain measures to identify and mitigate these risks, including conducting a cybersecurity review and initiating process automation and digitalization projects at various sites with the object of reducing operational risk and improving security and operational efficiency, which also includes modernization of existing information technology infrastructure and communications systems. However, we cannot guarantee that due to the increasing sophistication of cyber-attacks our systems will not be compromised and because we do not maintain specialized cybersecurity insurance, our insurance coverage for protection against cybersecurity risk may not be sufficient. Cybersecurity breaches could result in losses of assets or production, operational delays, equipment failure, inaccurate recordkeeping, or disclosure of confidential information, any of which could result in business interruption, reputational damage, lost revenue, litigation, penalties or additional expenses and could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Recent international trade tensions could have a negative effect on our financial performance.
Economic conditions in China, an important market for the Company, are sensitive to global economic conditions. The global financial markets have experienced significant disruptions in the past, including the recent international trade disputes and tariff actions announced by the United States, China and certain other countries. The U.S. government has imposed significant tariffs on Chinese goods, and Chinese government has, in turn, imposed tariffs on certain goods manufactured in the United States. There is no assurance that the list of goods impacted by additional tariffs will not be expanded or the tariffs will not be increased materially. We are unable to predict how China or U.S. government policy, in particular, the outbreak of a trade war between China and the United States and additional tariffs on bilateral imports, may continue to impact global economic conditions. If the list of goods is further expanded or the tariff is further increased, global economic conditions of both countries could be impacted, and growth in demand for lithium or other commodities could decrease, which may have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Outbreaks of communicable infections or diseases, or other public health pandemics, such as the recent outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) currently being experienced around the world, have impacted and may further impact the markets in which we, our customers and our suppliers operate or market and sell products and could have a material adverse effect on our operations business, financial condition and results of operations.
Disease outbreaks and other public health conditions, such as the global outbreak of COVID-19 currently being experienced, in markets in which we, our customers and our suppliers operate, could have a significant negative impact on our revenues, profitability and business. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, there has been a substantial curtailment and disruption of business activities around the world. These curtailments and disruptions include: manufacturing and other work stoppages, factory and other business closings, slowdowns or delays; restrictions and limitations placed on workers and factories, including quarantines and other limitations on the ability to travel and return to work; shortages and delays in production or shipment of products or raw materials; and border closures. In response to the spread of the COVID-19, the Chilean government has closed its borders for entry by non-resident foreigners for a specified period of time, prohibited the docking of cruise ships at Chilean ports, imposed a quarantine on certain neighborhoods of the capital of Santiago and other cities and imposed a nationwide curfew. These measures have not impacted imports or exports to or from Chile. However, we have seen some impacts related to the shipment of products in and out of various other countries and regions, which could further negatively impact our ability to ship products to customers and receive supplies from suppliers. We have already seen decreased demand in our businesses, especially our lithium business. Furthermore, the COVID-19 outbreak could disrupt the supply chain for materials we need to implement the planned expansions of our production capacity.
As a precaution, our management has implemented several measures to help reduce the speed at which COVID-19 spreads, including measures to mitigate the spread in the workplace, significant reductions in employee travel and a mandatory quarantine for people who have arrived from high risk destinations, in consultation with governmental and international health organization guidelines, and will continue to implement measures consistent with the evolving COVID-19 situation. While these measures have been implemented to reduce the risk of the spread of the virus in our facilities, there can be no assurance that these measures will reduce or limit the impact of COVID-19 on our operations, business, financial condition or results of operations. Our operations could be stopped as a result of, among other reasons, regulatory restrictions or a significant outbreak of the virus among our staff, which could prevent employees from reporting to shifts.
While the COVID-19 outbreak is still developing globally, international financial markets have begun to reflect the uncertainty associated with the slowdown of the global economy and the potential impact if businesses, workers, customers and others are prevented or restricted from conducting business activities due to quarantines, business closures or other restrictions imposed by businesses or governmental authorities in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. An economic downturn could affect demand for the products of our customers by their end-users and, in turn, demand from our customers for our products.
Risks Relating to Financial Markets
Currency fluctuations may have a negative effect on our financial performance.
We transact a significant portion of our business in U.S. dollars, and the U.S. dollar is the currency of the primary economic environment in which we operate. In addition, the U.S. dollar is our functional currency for financial statement reporting purposes. A significant portion of our costs, however, is related to the Chilean peso. Therefore, an increase or decrease in the exchange rate between the Chilean peso and the U.S. dollar would affect our costs of production. The Chilean peso has been subject to large devaluations and revaluations in the past and may be subject to significant fluctuations in the future. Due to the riots and political unrest that affected Chile in October and November 2019, the Chilean peso exchange rate reached a historic level of Ch$828.25 per U.S. dollar on November 29, 2019. As of December 31, 2019, the Chilean peso exchange rate was Ch$748.74 per U.S. dollar, while as of December 31, 2018 the Chilean peso exchange rate was Ch$694.77 per U.S. dollar. The Chilean peso therefore depreciated against the U.S. dollar by 7.8% in 2019. As of March 16, 2020, the Observed Exchange Rate was Ch$836.66 per U.S. dollar.
As an international company operating in several other countries, we also transact business and have assets and liabilities in other non-U.S. dollar currencies, such as, among others, the Euro, the South African rand, the Mexican peso, the Chinese yuan, the Thai baht and the Brazilian real. As a result, fluctuations in the exchange rates of such foreign currencies to the U.S. dollar may have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
We may be subject to risks associated with the discontinuation, reform or replacement of benchmark indices.
Interest rate, foreign exchange rate and other types of indices which are deemed to be “benchmarks” are the subject of increased regulatory scrutiny and may be discontinued, reformed or replaced. For example, in 2017, the U.K. Financial Conduct Authority announced that it will no longer persuade or compel banks to submit rates for the calculation of the London interbank offered rate (“LIBOR”) benchmark after 2021. This announcement indicates that the continuation of LIBOR on the current basis cannot and will not be guaranteed after 2021, and it appears likely that LIBOR will be discontinued or modified by 2021. This and other reforms may cause benchmarks to be different than they have been in the past, or to disappear entirely, or have other consequences which cannot be fully anticipated which introduces a number of risks for our business. These risks include (i) legal risks arising from potential changes required to document new and existing transactions; (ii) financial risks arising from any changes in the valuation of financial instruments linked to benchmark rates; (iii) pricing risks arising from how changes to benchmark indices could impact pricing mechanisms on some instruments; (iv) operational risks arising from the potential requirement to adapt IT systems, trade reporting infrastructure and operational processes; and (v) conduct risks arising from the potential impact of communication with customers and engagement during the transition period. The replacement benchmarks, and the timing of and mechanisms for implementation have not yet been confirmed by central banks. Although as of December 31, 2019 we had approximately US$70 million short- and long-term debt that use a LIBOR benchmark, it is not currently possible to determine whether, or to what extent, any such changes would affect us. However, the discontinuation or reformation of existing benchmark rates or the implementation of alternative benchmark rates may have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Risks Relating to Chile
As we are a company based in Chile, we are exposed to political risks and civil unrest in Chile.
Our business, financial condition and results of operations could be affected by changes in policies of the Chilean government, other political developments in or affecting Chile, legal changes in the standards or administrative practices of Chilean authorities or the interpretation of such standards and practices, over which we have no control. The Chilean government has modified, and has the ability to modify, monetary, fiscal, tax, social and other policies in order to influence the Chilean economy or social conditions. We have no control over government policies and cannot predict how those policies or government intervention will affect the Chilean economy or social conditions, or, directly and indirectly, our business, financial condition and results of operations. Changes in policies involving exploitation of natural resources, taxation and other matters related to our industry may adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
We are exposed to economic and political volatility and civil unrest in Chile. Changes in social, political, regulatory and economic conditions or in laws and policies governing foreign trade, manufacturing, development and investment in Chile, as well as crises and political uncertainties in Chile, could adversely affect economic growth in Chile. In October and November 2019, Chile experienced riots and widespread mass demonstrations in Santiago and other major cities in Chile, triggered by an increase in public transportation fares in the city of Santiago, which involved violence and significant property damage and caused commercial disruptions throughout the country. As a result, on October 18, 2019 the Chilean government declared a 15-day period state of emergency and imposed a nighttime curfew in the greater Santiago region and other cities. The state of emergency has since been lifted and the Chilean government has introduced several social reforms, including (i) an immediate 20% increase in government-subsidized pensions; (ii) new insurance programs to cover catastrophic illnesses and medication; (iii) a guaranteed minimum monthly income for wage earners of Ch$350,000 (approximately US$460.95), with the difference between such guaranteed minimum monthly income and the minimum monthly wage (Ch$301,000) to be borne by the Chilean government; (iv) the reversal of a previously announced 9.2% price increase in energy tariffs; and (v) a 40% income tax bracket for individuals earning over Ch$15.0 million (approximately US$19,755.04) a month, increased from 35%. In addition, President Piñera announced a pay cut for members of the Chilean Congress and the highest-paid civil servants and replaced eight ministers of his government. On November 15, 2019, representatives of Chile’s leading political parties agreed to hold a referendum in April 2020, allowing Chileans to vote on whether to replace the Chilean Constitution. This referendum was delayed from April 2020 to October 2020 in an effort to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Demonstrations continue in Chile with respect to a number of social and economic concerns, including the cost of healthcare and education, pensions and income inequality. We cannot give any assurance that these reforms and proposals will resolve the protests or whether the protests will continue or worsen. Although our operations have not been materially affected to date, the continuation of mass protests or civil unrest in Chile and government responses to them may have an adverse effect on general economic conditions in Chile, our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Changes to the Chilean Constitution could impact a wide range of rights, including mining rights, water rights and property rights generally, and could affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
In response to the riots and mass demonstrations that occurred during October and November 2019, the Chilean government has approved calling a national referendum in April 2020 to decide whether to create a new Chilean Constitution, and if so, whether members of the Chilean Congress along with citizens elected for that task (“Elected Citizens”) or a special constituent assembly comprised entirely of Elected Citizens would draft the new Chilean Constitution. This referendum was delayed from April 2020 to October 2020 in an effort to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. The timetable contemplates that if it is decided to create a new Chilean Constitution, all Elected Citizens will be elected in October 2020 and that the draft Chilean Constitution will be delivered by the drafters in September or December 2021 (depending on whether an extension is requested) for approval by the Chilean citizens in November 2021 or March 2022 (depending on whether an extension is requested). It is expected that the final draft of the new Chilean Constitution will be submitted to a public referendum for approval. Since then, the referendum timetable has been delayed from April 2020 to October 2020, in an effort to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. The existing Chilean Constitution has been in place since 1980 and any new Chilean Constitution could change the political situation of Chile, potentially changing a wide range of rights, including mining rights, water rights and property rights generally, which could affect the Chilean economy and the business outlook for the country generally and our business, financial condition and results of operations in particular.
Changes in regulations regarding, or any revocation or suspension of our concessions could negatively affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Any changes to regulations to which we are subject or adverse changes to our concession rights, or a revocation or suspension of our concessions, could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Changes in mining or port concessions could affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
We conduct our mining operations, including brine extraction, under exploitation and exploration concessions granted in accordance with provisions of the Chilean Constitution and related laws and statutes. Our exploitation concessions essentially grant a perpetual right (with the exception of the rights granted to SQM Salar with respect to the Salar de Atacama concessions under the Lease Agreement described above, which expires in 2030) to conduct mining operations in the areas covered by the concessions, provided that we pay annual concession fees. Our exploration concessions permit us to explore for mineral resources on the land covered thereby for a specified period of time and to subsequently request a corresponding exploitation concession. Any changes to the Chilean Constitution with respect to the exploitation and exploration of natural resources and concessions granted as a result of the proposed Constitutional referendum could materially adversely affect our existing exploitation and exploration concessions or our ability to obtain future concessions and could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
We also operate port facilities at Tocopilla, Chile, for the shipment of products and the delivery of raw materials pursuant to maritime concessions, which have been granted under applicable Chilean laws and are normally renewable on application, provided that such facilities are used as authorized and annual concession fees are paid.
Any significant adverse changes to any of these concessions could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Changes in water rights laws and other regulations could affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
We hold water use rights that are key to our operations. These rights were obtained from the Chilean Water Authority (Dirección General de Aguas) for supply of water from rivers and wells near our production facilities, which we believe are sufficient to meet current operating requirements. However, the Chilean Water Rights Code (Código de Aguas or the “Water Code”) is subject to changes, which could have a material adverse impact on our business, financial condition and results of operations. For example, a series of bills are currently being discussed by the Chilean National Congress that seek to desalinate seawater for use in mining production processes, amend the Mining Code for water use in mining operations, amend the Chilean Constitution on water and introduce changes to the regulatory framework governing the terms of inspection and sanction of water. As a result, the amount of water that we can actually use under our existing rights may be reduced or the cost of such use could increase. In addition, any changes to the Chilean Constitution with respect to water rights as a result of the proposed Constitutional referendum could restrict our access to water required for our production operations and materially adversely affect our existing operations or our ability to expand our operations in the future. These and potential future changes to the Water Code, the Chilean Constitution or other relevant regulations could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
The Chilean National Congress is considering a draft bill that declares lithium mining to be in the national interest, which if passed in its current form, could enable the expropriation of our lithium assets.
The Chilean National Congress is currently processing a bill, bulletin 10,638-08, which “Declares the exploitation and commercialization of lithium and Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile S.A. to be of national interest.” The purpose of this bill is to enable the potential expropriation of our assets, or our lithium operations in general. The bill is subject to further discussion in the Chilean National Congress, which includes several possible changes to its current wording. We cannot guarantee that the bill will not eventually be approved by the Chilean National Congress, nor that its final wording will not refer to us or our lithium operations. If the bill is approved as currently drafted, it could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
The Chilean government could levy additional taxes on mining companies operating in Chile.
In Chile, there is a royalty tax that is applied to mining activities developed in the country. The Chilean National Congress is currently processing a bill, bulletin 12,093-08, which proposes to institute a royalty fee of 3% on the value of extracted minerals. The bill is subject to further discussion in the Chilean National Congress, which includes several possible changes to its current wording. We cannot guarantee that the bill will not eventually be approved by the Chilean National Congress. If the bill is approved as currently drafted, it could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Ratification of the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169 concerning indigenous and tribal peoples might affect our development plans.
Chile, a member of the International Labor Organization (“ILO”), has ratified the ILO’s Convention 169 (the “Indigenous Rights Convention”) concerning indigenous and tribal people. The Indigenous Rights Convention established several rights for indigenous people and communities. Among other rights, the Indigenous Rights Convention states that (i) indigenous groups should be notified and consulted prior to the development of any project on land deemed indigenous, although veto rights are not mentioned, and (ii) indigenous groups have, to the extent possible, a stake in benefits resulting from the exploitation of natural resources in indigenous land. The extent of these benefits has not been defined by the Chilean government. The Chilean government has addressed item (i) above through Supreme Decree No. 66, issued by the Social Development Ministry. This decree requires government entities to consult indigenous groups that may be directly affected by the adoption of legislative or administrative measures, and it also defines criteria for the projects or activities that must be reviewed through the environmental evaluation system that also require such consultation. To the extent that the new rights outlined in the Indigenous Rights Convention become laws or regulations in Chile, judicial interpretations of the convention of those laws or regulations could affect the development of our investment projects in lands that have been defined as indigenous, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations. The Chilean Supreme Court has consistently held that consultation processes must be carried out in the manner prescribed by Indigenous Rights Convention.
The consultation process may cause delays in obtaining regulatory approvals, including environmental permits, as well as public opposition by local and/or international political, environmental and ethnic groups, particularly in environmentally sensitive areas or in areas inhabited by indigenous populations. Furthermore, the omission of the consultation process when required by law may result in the revocation or annulment of regulatory approvals, including environmental permits already granted.
Consequently, operating projects may be affected since the omission of the consultation process, when required by law, could lead to public law annulment actions pursuing the annulment of the environmental permits granted.
However, this risk frequently arises during the environmental assessment phase when the environmental permits are to be obtained. In such scenario, affected parties may take several legal actions to declare null or void the environmental permits that omitted the consultation process, and in some cases, courts have overturned environmental approvals in which consultation was not made as prescribed in the Indigenous Rights Convention.
If the Indigenous Rights Convention affects our development plans, it could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
We are subject to Chilean and international anti-corruption, anti-bribery, anti-money laundering and international trade laws. Failure to comply with these laws could adversely impact our business, financial condition and results of operations.
We are required to be in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations in Chile and internationally with respect to anti-corruption, anti-money laundering, receipt of stolen property, sanctions and other regulatory matters, including the FCPA. Although we and our subsidiaries maintain policies and processes intended to comply with these laws, we cannot ensure that these compliance policies and processes will prevent intentional, reckless or negligent acts committed by our officers or employees.
If we or our subsidiaries fail to comply with any applicable anti-corruption, anti-bribery, receipt of stolen property or anti-money laundering laws, we and our officers and employees may be subject to criminal, administrative or civil penalties and other remedial measures, which could have material adverse effects on our and our subsidiaries’ business, financial condition and results of operations. Any investigation of potential violations of anti-corruption, anti-bribery or anti-money laundering laws by governmental authorities in Chile or other jurisdictions could result in an inability to prepare our consolidated financial statements in a timely manner. This could adversely impact our reputation, ability to access the financial markets and ability to obtain contracts, assignments, permits and other government authorizations necessary to participate in our and our subsidiaries’ industry, which, in turn, could have adverse effects on our and our subsidiaries’ business, financial condition and results of operations.
Chile has different corporate disclosure and accounting standards than those you may be familiar with in the United States.
Accounting, financial reporting and securities disclosure requirements in Chile differ in certain significant respects from those required in the United States. Accordingly, the information about us available to you will not be the same as the information available to holders of securities issued by a U.S. company. In addition, although Chilean law imposes restrictions on insider trading and price manipulation, applicable Chilean laws are different from those in the United States, and the Chilean securities markets are not as highly regulated and supervised as the U.S. securities markets.
Chile is located in a seismically active region.
Chile is prone to earthquakes because it is located along major fault lines. The most recent major earthquakes in Chile, which occurred in January 2019 and April 2017 in the Coquimbo and Valparaiso regions, had a magnitude of 6.7 and 6.9, respectively, on the Richter scale. There were also earthquakes in 2016, 2015, 2014 and 2010 that caused substantial damage to some areas of the country. Chile has also experienced volcanic activity. A major earthquake or a volcanic eruption could have significant negative consequences for our operations and for the general infrastructure, such as roads, rail, and access to goods, in Chile. Although we maintain industry standard insurance policies that include earthquake coverage, we cannot assure you that a future seismic or volcanic event will not have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Risks Relating to our Shares and to our ADSs
The price of our ADSs and the U.S. dollar value of any dividends will be affected by fluctuations in the U.S. dollar/Chilean peso exchange rate.
Chilean trading in the shares underlying our ADSs is conducted in Chilean pesos. The depositary for our ADSs will receive cash distributions that we make with respect to the shares in Chilean pesos. The depositary will convert such Chilean pesos to U.S. dollars at the then prevailing exchange rate to make dividend and other distribution payments in respect of ADSs. If the value of the Chilean peso falls relative to the U.S. dollar, the value of the ADSs and any distributions to be received from the depositary will decrease.
Developments in other emerging markets could materially affect the value of our ADSs and our shares.
The Chilean financial and securities markets are, to varying degrees, influenced by economic and market conditions in other emerging market countries or regions of the world. Although economic conditions are different in each country or region, investor reaction to developments in one country or region can have significant effects on the securities of issuers in other countries and regions, including Chile and Latin America. Events in other parts of the world may have a material effect on Chilean financial and securities markets and on the value of our ADSs and our shares.
The volatility and low liquidity of the Chilean securities markets could affect the ability of our shareholders to sell our ADSs.
The Chilean securities markets are substantially smaller, less liquid and more volatile than the major securities markets in the United States. The volatility and low liquidity of the Chilean markets could increase the price volatility of our ADSs and may impair the ability of a holder to sell our ADSs or to sell the shares underlying our ADSs into the Chilean market in the amount and at the price and time the holder wishes to do so.
Our share or ADS price may react negatively to future acquisitions and investments.
As world leaders in our core businesses, part of our strategy is to look for opportunities that will allow us to consolidate and strengthen our competitive position in jurisdictions in which we currently do not operate. Pursuant to this strategy, we may carry out acquisitions or joint ventures relating to any of our businesses or to new businesses in which we believe we may have sustainable competitive advantages. Depending on our capital structure at the time of such acquisitions or joint ventures, we may need to raise significant debt and/or equity which will affect our financial condition and future cash flows. Any change in our financial condition could affect our results of operations, negatively impacting our share or ADS price.
ADS holders may be unable to enforce rights under U.S. securities laws.
Because we are a Chilean company subject to Chilean law, the rights of our shareholders may differ from the rights of shareholders in companies incorporated in the United States, and ADS holders may not be able to enforce or may have difficulty enforcing rights currently in effect under U.S. federal or state securities laws.
Our company is an open stock corporation incorporated under the laws of the Republic of Chile. Most of our directors and officers reside outside the United States, principally in Chile. All or a substantial portion of the assets of these persons are located outside the United States. As a result, if any of our shareholders, including holders of our ADSs, were to bring a lawsuit against our officers or directors in the United States, it may be difficult for them to effect service of legal process within the United States upon these persons. Likewise, it may be difficult for them to enforce judgments obtained in United States courts based upon the civil liability provisions of the federal securities laws in the United States against them in the United States.
In addition, there is no treaty between the United States and Chile providing for the reciprocal enforcement of foreign judgments. However, Chilean courts have enforced judgments rendered in the United States, provided that the Chilean court finds that the United States court respected basic principles of due process and public policy. Nevertheless, there is doubt as to whether an action could be brought successfully in Chile in the first instance on the basis of liability based solely upon the civil liability provisions of the United States federal securities laws.
As preemptive rights may be unavailable for our ADS holders, they have the risk of their holdings being diluted if we issue new stock.
Chilean laws require companies to offer their shareholders preemptive rights whenever issuing new shares of capital stock so shareholders can maintain their existing ownership percentage in a company. If we increase our capital by issuing new shares, a holder may subscribe for up to the number of shares that would prevent dilution of the holder’s ownership interest.
If we issue preemptive rights, United States holders of ADSs would not be able to exercise their rights unless a registration statement under the Securities Act were effective with respect to such rights and the shares issuable upon exercise of such rights or an exemption from registration were available. We cannot assure holders of ADSs that we will file a registration statement or that an exemption from registration will be available. We may, in our absolute discretion, decide not to prepare and file such a registration statement. If our holders were unable to exercise their preemptive rights because we did not file a registration statement, the ADS depositary would attempt to sell their rights and distribute the net proceeds from the sale to them, after deducting the depositary’s fees and expenses. If the depositary could not sell the rights, they would expire and have no further value and holders of ADSs would not realize any value from them. In either case, ADS holders’ equity interests in us would be diluted in proportion to the increase in our capital stock.
If we were classified as a Passive Foreign Investment Company by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, there could be adverse consequences for U.S. investors.
We believe that we were not classified as a Passive Foreign Investment Company (“PFIC”) for 2019. Characterization as a PFIC could result in adverse U.S. tax consequences to a U.S. investor in our shares or ADSs. For example, if we (or any of our subsidiaries) are a PFIC, our U.S. investors may become subject to increased tax liabilities under U.S. tax laws and regulations and will become subject to burdensome reporting requirements. The determination of whether or not we (or any of our subsidiaries or portfolio companies) are a PFIC is made on an annual basis and will depend on the composition of our (or their) income and assets from time to time. See “Item 10.E. Taxation—Material United States Tax Considerations.”
Changes in Chilean tax regulations could have adverse consequences for U.S. investors.
Currently cash dividends paid by us to foreign shareholders are subject to a 35% Chilean withholding tax. When the Company pays a corporate income tax on the income from which the dividend is paid, known as a “First Category Tax”, a credit for all or a portion of the amount of the First Category Tax, depending on the jurisdiction of the foreign shareholder, effectively reduces the rate of Withholding Tax. Foreign shareholders resident in a jurisdiction with a tax treaty in force with Chile will be credited with 100% of the Chilean corporate tax paid by us against the final taxes at the shareholder level. Foreign shareholders resident in a non-treaty jurisdiction will be subject to a higher effective tax rate on dividends because only a portion of the Chilean corporate tax paid by us will be credited against the final taxes at the shareholder level. There is a temporary rule in effect since January 1, 2017, which has been extended to December 31, 2026, that provides that treaty jurisdictions for this purpose will include jurisdictions with tax treaties signed with Chile prior to January 1, 2020, even if such treaties are not in force. This is currently the status of the treaty signed between the United States and Chile. Changes in Chilean tax regulations could have adverse consequences for U.S. investors. See “Item 3.D. Risk Factors—Risks Relating to Chile—The Chilean Government Could Levy Additional Taxes on Corporations Operating in Chile” and “Item 10.E. Taxation—Material Chilean Tax Considerations.”
|ITEM 4.||INFORMATION ON THE COMPANY|
4.A. History and Development of the Company
Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile S.A. is an open stock corporation organized under the laws of the Republic of Chile. We were constituted by public deed issued on June 17, 1968 by the Notary Public of Santiago, Mr. Sergio Rodríguez Garcés. Our existence was approved by Decree No. 1,164 of June 22, 1968 of the Ministry of Finance, and we were registered on June 29, 1968 in the Registry of Commerce of Santiago, on page 4,537 No. 1,992. Our headquarters is located at El Trovador 4285, Fl. 6, Las Condes, Santiago, Chile. Our telephone number is +56 2 2425-2000. We are legally referred to by our full name Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile S.A. as well as commercially by the abbreviated name “SQM.”
Commercial exploitation of the caliche ore deposits in northern Chile began in the 1830s, when sodium nitrate was extracted from the ore for use in the manufacturing of explosives and fertilizers. By the end of the nineteenth century, nitrate production had become the leading industry in Chile, and the country was the world’s leading supplier of nitrates. The accelerated commercial development of synthetic nitrates in the 1920s and the global economic depression in the 1930s caused a serious contraction of the Chilean nitrate business, which did not recover significantly until shortly before the Second World War. After the war, the widespread commercial production of synthetic nitrates resulted in a further contraction of the natural nitrate industry in Chile, which continued to operate at depressed levels into the 1960s.
We were formed in 1968 through a joint venture between Compañía Salitrera Anglo Lautaro S.A. (“Anglo Lautaro”) and Corfo, a Chilean government entity. Three years after our formation, in 1971, Anglo Lautaro sold all of its shares to Corfo, and we were wholly owned by the Chilean government until 1983. In 1983, Corfo began a process of privatization by selling our shares to the public and subsequently listing such shares on the Santiago Stock Exchange. By 1988, all of our shares were publicly owned. Our ADSs have traded on the NYSE under the ticker symbol “SQM” since 1993. Each ADS represents one Series B common share. We accessed international capital markets for the issuance of additional ADSs in 1995 and 1999.
Since our inception, we have produced nitrates and iodine, which are obtained from the caliche ore deposits in northern Chile. In 1985, we began to use heap leaching processes to extract nitrates and iodine, and in 1986 we started to produce potassium nitrate at our Coya Sur facility. Between 1994 and 1999, we invested approximately US$300 million in the development of the Salar de Atacama project in northern Chile, which has enabled us to produce potassium chloride, lithium carbonate, lithium hydroxide, potassium sulfate and boric acid.
From 2000 through 2004, we principally consolidated the investments carried out in the preceding five years. We focused on reducing costs and improving efficiencies throughout the organization. In addition, in 2001, we signed a commercial distribution agreement with the Norwegian company Yara International ASA, in order to take advantage of cost synergies in the Specialty Plant Nutrition business line.
Starting in 2005, we began strengthening our leadership position in our core businesses through a combination of capital expenditures and advantageous acquisitions and divestitures. Our acquisitions have included the Kemira Emirates Fertiliser Company (“Kefco”) in Dubai in 2005 and the iodine business of Royal DSM N.V. (“DSM”) in 2006. We also entered into a number of joint ventures, including a joint venture with Migao Corporation (“Migao”), signed in 2008, for the production of potassium nitrate, and SQM VITAS, our joint venture with the French Roullier Group. Pursuant to the latter joint venture, in 2010, we launched a new line of soluble phosphate products, and in 2012 we built new plants for the production of water-soluble fertilizers in Brazil (Candeias), Peru and South Africa (Durban). We also sold: (i) Fertilizantes Olmeca, our former Mexican subsidiary, in 2006, (ii) our stake in Impronta S.R.L., our former Italian subsidiary, in 2007 and (iii) our former butyl lithium plant located in Houston, Texas, in 2008. These sales allowed us to concentrate our efforts on our core products.
Our capital expenditure program has allowed us to add new products to our product lines and increase the production capacity of our existing products. In 2005, we started production of lithium hydroxide at a plant in the Salar del Carmen, near the city of Antofagasta in the north of Chile. In 2007, we completed the construction of a new prilling and granulating plant for nitrates in Coya Sur. In 2011, we completed expansions of our lithium carbonate capacity, achieving 48,000 metric tons of capacity per year. Since 2010, we have continued to expand our production capacity of potassium products in our operations in the Salar de Atacama. In 2011, we completed the construction of a new potassium nitrate facility in Coya Sur, increasing our overall production capacity of potassium nitrate by 300,000 metric tons per year. In 2013, we completed expansions in the production capacity of our iodine plants in Nueva Victoria. Our capital expenditure program also includes exploration for metallic minerals. Our exploration efforts have led to discoveries that in some cases may result in sales of the discovery and the generation of royalty income in the future. Within this context, in 2013 we sold our royalty rights to the Antucoya mining project to Antofagasta Minerals.
In 2014, we invested in the development of new extraction sectors and production increases in both nitrates and iodine at Nueva Victoria, reaching an approximate production capacity (including the Iris facility) of 8,500 metric tons per year of iodine at the facility.
In 2015, we focused on increasing the efficiency of our operations. Within this context, we announced a plan to restructure our iodine and nitrate operations. In an effort to take advantage of our highly efficient production facilities at our Nueva Victoria site, we decided to suspend the mining and nitrate operations and reduce iodine production at our Pedro de Valdivia site. During 2017, we increased our iodine production capacity at Nueva Victoria to approximately 10,000 metric tons per year. We continued expanding in 2018, and today, including Pedro de Valdivia and Nueva Victoria, our current effective iodine capacity is approximately 14,000 metric tons per year.
In 2016, we entered into a 50/50 joint venture with Lithium Americas to develop the Minera Exar lithium project in Caucharí-Olaroz in the Jujuy province of Argentina. Our interest was sold to Ganfeng Lithium Netherlands Co., BV in 2018. Ganfeng is responsible for a US$50 million deferred payment to us if certain sales goals are met by the project. In 2016, we also made a capital contribution of US$20 million to Elemental Minerals Limited (“Elemental Minerals”), an Australian based company whose main assets are various potassium deposits in the Republic of Congo. We invested approximately US$20 million in exchange for 18% of the company, and a right of first refusal for approximately 20% of the total potash production of Elemental Minerals. Following this transaction at the end of 2016, Elemental Minerals changed its name to Kore Potash Limited. The State General Reserve Fund of Oman invested US$20 million.
In 2017, we continued to expand our operations outside Chile and, together with our subsidiary SQM Australia Pty, we entered into an agreement to acquire 50% of the assets of the Mt. Holland lithium project in Western Australia. We entered into a 50/50 unincorporated joint venture with Kidman Resources Limited (“Kidman”), with respect to the Mt. Holland lithium project, to design, construct and operate a mine, concentrator and refinery to produce approximately 45,000 metric tons of lithium hydroxide per year. SQM Australia Pty committed to pay a price of US$110 million for the 50% of the Mt. Holland assets, which was split into an initial payment of US$25 million and a deferred payment of US$87.5 million, both payments subject to certain conditions precedent. SQM Australia Pty paid an additional (i) US$10 million as part of the initial payment, and (ii) US$30 million once the deferred payment took place. All payments subject to conditions under the purchase agreement with Kidman were executed by December 2018. These investments are not included in the capital expenditure program amounts discussed in the section below. These investments were carried out with internal financing.
On September 23, 2019, Wesfarmers Limited (“Wesfarmers”) acquired all the issued ordinary shares in Kidman, becoming a 50% partner in the Mt. Holland lithium project in the joint venture with SQM Australia Pty.
On January 23, 2020, following the completion of a definitive feasibility study, we decided, together with Wesfarmers, to defer the final investment decision until the first quarter of 2021.
Capital Expenditure Program
We regularly review different opportunities to improve our production methods, reduce costs, increase production capacity of existing products and develop new products and markets. Additionally, significant capital expenditures are required every year in order to sustain our production capacity. We are focused on developing new products in response to identified customer demand, as well as new products that can be derived as part of our existing production or other products that could fit our long-term development strategy. Our capital expenditures in Chile have been mainly related to the organic growth and sustainability of our business, including the construction of new facilities and the renovation of plants and equipment. In 2019, we continued the development of the Mt. Holland project and completed the definitive feasibility study. Following the completion of the definitive feasibility study, we decided, together with Wesfarmers, to defer the final investment decision until the first quarter 2021. In 2019, we also expanded our lithium carbonate capacity in Chile, reaching capacity 70,000 metric tons per year.
Our capital expenditures for the years ended December 31, 2019, 2018 and 2016 were as follows:
|(in millions of US$)||2019||2018||2017|
During 2019, we had total capital expenditures of US$321.3 million, primarily related to:
|·||Capacity expansion projects related to the completion of the increase of our lithium carbonate production to 70,000 metric tons per year and the commencement of our lithium carbonate expansion project to reach 120,000 metric tons per year.|
|·||Capacity expansion of lithium hydroxide production from 13,500 metric tons per year to 21,500 metric tons per year in Chile;|
|·||Investments to increase iodine capacity to 14,800 metric tons per year in the Nueva Victoria mine; and|
|·||Capacity expansion and optimization projects related to potassium nitrate production plants II, III and IV in Coya Sur.|
During 2018, we had total capital expenditure of US$244.7 million, primarily related to:
|·||Capacity expansion projects related to increasing lithium carbonate production to 70,000 metric tons per year and lithium hydroxide production to 13,500 metric tons per year in Chile;|
|·||Investments to increase iodine capacity to 14,000 metric tons per year in the Nueva Victoria mine;|
|·||Capacity expansion project related to potassium nitrate production plants III and IV in Coya Sur; and|
|·||General maintenance of all production units and the Port of Tocopilla in order to ensure the fulfillment of production and sales targets.|
During 2017, we had total capital expenditures of US$142.1 million, primarily related to:
|·||Capacity expansion projects related to lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide production in Chile;|
|·||Investments in mining workshop and operations centers to relocate operations from the Nueva Victoria mine to mining sector Tente en el Aire;|
|·||Capacity expansion project related to potassium nitrate production; and|
|·||General maintenance of all production units and the Port of Tocopilla in order to ensure the fulfillment of production and sales targets.|
The Board of Directors has approved a capital expenditure framework for 2020 of approximately US$450 million focused on the maintenance of our production facilities in order to strengthen our ability to meet our production goals and to increase our production capacity, primarily related to lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide capacity expansions and nitrates and iodine capacity in Chile and development of our lithium project in Australia. We expect our installed capacity of lithium carbonate in Chile to reach approximately 120,000 metric tons by the second half of 2021, an increase of 50,000 metric tons compared to our current capacity of 70,000 metric tons. We have decided to complete our previously announced lithium hydroxide expansion of 16,000 metric tons in Chile, with two modules of 8,000 metric tons each, and believe the first stage should be completed in the first half of 2021. We will continue to do studies related to the Mt. Holland lithium project in Australia and expect to make a final investment decision in the beginning of 2021.
We do not expect that our 2020 capital investment program will require external financing. However, we always have the option to access capital markets in order to optimize our financial position.
4.B. Business Overview
We believe that we are the world’s largest producer of potassium nitrate and iodine and one of the world´s largest lithium producers. We also produce specialty plant nutrients, iodine derivatives, lithium derivatives, potassium chloride, potassium sulfate and certain industrial chemicals (including industrial nitrates and solar salts). Our products are sold in approximately 110 countries through our worldwide distribution network, with 89% of our sales in 2019 derived from countries outside Chile.
Our products are mainly derived from mineral deposits found in northern Chile. We mine and process caliche ore and brine deposits. The caliche ore in northern Chile contains the only known nitrate and iodine deposits in the world and is the world’s largest commercially exploited source of natural nitrates. The brine deposits of the Salar de Atacama, a salt-encrusted depression in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, contain high concentrations of lithium and potassium as well as significant concentrations of sulfate and boron.
From our caliche ore deposits, we produce a wide range of nitrate-based products used for specialty plant nutrients and industrial applications, as well as iodine and iodine derivatives. At the Salar de Atacama, we extract brines rich in potassium, lithium, sulfate and boron in order to produce potassium chloride, potassium sulfate, lithium solutions and bischofite (magnesium chloride). We produce lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide at our plant near the city of Antofagasta, Chile, from the solutions brought from the Salar de Atacama. We market all of these products through an established worldwide distribution network.
Our products are divided into six categories: specialty plant nutrients; iodine and its derivatives; lithium and its derivatives; potassium chloride and potassium sulfate; industrial chemicals and other commodity fertilizers. Specialty plant nutrients are premium fertilizers that enable farmers to improve yields and the quality of certain crops. Iodine and its derivatives are mainly used in the X-ray contrast media and biocides industries and in the production of polarizing film, which is an important component in LCD screens. Lithium and its derivatives are mainly used in batteries, greases and frits for production of ceramics. Potassium chloride is a commodity fertilizer that is produced and sold by us worldwide. Potassium sulfate is a specialty fertilizer used primarily in crops such as vegetables, fruits and industrial crops. Industrial chemicals have a wide range of applications in certain chemical processes such as the manufacturing of glass, explosives and ceramics, and, more recently, industrial nitrates are being used in concentrated solar power plants as a means for energy storage. In addition, we complement our portfolio of plant nutrients through the buying and selling of other commodity fertilizers for use mainly in Chile.
For the year ended December 31, 2019, we had revenues of US$1,943.7 million, gross profit of US$560.1 million and profit attributable to controlling interests of US$278.1 million. Our worldwide market capitalization as of December 31, 2019 was approximately US$7.0 billion.
Specialty Plant Nutrition: We produce four main types of specialty plant nutrients which offer specialized nutritional solutions for fertigation, direct soil and foliar fertilizer applications: potassium nitrate, sodium nitrate, sodium potassium nitrate and specialty blends. We also sell other specialty fertilizers including third party products. All of these specialty plant nutrients are used in either solid or liquid form mainly on high value crops such as vegetables, fruits and flowers. Our nutrients are widely used in crops that employ modern agricultural techniques such as hydroponics, green housing, fertigation (where fertilizer is dissolved in water prior to irrigation) and foliar application. According to the type of use or application, our products are primarily marketed under the following brands: Ultrasol® (fertigation), Qrop® (open field application), Speedfol® (foliar application) and Allganic® (organic farming). Specialty plant nutrients have certain advantages over commodity fertilizers, such as rapid and effective absorption (without requiring nitrification), superior water solubility, increased soil pH (which reduces soil acidity) and low chloride content. One of the most important products in this business line is potassium nitrate, which is sold in crystalline or prill form, allowing for multiple application methods. Crystalline potassium nitrate products are ideal for application by fertigation and foliar sprays, and potassium nitrate prills are suitable for soil applications.
The new needs of more sophisticated customers demand that the industry provide integrated solutions rather than individual products. Our products, including customized specialty blends that meet specific needs along with the agronomic service provided, allow to create plant nutrition solutions that add value to crops through higher yields and better quality production. Because our products are derived from natural nitrate compounds or natural potassium brines, they have certain advantages over synthetically produced fertilizers, including the presence of certain beneficial trace elements, which makes them more attractive to customers who prefer products of natural origin. As a result, specialty plant nutrients are sold at a premium price compared to commodity fertilizers.
Iodine and its Derivatives: We believe that we are the world’s leading producer of iodine and iodine derivatives, which are used in a wide range of medical, pharmaceutical, agricultural and industrial applications, including x-ray contrast media, polarizing films for LCD and LED, antiseptics, biocides and disinfectants, in the synthesis of pharmaceuticals, electronics, pigments and dye components.
Lithium and its Derivatives: We are a leading producer of lithium carbonate, which is used in a variety of applications, including electrochemical materials for batteries, frits for the ceramic and enamel industries, heat-resistant glass (ceramic glass), air conditioning chemicals, continuous casting powder for steel extrusion, pharmaceuticals and lithium derivatives. We are also a leading supplier of lithium hydroxide, which is primarily used as an input for the lubricating greases industry and for cathodes for high energy capacity batteries.
Potassium: We produce potassium chloride and potassium sulfate from brines extracted from the Salar de Atacama. Potassium chloride is a commodity fertilizer used to fertilize a variety of crops including corn, rice, sugar, soybean and wheat. Potassium sulfate is a specialty fertilizer used mainly in crops such as vegetables, fruits and industrial crops.
Industrial Chemicals: We produce three industrial chemicals: sodium nitrate, potassium nitrate and potassium chloride. Sodium nitrate is used primarily in the production of glass, explosives, and metal treatment, metal recycling and insulation materials among others. Potassium nitrate is used in the manufacturing of specialty glass, and it is also an important raw material for the production of frits for the ceramics, enamel industries, metal treatment and pyrotechnics. Solar salts, a combination of potassium nitrate and sodium nitrate, are used as a thermal storage medium in concentrated solar power plants. Potassium chloride is a basic chemical used to produce potassium hydroxide, and it is also used as an additive in oil drilling as well as in food processing, among other uses. We market our industrial chemicals using the following brands: QSodiumNitrate™, QPotassiumNitrate™, and QPotassiumChloride™.
Other Products and Services: We also sell other fertilizers and blends, some of which we do not produce. We are the largest company that produces and distributes the three main potassium sources: potassium nitrate, potassium sulfate and potassium chloride.
The following table shows the percentage breakdown of our revenues for 2019, 2018 and 2017 according to our product lines:
|Specialty Plant Nutrition||37%||35%||32%|
|Iodine and Derivatives||19%||14%||12%|
|Lithium and Derivatives||26%||32%||30%|
SQM is a global company that develops and produces diverse products for several industries essential for human progress, such as health, nutrition, renewable energy and technology through innovation and technological development. We aim to maintain our leading world position in the lithium, potassium nitrate, iodine and thermo-solar salts markets by producing high-quality products and promoting a high- quality culture to meet the dynamic and changing requirements of our customers.
We are a company built and managed by people committed to excellence, safety and integrity. We work every day to build a culture of excellence by encouraging and promoting creativity, agility and innovation in the workplace and ensuring equality of opportunities, inclusion and diversity. We seek to create opportunities for professional development so that people achieve their maximum potential. We make ongoing efforts to meet the high standards of integrity described in our code of ethics while actively identifying and implementing ideas to better meet these standards. We strive for safe and accident-free operations by promoting conduct that favors the physical safety and psychological well-being of everyone who works directly and indirectly with the Company.
We participate in the development of the well-being of local communities by supporting projects and activities with a focus on education, business development, and protection of the environment and historical heritage. We will continue to create value for all of our stakeholders through responsible management of natural resources, sustainable expansion projects and improvement of our existing operations, with a focus on minimizing our environmental impacts by reducing our carbon, energy and water footprints and working together with our shareholders, employees, customers, suppliers and communities.
We have identified market demand in each of our major product lines, both within our existing customer base and in new markets, for existing products and for additional products that can be produced from our natural resources. To take advantage of these opportunities, we have developed specific strategies for each of our product lines.
Specialty Plant Nutrition
Our strategy in our specialty plant nutrition business is to: (i) leverage the advantages of our specialty products over commodity-type fertilizers; (ii) selectively expand our business by increasing our sales of higher margin specialty plant nutrients based on potassium and natural nitrates, particularly soluble potassium nitrate and specialty blends; (iii) pursue investment opportunities in complementary businesses to enhance our product portfolio, increase production, reduce costs, and add value to the marketing of our products; (iv) develop new specialty nutrient blends produced in our mixing plants that are strategically located in or near our principal markets in order to meet specific customer needs; (v) focus primarily on the markets where we can sell our plant nutrients in soluble and foliar applications in order to establish a leadership position; (vi) further develop our global distribution and marketing system directly and through strategic alliances with other producers and global or local distributors; (vii) reduce our production costs through improved processes and higher labor productivity so as to compete more effectively and (viii) supply a product with consistent quality according to the specific requirements of our customers.
Iodine and its Derivatives
Our strategy in our iodine business is to: (i) reach and maintain a sufficient market share of the iodine market in order to optimize the use of our available production capacity; (ii) encourage demand growth and promote new iodine uses; (iii) participate in iodine recycling projects through the Ajay-SQM Group (“ASG”); (iv) reduce our production costs through improved processes and higher productivity in order to compete more effectively and (v) supply a product with consistent quality according to the requirements of our customers.
Lithium and its Derivatives
Our strategy in our lithium business is to: (i) strategically allocate our sales of lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide; (ii) encourage demand growth and promote new lithium uses; (iii) selectively pursue opportunities in the lithium derivatives business by creating new lithium compounds; (iv) reduce our production costs through improved processes and higher productivity in order to compete more effectively; (v) supply a product with consistent quality according to the requirements of our customers and (vi) diversify our operations geographically and jurisdictionally.
Our strategy in our potassium business is to: (i) offer a portfolio of potassium products, including potassium sulfate, potassium chloride and other fertilizers, to our traditional markets; (ii) have flexibility to offer crystalized (standard) or granular (compacted) form products according to market requirements; (iii) focus on markets where we have logistical advantages and synergies with our specialty plant nutrition business and (iv) supply a product with consistent quality according to the specific requirements of our customers.
Our strategy in our industrial chemical business is to: (i) maintain our leadership position in the industrial nitrates market; (ii) encourage demand growth in different applications as well as exploring new potential applications; (iii) become a long-term, reliable supplier for the thermal storage industry, maintaining close relationships with R&D programs and industrial initiatives; (iv) reduce our production costs through improved processes and higher productivity in order to compete more effectively and (v) supply a product with consistent quality according to the requirements of our customers.
New Business Ventures
We constantly evaluate opportunities that are consistent with our existing and new businesses. We seek to acquire interests in projects both inside and outside of Chile where we believe we have sustainable competitive advantages, and we hope to continue doing so in the future.
In addition, we are actively conducting exploration for metallic minerals in the mining properties we own. If such minerals are found, we may decide to exploit, sell or enter into an association to extract these resources. Our exploration efforts are currently focused on the layer of bedrock that lies beneath the caliche ore that we use as the primary raw material in the production of iodine and nitrates. This bedrock has significant potential for metallic mineralization, particularly copper and gold. A significant portion of our mining properties are located in the Antofagasta region of Chile, where many large copper producers operate.
We have an in-house geological exploration team that explores the area directly, identifying drilling targets and assessing new prospects. In 2019, the team identified six new targets and confirmed mineralization in several of the targets. The number of perforated meters reached 52,374 meters and were made with four machines of which three were internal and the other external. We also have a metal business development team that works to engage partners interested in investing in metal exploration within our mining properties. As of December 31, 2019, we had eight option agreements in place with six companies, including junior mining companies, private equity firms and large mining companies. We maintain an exploration and purchase option agreement for an area of interest with a junior Canadian mining company and we are participating in the formation of two joint ventures as a result of exercising an option agreement a junior mining company.
Main Business Lines
Specialty Plant Nutrition
In 2019, specialty plant nutrients revenues decreased to US$723.9 million, representing 37.2% of our total revenues for that year. We believe that we are the world’s largest producer of potassium nitrate. We estimate that our sales accounted for approximately 51% of global potassium nitrate sales for all applications by volume in 2019, a decrease from 54% in 2018. During 2019, the potassium nitrate market remained flat compared to 2018. These estimates do not include potassium nitrate produced and sold locally in China, only Chinese net imports and exports.
In addition to potassium nitrate, we produce the following specialty plant nutrients: sodium nitrate, sodium potassium nitrate and specialty blends (containing various combinations of nitrogen, phosphate and potassium and generally known as “NPK blends”).
Our specialty plant nutrients have specific characteristics that increase productivity and enhance quality when used on certain crops and soils. Our specialty plant nutrients have significant advantages for certain applications over commodity fertilizers based on nitrogen and potassium, such as urea and potassium chloride.
Our specialty plant nutrients advantages include that they:
|·||are fully water soluble, allowing their more efficient use in hydroponics, fertigation, foliar applications and other advanced agricultural techniques thus improving the water use efficiently of crops to help conserve water;|
|·||are chloride-free, which prevents chloride toxicity in certain crops associated with high levels of chlorine in plant nutrients;|
|·||provide nitrogen in nitric form, thereby allowing crops to absorb nutrients faster than they absorb urea- or ammonium-based fertilizers;|
|·||do not release hydrogen after application, thereby avoiding increased soil acidity;|
|·||possess trace elements, which promote disease resistance in plants; and|
|·||are more attractive to customers who prefer products of natural origin.|
Specialty Plant Nutrition: Market
The target market for our specialty plant nutrients includes producers of high-value crops such as vegetables, fruits, industrial crops, flowers, cotton and others. Furthermore, we sell specialty plant nutrients to producers of chloride-sensitive crops. Since 1990, the international market for specialty plant nutrients has grown at a faster rate than the international market for commodity-type fertilizers. This is mostly due to: (i) the application of new agricultural technologies such as fertigation and hydroponics, and the increasing use of greenhouses; (ii) the increase in the cost of land and the scarcity of water, which has forced farmers to improve their yields and reduce water use; and (iii) the increase in demand for higher quality crops, such as fruits and vegetables.
Over the last ten years, the compound annual growth rate for vegetable production per capita was 3% while the compound annual growth rate for the world population was closer to 1%.
Worldwide scarcity of water and arable land drives the development of new agricultural techniques to maximize the use of these resources. Irrigation has grown at an average annual rate of 1% during the last 20 years (a pace similar to population growth). However, micro-irrigation has grown at 10% per year over the same period. Micro irrigation systems, which include drip irrigation and micro-sprinklers, are the most efficient forms of technical irrigation. These applications require fully water-soluble plant nutrients. Our nitrate-based specialty plant nutrients are fully soluble in water and provide nitrogen in nitric form, which helps crops absorb these nutrients faster than they absorb urea- or ammonium-based fertilizers, facilitating a more efficient application of nutrients to the plant and thereby increasing the crop’s yield and improving its quality.
The ratio of micro irrigation to total irrigated hectares in Asia is approximately 3%, the lowest ratio of any region in the world. This represents a high potential market for micro-irrigation, which is reflected in the high growth rates in Asia in recent years.
Potassium nitrate is an important market in China, although currently its demand is largely fulfilled by domestic producers. Demand totals approximately 400,000 to 420,000 metric tons, of which approximately 130,000 metric tons is related to the tobacco industry and approximately 120,000 metric tons is related to the horticulture business. Of the total, between 20,000 and 35,000 metric tons are imports.
Specialty Plant Nutrition: Our Products
Potassium nitrate, sodium potassium nitrate and specialty blends are higher margin products derived from, or consisting of, sodium nitrate, and they are all produced in crystallized or prilled form. Specialty blends are produced using our own specialty plant nutrients and other components at blending plants operated by us or our affiliates and related companies in Brazil, Chile, China, India, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, Peru, South Africa, Spain, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States.
The following table shows our sales volumes of and revenues from specialty plant nutrients for 2019, 2018 and 2017:
|Sales volumes (Th. MT)|
|Potassium nitrate and sodium potassium nitrate||617.4||673.4||601.4|
|Specialty blends (1)||238.9||242.5||209.0|
|Other specialty plant nutrients (2)||155.3||141.6||129.1|
|Total revenues (in US$ millions)||723.9||781.8||697.3|
|(1)||Includes Yara’s products sold pursuant to our commercial agreement.|
|(2)||Includes trading of other specialty fertilizers.|
In 2019, our specialty plant nutrients revenues decreased to US$723.9 million, representing 37% of our total revenues for that year and a 7.4% decrease from US$781.8 million in specialty plant nutrients revenues in 2018. Prices decreased approximately 3.8% in 2019.
Depending on the systems used to apply specialty nutrients, fertilizers can be classified as specialty field fertilizers or water-soluble fertilizers.
Specialty field fertilizers are applied directly to the soil, manually or in a mechanized fashion. Their high solubility levels, lack of chloride and absence of acidic reactions make them particularly advantageous for tobacco, potatoes, coffee, cotton and a wide range of fruits and vegetables.
Water-soluble fertilizers are specialty nutrients that are delivered to the crops using modern irrigation systems. As these systems feature refined technology, the products used in them must be highly soluble, rich in nutrients, free of impurities and insoluble substances, and with a low salinity index. The leading nutrient in this segment is potassium nitrate, whose optimal balance of nitric nitrogen and chloride-free potassium (the two macronutrients most needed by plants) make it an indispensable source of nutrition for crops that use modern irrigation systems.
Potassium nitrate is widely known to be a vital component in foliar feeding applications, where usage is recommended in order to stave off nutritional deficiencies before the first symptoms appear, correct any deficiencies that arise and prevent physiological stress. This nutrient also helps promote a suitable balance between fruit production and/or growth, and plant development, particularly in crops with physiological disorders.
Foliar feeding with potassium nitrate can have beneficial effects:
|·||when soil chemistry limits nutrient solubility and availability (pH, organic matter, type and percentage of clay);|
|·||when nutrient absorption through the roots is limited as a result of conditions that hamper root growth (temperature, moisture, oxygen and loss of soil structure);|
|·||when the plant’s local internal demand may surpass real internal nutrient redistribution capacity, leaving the demand unsatisfied;|
|·||when nutrient mobility is limited, such as when plants flower before the leaf growth phase, imposing limiting factors on xylem nutrient transport; and|
|·||to achieve rapid recovery from leaf stress caused by climatic conditions, soil conditions and irrigation management.|
SQM has consolidated a product portfolio of over 200 specialty fertilizer blends, including top brands such as Ultrasol®, for fertigation; Qrop®, for application to the soil; Speedfol®, for foliar feeding and Allganic® for organic crops. In recent years, we have added several products to our portfolio such as QropTMKS in 2015 and Ultrasol®ution K in 2018. These products were developed by our research and development team. Qrop is more physically stable than other products in that it is not required to be transported as hazardous cargo, which means it can be sold in other markets. We have restructured the Qrop products portfolio to include a chloride-free line for direct application to the soil with a variety of specialized formulas and unique mixtures, which make these products highly accurate and quickly available for the plant. Ultrasol®ution K addresses the need for potassium-free chloride and a nitrate safe for handling in the liquid fertilizer market, opening new opportunities for SQM in in the cultivation of almonds and strawberries, in which water quality and efficiency are very important.
Specialty Plant Nutrition: Marketing and Customers
In 2019, we sold our specialty plant nutrients in approximately 96 countries and to more than 1,100 customers. No customer represented more than 10% of our specialty plant nutrition revenues during 2019, and our ten largest customers accounted in the aggregate for approximately 32% of revenues during that period. No supplier accounted for more than 10% of the costs of sales for this business line.
The table below shows the geographical breakdown of our revenues:
|Central and South America (excluding Chile)||11%||10%||10%|
|Asia and Others||20%||19%||17%|
We sell our specialty plant nutrition products outside Chile mainly through our own worldwide network of representative offices and through our distribution affiliates.
We maintain inventory of our specialty plant nutrients in our commercial offices in the main markets of the Americas, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa in order to facilitate prompt deliveries to customers. In addition, we sell specialty plant nutrients directly to some of our large customers. Sales are made pursuant to spot purchase orders and short-term contracts.
As part of our marketing strategy, we provide technical and agronomical assistance and support to our clients. We have specific knowledge resulting from extensive research and numerous studies conducted by our agronomical teams in close contact with producers throughout the world. The solid agronomical knowledge is key for the development of specific formulas and hydroponic and fertirrigation nutritional plans, which allows us to provide expert advice for producing crops that meet high quality standards for the most efficient markets and in the most environmentally challenging conditions.
By working closely with our customers, we are able to identify their needs for new products and a possible existence of higher-value-added markets. Our specialty plant nutrients are used on a wide variety of crops, particularly value-added crops, where the use of our products enables our customers to increase yields and achieve a premium price for their own products.
Our customers are located in both the northern and southern hemispheres. Consequently, we do not believe there are any seasonal or cyclical factors that can materially affect the sales of our specialty plant nutrients.
Specialty Plant Nutrition: Joint Ventures and Agreements
Consistent with our business strategy, we regularly evaluate opportunities to expand in our current core businesses, including our specialty plant nutrition business, or within new businesses in which we believe we may have sustainable competitive advantages. We evaluate potential acquisitions, joint ventures and alliances with companies both within and outside of Chile, including in other emerging markets.
We have entered into joint ventures with a number of partners for specialty plant nutrition production in China, India, Peru, Brazil, Dubai, South Africa and the Netherlands. Recent joint ventures include the following:
|·||In 2017, three new offices started their operations in Imbituba, Rio Grande and Sao Paulo, Brazil, SQM Vitas Brazil Agroindustria, Importação e Exporação Ltda.|
|·||In May 2018, our we began operating a new joint venture, Pavoni & C. Spa, with Pavoni, one of the largest specialty fertilizer companies in Italy. The main objective of this business is to improve the nutritional efficiency of crops, the existing fertigation, the quality of fertilizers and their applications, as well as extend the use of fertigation (from micro-irrigation).|
|·||In 2018, our new office and storage facility in Pamira, managed by SQM Colombia SAS near the Port of Buenaventura in Colombia became operational. The new office was set up to meet the growing needs of customers in the Colombian market, especially those who grow roses and ornamental plants, coffee, bananas and fruit through a complete portfolio of soluble fertilizers and Qrop mixes.|
Specialty Plant Nutrition: Fertilizer Sales in Chile
We market specialty plant nutrients in Chile through our subsidiary Soquimich Comercial S.A. (“SQMC”).
SQMC is one of the main players in the Chilean market, offering a wide range of products developed specifically for the crops grown in the country which require specialty plant nutrients.
SQMC sells local products as well as products imported from different countries around the world.
All contracts and agreements between SQMC and its foreign suppliers of fertilizers contain standard and customary commercial terms and conditions. SQMC has been able to obtain adequate supplies of these products with good pricing conditions.
SQMC’s total sales reached US$128 million and US$147 million in 2019 and 2018, respectively. During 2018, no client represented more than 10% of the sales of the Company. According to the customs information related to fertilizers, the market participation of fertilizers imported directly by SQMC during 2019 was approximately 20%.
Specialty Plant Nutrition: Competition
The principal means of competition in the sale of potassium nitrate are product quality, customer service, location, logistics, agronomic expertise and price.
We believe that we are the world’s largest producer of sodium nitrate and potassium nitrate for agricultural use. Our sodium nitrate products compete indirectly with specialty and commodity-type substitutes, which may be used by some customers instead of sodium nitrate depending on the type of soil and crop to which the product will be applied. Such substitute products include calcium nitrate, ammonium nitrate and calcium ammonium nitrate.
In the potassium nitrate market, our largest competitor is Haifa Chemicals Ltd. (“Haifa”), in Israel, which is a subsidiary of Trans Resources International Inc. We estimate that sales of potassium nitrate by Haifa accounted for approximately 16% of total world sales during 2019 (excluding sales by Chinese producers to the domestic Chinese market). Our sales accounted for approximately 51% of global potassium nitrate sales by volume for the period.
ACF, another Chilean producer, mainly oriented to iodine production, has produced potassium nitrate from caliche ore and potassium chloride since 2005. Kemapco, a Jordanian producer owned by Arab Potash, produces potassium nitrate in a plant located close to the Port of Aqaba, Jordan. In addition, there are several potassium nitrate producers in China, the largest of which are Yuantong and Migao. Most of the Chinese production is consumed by the Chinese domestic market.
In Chile, our products mainly compete with imported fertilizer blends that use calcium ammonium nitrate or potassium magnesium sulfate. Our specialty plant nutrients also compete indirectly with lower-priced synthetic commodity-type fertilizers such as ammonia and urea, which are produced by many producers in a highly price-competitive market. Our products compete on the basis of advantages that make them more suitable for certain applications as described above.
Iodine and its Derivatives
We believe that we are the world’s largest producer of iodine. In 2019, our revenues from iodine and iodine derivatives amounted to US$371.0 million, representing 19.1% of our total revenues in that year. We estimate that our sales accounted for approximately 34% of global iodine sales by volume in 2019.
Iodine and iodine derivatives are used in a wide range of medical, agricultural and industrial applications as well as in human and animal nutrition products. Iodine and iodine derivatives are used as raw materials or catalysts in the formulation of products such as X-ray contrast media, biocides, antiseptics and disinfectants, pharmaceutical intermediates, polarizing films for LCD and LED screens, chemicals, organic compounds and pigments. Iodine is also added in the form of potassium iodate or potassium iodide to edible salt to prevent iodine deficiency disorders.
X-ray contrast media is the leading application of iodine, accounting for approximately 24% of demand. Iodine’s high atomic number and density make it ideally suited for this application, as its presence in the body can help to increase contrast between tissues, organs, and blood vessels with similar X-ray densities. Other applications include pharmaceuticals, which we believe account for 13% of demand; LCD and LED screens, 12%; iodophors and povidone-iodine, 8%; animal nutrition, 7%; fluoride derivatives, 7%; biocides, 6%; nylon, 4%; human nutrition, 3% and other applications, 16%.
During 2019, iodine demand grew at a similar rate as in 2018, reaching 36,700 metric tons. While traditional uses grew at the same rate as during the previous year, some applications, such as nylon fabrication and mercury remediation decreased slightly more than the increase of iodine and derivatives demand related to the LED and LCD market.
Iodine: Our Products
We produce iodine in our Nueva Victoria plant, near Iquique, and our Pedro de Valdivia plant, close to María Elena. We have a total effective production capacity of approximately 14,800 metric tons per year of iodine, including the Iris plant, which is located close to the Nueva Victoria plant.
Through ASG, we produce organic and inorganic iodine derivatives. ASG was established in the mid-1990s and has production plants in the United States, Chile and France. ASG is one of the world’s leading inorganic and organic iodine derivatives producer.
Consistent with our business strategy, we are constantly working on the development of new applications for our iodine-based products, pursuing a continuing expansion of our businesses and maintaining our market leadership.
We manufacture our iodine and iodine derivatives in accordance with international quality standards and have qualified our iodine facilities and production processes under the ISO-9001:2008 program, providing third party certification of the quality management system and international quality control standards that we have implemented.
The following table shows our total sales volumes and revenues from iodine and iodine derivatives for 2019, 2018 and 2017:
|Sales volumes (Th. MT)|
|Iodine and derivatives||12.7||13.3||12.7|
|Total revenues (in US$ millions)||371.0||325.0||252.1|
Our revenues increased to US$371.0 million in 2019 from US$325.0 million in 2018. This increase was primarily attributable to higher prices during 2019. Average iodine prices were more than 19.4% higher in 2019 than in 2018. Our sales volumes decreased 4.4% in 2019.
Iodine: Marketing and Customers
In 2019, we sold our iodine products in approximately 48 countries to approximately 279 customers, and most of our sales were exports. Two customers each accounted for more than 10% of our iodine revenues in 2019. These two customers accounted for approximately 31% of revenues, and our ten largest customers accounted in the aggregate for approximately 75% of revenues. No supplier accounted for more than 10% of the cost of sales of this business line.
The following table shows the geographical breakdown of our revenues:
|Central and South America (excluding Chile)||2%||2%||2%|
|Asia and Others||40%||37%||38%|
We sell iodine through our own worldwide network of representative offices and through our sales, support and distribution affiliates. We maintain inventories of iodine at our facilities throughout the world to facilitate prompt delivery to customers. Iodine sales are made pursuant to spot purchase orders or within the framework of supply agreements. Supply agreements generally specify annual minimum and maximum purchase commitments, and prices are adjusted periodically, according to prevailing market prices.
The world’s main iodine producers are based in Chile, Japan and the United States. Iodine is also produced in Russia, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Indonesia and China.
Iodine is produced in Chile using a unique mineral known as caliche ore, whereas in Japan, the United States, Russia, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Indonesia, producers extract iodine from underground brines that are mainly obtained together with the extraction of natural gas and petroleum. In China, iodine is extracted from seaweed.
Five Chilean companies accounted for approximately 59% of total global sales of iodine in 2019, including SQM, with approximately 34%, and four other producers accounting for the remaining 25%. The other Chilean producers are Atacama Chemical S.A. (Cosayach), controlled by the Chilean holding company Inverraz S.A.; ACF Minera S.A., owned by the Chilean family Urruticoechea; Algorta Norte S.A., a joint venture between ACF Minera S.A. and Toyota Tsusho; and Atacama Minerals, recently acquired by the Chinese company Tewoo.
We estimate that eight Japanese iodine producers accounted for approximately 27% of global iodine sales in 2019, including recycled iodine.
We estimate that iodine producers in the United States (one of which is owned by Toyota Tsusho and another by Ise Chemicals Ltd., both of which are Japanese companies) accounted for nearly 5% of world iodine sales in 2019.
Iodine recycling is a growing trend worldwide. Several producers have recycling facilities where they recover iodine and iodine derivatives from iodine waste streams.
We estimate the 17% of the iodine supply comes from iodine recycling. Through ASG or alone, we are also actively participating in the iodine recycling business using iodinated side-streams from a variety of chemical processes in Europe and the United States.
The prices of iodine and iodine derivative products are determined by market conditions. World iodine prices vary depending upon, among other things, the relationship between supply and demand at any given time. Iodine supply varies primarily as a result of the production levels of the iodine producers (including us) and their respective business strategies. Our annual average iodine sales prices increased to approximately US$29 per kilogram in 2019, from the average sales prices of approximately US$24 per kilogram observed in 2018.
Demand for iodine varies depending upon overall levels of economic activity and the level of demand in the medical, pharmaceutical, industrial and other sectors that are the main users of iodine and iodine-derivative products. Certain substitutes for iodine are available for certain applications, such as antiseptics and disinfectants, which could represent a cost-effective alternative to iodine depending on prevailing prices.
The main factors of competition in the sale of iodine and iodine derivative products are reliability, price, quality, customer service and the price and availability of substitutes. We believe we have competitive advantages compared to other producers due to the size and quality of our mining reserves and the available production capacity. We believe our iodine is competitive with that produced by other manufacturers in certain advanced industrial processes. We also believe we benefit competitively from the long-term relationships we have established with our largest customers.
Lithium and its Derivatives
In 2019, our revenues from lithium sales amounted to US$505.7 million, representing 26.0% of our total revenues. We believe we are one of the world’s largest producers of lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide, and we estimate that our sales volumes accounted for approximately 15% of the global lithium chemicals sales volumes.
The lithium market can be divided into (i) lithium minerals for direct use (in which market SQM does not participate directly), (ii) basic lithium chemicals, which include lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide (as well as lithium chloride, from which lithium carbonate may be made), and (iii) inorganic and organic lithium derivatives, which include numerous compounds produced from basic lithium chemicals (in which market SQM does not participate directly).
Lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide are principally used to produce the cathodes for rechargeable batteries, taking advantage of lithium’s extreme electrochemical potential and low density. Batteries are the leading application for lithium, accounting for approximately 69% of total lithium demand, including batteries for electric vehicles, which accounted for approximately 46% of total lithium demand.
There are many other applications both for basic lithium chemicals and lithium derivatives, such as lubricating greases (approximately 6% of total lithium demand), heat-resistant glass (ceramic glass) (approximately 5% of total lithium demand), chips for the ceramics and glaze industry (approximately 3% of total lithium demand), chemicals for air conditioning (approximately 2% of total lithium demand), and many others, including air treatment systems, pharmaceutical synthesis and metal alloys.
Lithium’s main properties, which facilitate its use in this range of applications, are that it:
|·||is the lightest solid metal and element at room temperature;|
|·||is low density;|
|·||has a low coefficient of thermal expansion;|
|·||has high electrochemical potential; and|
|·||has a high specific heat capacity.|
During 2019, lithium chemicals demand increased by approximately 14%, reaching approximately 307,000 metric tons. We expect applications related to energy storage to continue driving demand in the coming years.
Lithium: Our Products
We produce lithium carbonate at our Salar del Carmen facilities, near Antofagasta, Chile, from highly concentrated lithium chloride produced in the Salar de Atacama as a by-product of the potassium chloride production. The annual production capacity of our lithium carbonate plant at the Salar del Carmen was expanded and is now 70,000 metric tons per year. We are in the process of increasing our production capacity to 120,000 metric tons per year. We believe that the technologies we use, together with the high concentrations of lithium and the characteristics of the Salar de Atacama, such as high evaporation rate and concentration of other minerals, allow us to be one of the lowest cost producers worldwide.
We also produce lithium hydroxide at the same plant at the Salar del Carmen, next to the lithium carbonate operation. The lithium hydroxide facility has a production capacity of 13,500 metric tons per year.
The following table shows our total sales volumes and revenues from lithium carbonate and its derivatives for 2019, 2018 and 2017:
|Sales volumes (Th. MT)|
|Lithium and derivatives||45.1||45.1||49.7|
|Total revenues (in US$ millions)||505.7||734.8||644.6|
Our revenues in 2019 were US$505.7 million, a 31.2% decrease from US$734.8 million in 2018, due to lower prices during the year. The average price for 2019 was approximately 31.2% lower than the average price in 2018.
Lithium: Marketing and Customers
In 2019, we sold our lithium products in approximately 45 countries to approximately 185 customers, and most of our sales were to customers outside of Chile. Two customers each accounted for more than 10% of our lithium revenues in 2019, accounting for approximately 34% of our lithium revenues. Our ten largest customers accounted in the aggregate for approximately 69% of revenues. No supplier accounted for more than 10% of the cost of sales of this business line. We make lease payments to Corfo which are associated with the sale of different products produced in the Salar de Atacama, including lithium carbonate, lithium hydroxide and potassium chloride. See Note 24.2 to our consolidated financial statements for the disclosure of lease payments made to Corfo for all periods presented.
The following table shows the geographical breakdown of our revenues:
|Central and South America (excluding Chile)||1%||0%||0%|
|Asia and Others||75%||76%||79%|
We sell lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide through our own worldwide network of representative offices and through our sales, support and distribution affiliates. We maintain inventories of these products at our facilities throughout the world to facilitate prompt delivery to customers. Sales of lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide are made pursuant to spot purchase orders or within the framework of supply agreements. Supply agreements generally specify annual minimum and maximum purchase commitments, and prices are adjusted periodically, according to prevailing market prices.
Lithium is produced mainly from two sources: (i) concentrated brines and (ii) minerals. During 2019, the main lithium brines producers were Chile, Argentina and China, while the main lithium mineral producers were Australia and China. With total sales of approximately 45,100 metric tons of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE), SQM’s market share of lithium chemicals was approximately 15% in 2019. One of our main competitors is Albemarle Corporation (“Albemarle”), which produces lithium carbonate and lithium chloride in Chile and the United States, along with lithium derivatives in the United States, Germany, Taiwan and China, with a market share of approximately 25%. Albemarle also owns 49% of Talison Lithium Pty Ltd. (“Talison”), an Australian company, that is the largest producer of concentrated lithium minerals in the world, based in Western Australia. The remaining 51% of Talison is owned by Tianqi Lithium Corp. (“Tianqi”), a Chinese company producing basic lithium chemicals in China from concentrated lithium minerals. Talison sells a part of its concentrated lithium mineral production to the direct use market, but most of its production, representing approximately 23% of total lithium chemical demand, is converted into basic lithium chemicals in China by Tianqi and Albemarle. Currently, Tianqi is starting up its lithium hydroxide plant in Australia while Albemarle has one under construction. Tianqi is also a significant shareholder of ours, holding approximately 25.86% of our shares.
Another important competitor is Livent Corporation (“Livent”), with an estimated market share of approximately 7%. Livent has production facilities in Argentina through Minera del Altiplano S.A., where it produces lithium chloride and lithium carbonate. In addition, Livent produces lithium derivatives in the United States, the United Kingdom and China. Orocobre Ltd., based in Argentina, produces lithium carbonate, with a market share of approximately 4%.
Australia is an important source of concentrated lithium minerals. Since 2018, two producers have doubled their production of concentrated mineral, which is then converted into lithium chemicals in China. One of these producers is a joint venture between Ganfeng Lithium Co. (“Ganfeng”) and Mineral Resources Ltd in the Mt. Marion project. Galaxy Resources Ltd. is another important producer with operations in Mt. Cattlin. Additionally, three new players began shipping concentrated lithium minerals in 2018, Pilbara Minerals and Altura Mining, both producing from the Pilgangoora deposit, and Alita Resources Limited, producing from the Bald Hill deposit. In addition, there were at least ten other companies producing lithium in China from brines or minerals in 2019.
We believe that lithium production will continue to increase in the near future, in response to an increase in demand growth. A number of new projects to develop lithium deposits has been announced recently. Some of these projects are already in the advanced stages of development and others could materialize in the medium term.
In 2019, our potassium chloride and potassium sulfate revenues amounted to US$212.2 million, representing 10.9% of our total revenues and a 20.7% decrease compared to 2018, as a result of reduced sales volumes. We estimate that we accounted for less than 1% of global sales of potassium chloride in 2019.
We produce potassium chloride by extracting brines from the Salar de Atacama that are rich in potassium chloride and other salts.
Potassium is one of the three macronutrients that a plant needs to develop. Although potassium does not form part of a plant’s structure, it is essential to the development of its basic functions. Potassium chloride is the most commonly used potassium-based fertilizer. It is used to fertilize crops that can tolerate relatively high levels of chloride, and to fertilize crops that are grown under conditions with sufficient rainfall or irrigation practices that prevent chloride from accumulating to excess levels in the rooting systems of the plant.
Some benefits that may be obtained through the use of potassium are:
|·||increased yield and quality;|
|·||increased production of proteins;|
|·||intensified transport and storage of assimilates;|
|·||prolonged and more intense assimilation period;|
|·||improved water efficiency;|
|·||regulated opening and closure of stomata; and|
|·||synthesis of lycopene.|
Potassium chloride is also an important component for our specialty plant nutrition product line, where it is used as a raw material to produce potassium nitrate.
Since 2009, our effective end product capacity has increased to over 2 million metric tons per year, granting us improved flexibility and market coverage.
During the last decade, growth in demand for potassium chloride, and for fertilizers in general, has been driven by several key factors, such as a growing world population, higher demand for protein-based diets and less arable land. All of these factors contribute to fertilizer demand growth as a result of efforts to maximize crop yields and use resources more efficiently. For the last ten years, the compound annual growth for the global potassium chloride market was approximately 1-2%. We estimate that demand fell 2 million metric tons in 2019, reaching 64 million metric tons.
According to studies prepared by the International Fertilizer Industry Association, cereals account for approximately 45% of world potassium consumption, including corn (14%), rice (13%) and wheat (3%). Oilseeds, predominantly soybeans and palm oil, represent approximately 16% of total potassium demand. Fruits and vegetables account for approximately 22% of world potassium demand, and sugar crops account for close to 7%.
Potassium: Our Products
Potassium chloride differs from our specialty plant nutrition products because it is a commodity fertilizer and contains chloride. We offer potassium chloride in two grades: standard and compacted. Potassium sulfate is considered a specialty fertilizer and we offer this product in soluble grades.
The following table shows our sales volumes of and revenues from potassium chloride and potassium sulfate for 2019, 2018 and 2017:
|Sales volumes (Th. MT)|
|Potassium chloride and potassium sulfate||597.3||831.8||1,344.3|
|Total revenues (in US$ millions)||212.2||267.5||379.3|
Our revenues in 2019 were US$212.2 million, a 20.7% decrease from US$267.5 million in 2018, due to significantly lower sales volumes during the year. Our sales volumes in 2019 were approximately 28.2% lower than sales volumes reported last year.
Potassium: Marketing and Customers
In 2019, we sold potassium chloride and potassium sulfate to approximately 514 customers in approximately 38 countries. One individual customer accounted for more than 10% of our revenues of potassium chloride and potassium sulfate in 2019, which represents approximately 12% of our total revenues. We estimate that our ten largest customers accounted in the aggregate for approximately 44% of such revenues. One supplier accounted for more than 10% of the cost of sales of this business line, accounting for approximately 13% of the cost of sales for the business line. We make lease payments to Corfo which are associated with the sale of different products produced in the Salar de Atacama, including lithium carbonate, lithium hydroxide and potassium chloride. See Note 24.2 to our consolidated financial statements for the disclosure of lease payments made to Corfo for all periods presented.
The following table shows the geographical breakdown of our revenues:
|Central and South America (excluding Chile)||31%||30%||38%|
|Asia and Others||23%||24%||20%|
We estimate that we accounted for less than 1% of global sales of potassium chloride in 2019. Our main competitors are Nutrien, Uralkali, Belaruskali and Mosaic. We estimate that in 2019, Belaruskali accounted for approximately 20% of global sales, Nutrien accounted for approximately 18% of global sales, Uralkali accounted for approximately 16% of global sales, and Mosaic accounted for approximately 13% of global sales.
In the potassium sulfate market, we have several competitors, of which the most important are K+S KALI GmbH (Germany), Tessenderlo Chemie (Belgium) and Great Salt Lake Minerals Corp. (United States). We estimate that these three producers account for approximately 30% of its worldwide production of potassium sulfate. In 2019, SQM reinstated its own production of potassium sulphate.
In 2019, our revenues from industrial chemicals were US$94.9 million, representing approximately 4.9% of our total revenues for that year. We estimate that our market share in the industrial potassium nitrate market was approximately 30% for 2019.
In addition to producing sodium and potassium nitrate for agricultural applications, we produce different grades of these products, including prilled grades, for industrial applications. The grades differ mainly in their chemical purity. We enjoy certain operational flexibility producing industrial nitrates, because they are produced from the same process as their equivalent agricultural grades, needing only an additional step of purification. We may, with certain constraints, shift production from one grade to the other depending on market conditions. This flexibility allows us to maximize yields and to reduce commercial risk.
In addition to producing industrial nitrates, we produce, market and sell industrial-grade potassium chloride.
Industrial Chemicals: Market
Industrial sodium and potassium nitrates are used in a wide range of industrial applications, including the production of glass, ceramics, explosives, metal recycling, insulation materials, and metal treatments together with various chemical processes.
In addition, this product line has also experienced growth from the use of industrial nitrates as thermal storage in concentrated solar power plants (commonly known as “CSP”). Solar salts for this specific application contain a blend of 60% sodium nitrate and 40% potassium nitrate by weight ratio and are used as a storage and heat transfer medium. Unlike traditional photovoltaic plants, these new plants use a “thermal battery” that contains molten sodium nitrate and potassium nitrate, which store the heat collected during the day. The salts are heated up during the day, while the plants are operating under direct sunlight, and at night they release the solar energy that they have captured, allowing the plants to operate even during hours of darkness. Depending on the power plant technology, solar salts are also used as a heat transfer fluid in the plant system and thereby make CSP plants even more efficient, increasing their output and reducing the Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE).
We see a growing trend for the CSP application as a result of its economical long duration electricity storage. The thermal storage of CSP plants helps to improve the stabilization of the electricity grid. Like all large power generation plants, such large CSP power plants are capital intensive and require a relatively long development period.
We supply solar salts to CSP projects around the world. In 2019, we supplied our solar salts to the first CSP projects in Chile and Italy totaling over 48,000 metric tons. We have also secured a contract for the supply of a major installation in the Middle East in the next 3 years.
We are also experiencing a growing interest in using solar salts in thermal storage solutions not related to CSP technology. Due to their proven performance, solar salts are being tested in industrial heat processes and heat waste solutions. These new applications may open new opportunities for solar salts uses in the near future.
Industrial Chemicals: Our Products
The following table shows our sales volumes of industrial chemicals and total revenues for 2019, 2018 and 2017:
|Sales volumes (Th. MT)|
|Total revenues (in US$ millions)||94.9||108.3||135.6|
Revenues for industrial chemicals decreased to US$94.9 million in 2019 from US$108.3 million in 2018, as a result of lower sales volumes in this business line. Sales volumes in 2019 decreased 9.1% compared to sales volumes reported last year.
Industrial Chemicals: Marketing and Customers
We sold our industrial nitrate products in approximately 52 countries in 2019 to approximately 277 customers. One customer accounted for more than 10% of our revenues of industrial chemicals in 2019, accounting for approximately 37%, and our ten largest customers accounted in the aggregate for approximately 59% of such revenues. No supplier accounted for more than 10% of the cost of sales of this business line. We make lease payments to CORFO which are associated with the sale of different products produced in the Salar de Atacama, including lithium carbonate, lithium hydroxide and potassium chloride. See Note 24.2 to our consolidated financial statements for the disclosure of lease payments made to CORFO for all periods presented.
The following table shows the geographical breakdown of our revenues for 2019, 2018 and 2017:
|Central and South America (excluding Chile)||7%||11%||7%|
|Asia and Others||6%||43%||51%|
We sell our industrial chemical products mainly through our own worldwide network of representative offices and through our sales and distribution affiliates. We maintain inventories of our different grades of sodium nitrate and potassium nitrate products at our facilities in Europe, North America, Mexico, South Africa, Asia and South America to achieve prompt deliveries to customers. We provide support to our customers and continuously work with them to develop new products or applications for our products.
Industrial Chemicals: Competition
We believe we are one of the leading producers of sodium nitrate and potassium nitrate for industrial uses. In the case of industrial sodium nitrate, we estimate that our sales represented close to 32% of world demand in 2019 (excluding domestic demand for China and India, for which we believe reliable estimates are not available). Our competitors are mainly based in Europe and Asia, producing sodium nitrate as a by-product of other production processes. In refined grade sodium nitrate, BASF AG, a German corporation, and several producers in China and Eastern Europe are highly competitive. Our industrial sodium nitrate products also compete indirectly with substitute chemicals, including sodium carbonate, sodium sulfate, calcium nitrate and ammonium nitrate, which may be used in certain applications instead of sodium nitrate and are available from a large number of producers worldwide.
Our main competitor in the industrial potassium nitrate business is Haifa, which we estimate had a market share of 16% for 2019. We estimate that our market share was approximately 30% for 2019.
Producers compete in the market for industrial sodium and potassium nitrate based on reliability, product quality, price and customer service. We believe that we are a low-cost producer of both products and are able to produce high quality products with local presence and expertise.
In the industrial potassium chloride market, we are a relatively small producer, mainly supplying regional needs.
In the solar salts business, we believe we have been the market leader since we started selling to commercial projects in 2007. Currently, our competitors in the potassium nitrate business are principally Chinese companies. In the sodium nitrate business, BASF is the main competitor.
A large part of our other revenue is related to fertilizer trading, usually commodities. These fertilizers are traded in large volumes worldwide. We have developed a trade, supply and inventory management business that allows us to respond quickly and effectively to the changing fertilizer market in which we operate and profit on these trades.
Our integrated production process can be classified according to our natural resources:
|·||caliche ore deposits, which contain nitrates, iodine and potassium; and|
|·||brines from the Salar de Atacama, which contain potassium, lithium, sulfate, boron and magnesium.|
Caliche Ore Deposits
Caliche ore deposits are located in the First and Second Regions in northern Chile. During 2019, our mining operations concentrated in the First Region where we mainly worked in the mining sector Tente en el Aire and in the mining sectors Nueva Victoria Oeste, Norte and Sur. The Second Region mining operations at the Pampa Blanca site, the El Toco mine (which is part of the María Elena site) and the Pedro de Valdivia site were suspended in March 2010, November 2013 and November 2015, respectively, in an effort to optimize our production facilities with lower production costs.
Caliche ore is found under a layer of barren overburden in seams with variable thickness from twenty centimeters to four meters, and with the overburden varying in thickness between half a meter and two meters.
Before proper mining begins, the exploration stage is carried out, including complete geological reconnaissance, sampling and drilling caliche ore to determine the quality and characteristics of each deposit. Drill-hole samples are properly identified and tested at our chemical laboratories. With the exploration information on a closed grid pattern of drill holes, the ore evaluation stage provides information for mine planning purposes. Mine planning is done on a long-term basis (ten years), medium-term basis (three to five years) and short-term basis (one year). Once all of this information has been compiled, detailed planning for the exploitation of the mine takes place.
The mining process generally begins with bulldozers first removing the overburden in the mining area. This process is followed by an inspection and review of the drill holes before production drilling and blasting occurs to break the caliche seams. Front-end loaders and bulldozers load the ore onto off-road trucks, which take it to the leaching heaps to be processed.
During 2019, SQM continued working with mining equipment to replace the drilling and blasting process for mining some of the caliche ore and obtaining a smaller ore size (under 6 ½ inches) that allows a better metallurgical recovery.
The run of mine ore is loaded in heaps and leached with water to produce concentrated solutions containing iodine, nitrate and potassium. These solutions are then sent to plants where iodine is extracted through both solvent-extraction and blow out processes. The remaining solutions are subsequently sent to solar evaporation ponds where the solutions are evaporated and salts rich in nitrate and potassium are produced. These concentrated salts are then sent to Coya Sur where they are used to produce potassium nitrate.
During 2019, the Pedro de Valdivia site generated solutions produced by leaching the mine tailings. These solutions are treated at the iodide plant at Pedro de Valdivia. After iodide is obtained, the remaining solutions, which are rich in nitrate and potassium, are sent to the solar evaporation ponds at Coya Sur in order to be used in the production of potassium nitrate.
Caliche Ore-Derived Products
Caliche ore-derived products are sodium nitrate, potassium nitrate, sodium potassium nitrate and iodine.
During 2019, sodium nitrate for both agricultural and industrial applications was produced by inventory generated at the Pedro de Valdivia facility and subsequently processed at the Coya Sur plants. The production at the Pedro de Valdivia facility, until November 2015, generated approximately 700,000 tons of inventory. We used the remaining sodium nitrate inventory during 2019 to produce finished nitrates. For subsequent production of sodium nitrate, we will use nitrate salts produced at our Nueva Victoria facility, which was completed in December 2019.
Crystallized sodium nitrate is an intermediate product that is subsequently processed further at the Coya Sur production plants to produce sodium nitrate, potassium nitrate and sodium potassium nitrate in different chemical and physical forms, including crystallized and prilled products. Finally, the products are transported by truck to our port facilities in Tocopilla for shipping to customers and distributors worldwide.
Potassium nitrate is produced at our Coya Sur facility using a production process developed in-house. The brines generated by the leaching process at Pedro de Valdivia are pumped to Coya Sur’s solar evaporation ponds for a nitrate concentration process. After the nitrate concentration process, the brine is pumped to a conversion plant where potassium salts from the Salar de Atacama and nitrate and potassium salts produced at Nueva Victoria or Coya Sur are added. A chemical reaction begins, transforming sodium nitrate into potassium nitrate and discarding formed sodium chloride. This brine is pumped to a crystallization plant, which crystallizes the potassium nitrate by cooling it at atmospheric pressure and separating it from the liquid by centrifuge.
Our current potassium nitrate production capacity at Coya Sur is approximately 1,300,000 metric tons per year. During 2019, new operational improvements have been achieved by significantly integrating the production process of the Coya Sur facilities, allowing new increases in production capacity without major investments and improving the use of raw materials from the Salar de Atacama and Nueva Victoria. The potassium nitrate produced at Coya Sur is transported to Tocopilla for shipping and delivery to customers and distributors. All potassium nitrate produced in crystallized or prilled form at Coya Sur has been certified by TÜV-Rheiland under the quality standard ISO 9001:2008.
Sodium Potassium Nitrate
Sodium potassium nitrate is a mixture of approximately two parts sodium nitrate per one part potassium nitrate. We produce sodium potassium nitrate at our Coya Sur prilling facilities using standard, non-patented production methods we have developed. Crystallized sodium nitrate is supplied together with the crystallized potassium nitrate to the prilling plant where it is mixed producing sodium potassium nitrate, which is then melted and prilled. The prilled sodium potassium nitrate is transported to Tocopilla for bulk shipment to customers.
The production process for sodium potassium nitrate is basically the same as that for sodium nitrate and potassium nitrate. With certain production restraints and following market conditions, we may supply sodium nitrate, potassium nitrate or sodium potassium nitrate, either in prilled or crystallized form.
The sodium potassium nitrate produced at Coya Sur is transported to Tocopilla for shipping and delivery to customers and distributors.
Iodine and Iodine Derivatives
During 2019, we produced iodine at our facilities at Nueva Victoria (including the Iris facility) and Pedro de Valdivia. Iodine is extracted from solutions produced by leaching caliche ore.
As in the case of nitrates, the process of extracting iodine from the caliche ore is well established, but variations in the iodine and other chemical contents of the treated ore and other operating parameters require a high level of know-how to manage the process effectively and efficiently.
The solutions resulting from the leaching of caliche ore carry iodine in iodate form. Part of the iodate solution is reduced to iodide using sulfur dioxide, which is produced by combusting (burning) sulfur. The resulting iodide is combined with the rest of the untreated iodate solution to release elemental iodine in low concentrations. The iodine is then extracted from the aqueous solutions and concentrated in iodide form using a solvent extraction and stripping plant in the Pedro de Valdivia and Nueva Victoria facilities and using a blow out plant in the Iris facility. The concentrated iodide is oxidized to metallic iodine, which is then refined through a smelting process and prilled. We have obtained patents in the United States and Chile (Chilean patent number 47,080) for our iodine prilling process.
Prilled iodine is tested for quality control purposes, using international standard procedures that we have implemented. It is then packed in 20 to 50-kilogram drums or 350 to 700 kilogram maxi bags and transported by truck to Antofagasta, Mejillones, or Iquique for export. Our iodine and iodine derivatives production facilities have qualified under the ISO-9001:2008 program, providing third-party certification—by TÜV-Rheiland—of the quality management system. The last recertification process was approved in February 2011. Iodine from the Iris plant was certified under ISO-9001:2008 in April 2012.
Our total iodine production in 2019 was 12,082 metric tons: 9,558 metric tons from Nueva Victoria, 1,174 metric tons from Iris, and 1,351 metric tons from Pedro de Valdivia. Nueva Victoria is also equipped to toll iodine from iodide delivered from our other facilities. We have the flexibility to adjust our production according to market conditions. Following the production facility restructuring at Pedro de Valdivia and Nueva Victoria, along with the ramp-up of our new iodide plant in Nueva Victoria, our total current effective production capacity at our iodine production plants is approximately 14,800 metric tons per year.
We use a portion of the iodine we produce to manufacture inorganic iodine derivatives, which are intermediate products used for manufacturing agricultural and nutritional applications, at facilities located near Santiago, Chile. We also produce inorganic and organic iodine derivative products together with Ajay, which purchases iodine from us. In the past, we have primarily sold our iodine derivative products in South America, Africa and Asia, while Ajay and its affiliates have primarily sold their iodine derivative products in North America and Europe.
In September 2010, CONAMA, currently known as the Chilean Environmental Evaluation Service, approved the environmental study of our Pampa Hermosa project in the Tarapacá Region of Chile. This environmental permit allows for an increase in the production capacity of our Nueva Victoria operations to 11,000 metric tons of iodine per year and to produce up to 1.2 million metric tons of crystallized nitrates, mine up to 37 million metric tons of caliche per year and use new water rights of up to 665.7 liters per second. In Iris, we are approved for 2,000 metric tons of iodine production per year, with an annual extraction of caliche ore up to 6.48 million metric tons per year. In recent years, we have made investments in order to increase the water capacity in the Nueva Victoria operations from two water sources approved by the environmental study of Pampa Hermosa, expand the capacity of solar evaporation ponds, and implement new areas of mining and collection of solutions. Our current production capacity at Nueva Victoria is approximately 13,000 metric tons per year of iodine (including the Iris operations) and 1,000,000 metric tons per year of nitrates. Additional expansions may be implemented from time to time in the future, depending on market conditions.
Salar de Atacama Brine Deposits
The Salar de Atacama, located approximately 250 kilometers east of Antofagasta, is a salt-encrusted depression in the Atacama Desert, within which lies an underground deposit of brines contained in porous sodium chloride rock fed by an underground inflow from the Andes mountains, which is the result of millions of years of climatic and tectonic impacts. Brines are pumped from depths of 1.5 to 150 meters below surface, through a field of wells that are located in the Salar de Atacama, distributed in areas authorized for exploitation, and which contain relatively high concentrations of potassium, lithium, sulfates, boron and other minerals.
The brines are estimated to cover a surface of approximately 2,800 square kilometers and contain commercially exploitable deposits of potassium, lithium, sulfates and boron. Concentrations vary at different locations throughout the Salar de Atacama. Our mining exploitation rights to the Salar de Atacama are pursuant to the Lease Agreement, which expires in 2030. The Lease Agreement, as amended in January 2018, permits the Chilean Nuclear Energy Commission (Comisión Chilena de Energía Nuclear) to establish a total accumulated production and sales limit of up to 349,553 metric tons of lithium metallic equivalent (1,860,670 tons of lithium carbonate equivalent), which is in addition to the approximately 64,816 metric tons of lithium metallic equivalent (345,015 tons of lithium carbonate equivalent) remaining from the originally authorized amount. See “Item 3.D. Risk Factors” and “Item 8.A.7 Legal Proceedings.”
For the year ended December 31, 2019, revenues related to products originating from the Salar de Atacama represented 37% of our consolidated revenues, consisting of revenues from our potassium business line and our lithium and derivatives business line for the period. All of our products originating from the Salar de Atacama are derived from our extraction operations under the Lease Agreement. As of December 31, 2019, only 11 years remain on the term of the Lease Agreement.
Products Derived from the Salar de Atacama Brines
The products derived from the Salar de Atacama brines are potassium chloride, potassium sulfate, potassium salts, lithium carbonate, lithium hydroxide, lithium salts, lithium chloride, boric acid and bischofite (magnesium chloride).
We use potassium chloride in the production of potassium nitrate. Production of our own supplies of potassium chloride provides us with substantial raw material cost savings. We also sell potassium chloride to third parties, primarily as a commodity fertilizer.
In order to produce potassium chloride, brines from the Salar de Atacama are pumped to solar evaporation ponds. Evaporation of the water contained in the brine, results in a crystallized mixture of salts with various content levels of potassium, sodium and magnesium. In the first stage of the evaporation process, sodium chloride salts (halite) precipitate, they are then harvested are removed; these salts are not used in the production process of other products. In the second stage of the evaporation process, the remaining brine from the first stage is transferred to other evaporation ponds where potassium chloride salts together with sodium chloride (sylvinite) precipitate, these salts are harvested and then sent for treatment at one of the wet potassium chloride plants where potassium chloride is separated by a grinding, flotation, and filtering process. In the final evaporation stage, salts containing magnesium are harvested and eventually can be treated at one of the cold leach plants where magnesium is removed. Part of the potassium chloride is transported approximately 300 kilometers to our Coya Sur facilities via a dedicated truck transport system, where it is used in the production of potassium nitrate. The use of potassium chloride salts as a raw material in Coya Sur allows us to capture significant savings, as it allows us to use potassium salts with different qualities and to avoid buying and importing potassium chloride from external sources.
The remainder of the potassium chloride produced at the Salar de Atacama is shipped to our port in Tocopilla in either crystalized (standard) or granular (compacted) form and then shipped and sold as a commodity fertilizer to third parties. All of our potassium-related plants in the Salar de Atacama currently have a nominal production capacity of up to 2.6 million metric tons per year. Actual production capacity depends on volume, metallurgical recovery rates quality of the salts used in the process and quality of the mining resources pumped from the Salar de Atacama.
The by-products of the potassium chloride production process are (i) solutions remaining after removal of the potassium chloride, which are used to produce lithium carbonate as described below, with the excess amount not required for lithium carbonate production being reinjected into the Salar de Atacama; (ii) sodium chloride, which is similar to the surface material of the Salar de Atacama and is deposited at sites near the production facility and (iii) other salts containing magnesium chloride.
Lithium Carbonate and Lithium Chloride
After the production of potassium chloride, a portion of the solutions remaining is sent to additional solar concentration ponds adjacent to the potassium concentration ponds. At this stage, the solution is purified and concentrated by precipitation to remove impurities it may still contain, including calcium, sulfate, potassium, sodium and magnesium, reaching a lithium concentration level of approximately 6%. Next is the process of concentration and purification of the remaining concentrated solution of lithium chloride, which is transported by truck to the Salar del Carmen production facility located near Antofagasta, approximately 230 kilometers southeast of the Salar de Atacama. At this plant, the solution is further purified and treated with sodium carbonate to produce lithium carbonate, which is dried and then, if necessary, compacted and finally packaged for shipment to customers.
The production capacity of our lithium carbonate facility at the end of 2019, following an expansion project that took place in 2018 and 2019, was 70,000 metric tons per year. We are now beginning the further expansion to 120,000 metric tons per year; which we expect to complete during 2021.
Future production will depend on the actual volumes and quality of the lithium solutions sent by the Salar de Atacama operations, as well as prevailing market conditions. Our future production will also be subject to the extraction limit described in the Lease Agreement mentioned above. See “—Salar de Atacama Brine Deposits” and “Item 8.A.7 Legal Proceedings.”
Our lithium carbonate production quality assurance program has been certified by TÜV-Rheiland under ISO 9001 since 2005 and specifically under ISO 9001:2015 since September 2018.
Lithium carbonate is sold to customers, and we also use it as a raw material for our lithium hydroxide production, which started operations at the end of 2005. We currently have two lithium hydroxide plants, one of which entered into operations at the end of 2018, and have a total production capacity of 13,500 metric tons per year. These plants are located in the Salar del Carmen, adjacent to our lithium carbonate operations. In the production process, lithium carbonate is reacted with a lime solution to produce lithium hydroxide brine and calcium carbonate salt, which is filtered and piled in reservoirs. The lithium hydroxide solution is evaporated in a multiple effect evaporator and crystallized to produce the lithium hydroxide, which is filtered, dried and packaged for shipment to customers.
During 2019, we moved forward on an expansion plan which will allow us to produce an additional 8,000 metric tons per year of lithium hydroxide, reaching a total capacity of 21,500 metric tons per year. We believe this capacity level will be reached by the beginning of 2021.
Our lithium hydroxide production quality assurance program has been certified by TÜV-Rheiland under ISO 9001 since 2007 and specifically under ISO 9001:2015 since September 2018.
Potassium Sulfate and Boric Acid
Approximately 12 kilometers northeast of the potassium chloride facilities at the Salar de Atacama, we use the brines from the Salar de Atacama to produce potassium sulfate, potassium chloride (as a by-product of the potassium sulfate process) and, depending on market conditions, boric acid. The plant is located in an area of the Salar de Atacama where high sulfate and potassium concentrations are found in the brines to produce potassium sulfate. The brine is pumped to solar evaporation ponds, where sodium chloride salts are precipitated, harvested and put into piles. After further evaporation, the sulfate and potassium salts precipitate in different concentrations and are harvested and sent for processing to the potassium sulfate plant. Potassium sulfate is produced using flotation, concentration and reaction processes, after which it is crystallized, filtered, dried, classified and packaged for shipment.
Production capacity for the potassium sulfate plant is approximately 340,000 metric tons per year, of which approximately 95,000 metric tons correspond to potassium chloride obtained as a by-product of the potassium sulfate process. This capacity is part of the total nominal plant capacity of 2.6 million metric tons per year. In our dual plant complex, we may switch, to some extent, between potassium chloride and potassium sulfate production. Part of the pond system in this area is also used to process potassium chloride brines extracted from the low sulfate concentration areas found in the Salar de Atacama. Depending on the conditions for the optimization of the deposit operation and/or market conditions, potassium sulfate production can be modified to produce potassium chloride.
The principal by-products of the production of potassium sulfate are: (i) non-commercial sodium chloride, which is deposited at sites near the production facility and (ii) remaining solutions, which are re-injected into the Salar de Atacama or returned to the evaporation ponds. The principal by-products of the boric acid production process are remaining solutions that are treated with sodium carbonate to neutralize acidity and then are reinjected into the Salar de Atacama.
The main raw material that we require in the production of nitrate and iodine is caliche ore, which is obtained from our surface mines. The main raw material in the production of potassium chloride, lithium carbonate and potassium sulfate is the brine extracted from our operations at the Salar de Atacama.
Other important raw materials are sodium carbonate (used for lithium carbonate production and for the neutralization of iodine solutions), sulfuric acid, kerosene, anti-caking and anti-dust agents, ammonium nitrate (used for the preparation of explosives in the mining operations), woven bags for packaging our final products, electricity acquired from electric utilities companies, and liquefied natural gas and fuel oil for heat generation. Our raw material costs (excluding caliche ore and salar brines and including energy) represented approximately 16% of our cost of sales in 2019.
Since 2017, we have been connected to the central grid, which supplies electricity to the majority of cities and industries in Chile. We have several electricity supply agreements signed with major producers in Chile, which are within the contract terms. Our electricity needs are primarily covered by the Electrical Energy Supply Agreement that we entered into with AES Gener S.A. on December 31, 2012. Pursuant to the terms of the Electrical Energy Supply Agreement, we are required to purchase an amount of electricity that exceeds the amount that we estimate we will need for our operations. The excess amount is sold at marginal cost, which could result in a material loss for us.
For our supply of liquefied natural gas, we maintain a five-year contract with Engie, which was executed in 2019. In addition, we have a supply of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) from Lipigas in the Salar del Carmen and we plan to have a supply of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) from Lipigas in the Salar de Atacama as well as beginning in 2020 to replace diesel consumption.
We obtain ammonium nitrate, sulfuric acid, kerosene and soda ash from several large suppliers, mainly in Chile and the United States, under long-term contracts or general agreements, some of which contain provisions for annual revisions of prices, quantities and deliveries. Diesel fuel is obtained under contracts that provide fuel at international market prices.
We believe that all of our contracts and agreements with third-party suppliers with respect to our main raw materials contain standard and customary commercial terms and conditions.
We hold water rights for the supply of surface and subterranean water near our production facilities. The main sources of water for our nitrate and iodine facilities at Pedro de Valdivia, María Elena and Coya Sur are the Loa and San Salvador rivers, which run near our production facilities. Water for our Nueva Victoria and Salar de Atacama facilities is obtained from wells near the production facilities. In addition, we buy water from third parties for our production processes at the Salar del Carmen lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide plants, and we also purchase potable water from local utility companies. We have not experienced significant difficulties obtaining the necessary water to conduct our operations.
Regulations in Chile Generally
We are subject to the full range of government regulations and supervision generally applicable to companies engaged in business in Chile, including labor laws, social security laws, public health laws, consumer protection laws, tax laws, environmental laws, free competition laws, and securities laws. These include regulations to ensure sanitary and safety conditions in manufacturing plants.
We conduct our mining operations pursuant to judicial exploration concessions and exploitation concessions granted pursuant to applicable Chilean law. Exploitation concessions essentially grant a perpetual right (with the exception of the Salar de Atacama rights, which have been leased to us until 2030) to conduct mining operations in the areas covered by such concessions, provided that annual concession fees are paid. Exploration concessions permit us to explore for mineral resources on the land covered thereby for a specified period of time, and to subsequently request a corresponding exploitation concession.
Under Law No. 16,319 that created the Chilean Nuclear Energy Commission (Comisión Chilena de Energía Nuclear), or “CCHEN”, we have an obligation to the CCHEN regarding the exploitation and sale of lithium from the Salar de Atacama, which prohibits the use of lithium for nuclear fusion. In addition, CCHEN has imposed quotas that limit the total tonnage of lithium authorized to be sold, along with other conditions.
We also hold water use rights granted by the respective administrative authorities and which enable us to have a supply of water from rivers or wells near our production facilities sufficient to meet our current operating requirements. See “Item 3.D. Risk Factors—Risks Relating to Chile—Changes to the Chilean Constitution could impact a wide range of rights, including mining rights, water rights and property rights generally, and could affect our business, results of operations and financial condition.” and “—Changes in water rights laws and other regulations could affect our operating costs.” The Chilean Constitution, the Water Code and related regulations are subject to change, which could have a material adverse impact on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
We operate port facilities at Tocopilla, Chile for the shipment of products and the delivery of raw materials in conformity with maritime concessions, which have been granted by the respective administrative authority. These concessions are normally renewable on application, provided that such facilities are used as authorized and annual concession fees are paid.
In 2005, Law No. 20,026, known as the Law to Establish a Specific Tax on Mining Activity” (Ley que Establece un Impuesto Específico a la Actividad Minera or the “Royalty Law”), established a royalty tax to be applied to mining activities developed in Chile. In 2010, modifications were made to the law and taxes were increased.
On September 29, 2014, the Tax Reform was published, introducing significant changes to the Chilean tax system and strengthening the powers of the Chilean Internal Revenue Service to control and prevent tax evasion. Then, on February 8, 2016, Law No. 20,899 was published which “Simplifies the Income Tax System and Perfects Other Legal Tax Provisions”. Subsequently, on February 24, 2020, Law No.21,210 was published, which “Modernizes the Tax Legislation”. As a result of these reforms, open stock corporations, such as SQM, are subject to the general rules. The corporate tax rate that applies to us increased to 27% in 2018.
The Chilean government may again decide to levy additional taxes on mining companies or other corporations in Chile, and such taxes could have a material adverse impact on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
We are also subject to the Chilean Labor Code and the Subcontracting Law, which are overseen by the Labor Authority (Dirección del Trabajo), the National Geology and Mining Service (Servicio Nacional de Geología y Minería or “Sernageomin”), and the National Health Service. Recent changes to these laws and their application may have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations. See “Item 3.D. Risk Factors—Risks Relating to Our Business—We are exposed to labor strikes and labor liabilities that could impact our production levels and costs.”
In addition, we are subject to Law No. 20,393, which establishes criminal liability for legal entities, for the crimes of (a) asset laundering, (b) financing terrorism and (c) bribery. Potential sanctions for violations under this law could include (i) fines, (ii) loss of certain governmental benefits during a given period, (iii) a temporary or permanent bar against the corporation executing contracts with governmental entities, and (iv) dissolution of corporation.
Finally, we are subject to the Securities Law and Law No. 18,046 on Corporations (Ley de Sociedades Anónimas or the “Chilean Corporations Act”), which regulates corporate governance of public companies. Specifically, the Chilean Corporations Act regulates, among other things, independent director requirements, disclosure obligations to the general public and to the CMF, as well as regulations relating to the use of inside information, the independence of external auditors, and procedures for the analysis of transactions with related parties. See “Item 6.C. Board Practices” and “Item 7.B. Related Party Transactions.”
There are currently no material legal or administrative proceedings pending against us except as discussed under “Item 8.A.7 Legal Proceedings”, in Note 22 to our Consolidated Financial Statements and below under “Safety, Health and Environmental Regulations in Chile.”
Safety, Health and Environmental Regulations in Chile
Our operations in Chile are subject to both national and local regulations related to safety, health and environmental protection. In Chile, the main regulations on these matters that are applicable to us are the Mine Health and Safety Act of 1989 (Reglamento de Seguridad Minera or the “Mine Health and Safety Act”), the Health Code (Código Sanitario), the Health and Basic Conditions Act of 1999 (Reglamento sobre Condiciones Sanitarias y Ambientales Básicas en los Lugares de Trabajo or the “Health and Basic Conditions Act”), the Subcontracting Law and the Environmental Law of 1994, amended in 2010 (Ley sobre Bases Generales del Medio Ambiente or the “Environmental Law”).
Health and safety at work are fundamental aspects in the management of mining operations, which is why we have made constant efforts to maintain good health and safety conditions for the people working at our mining sites and facilities. In addition to the role played by us in this important matter, the Chilean government has a regulatory role, enacting and enforcing regulations in order to protect and ensure the health and safety of workers. The Chilean government, acting through the Ministry of Health and the Sernageomin, performs health and safety inspections at the mining sites and oversees mining projects, among other tasks, and it has exclusive powers to enforce standards related to environmental conditions and the health and safety of the people performing activities related to mining.
The Mine Health and Safety Act protects workers and nearby communities against health and safety hazards, and it provides for enforcement of the law where compliance has not been achieved. Our Internal Mining Standards (Reglamentos Internos Mineros) establish our obligation to maintain a workplace where safety and health risks are managed appropriately. We are subject to the general provisions of the Health and Basic Conditions Act, our own internal standards and the provisions of the Mine Health and Safety Act. In the event of non-compliance, the Ministry of Health and particularly the Sernageomin are entitled to use their enforcement powers to ensure compliance with the law.
In November 2011, the Ministry of Mining enacted Law No. 20,551 that Regulates the Closure of Mining Sites and Facilities (Ley que Regula el Cierre de Faenas e Instalaciones Mineras). This statute entered in force in November 2012 and required all mining sites to present or update their closure plans as of November 2014. SQM has fulfilled this requirement for all of its mining sites and facilities. The main requirements of the law are related to disclosures to the Sernageomin regarding decommissioning plans for each mining site and its facilities, along with the estimated cost to implement such plans. The mining site closure plans are approved by Sernageomin and the corresponding financial assurances are subject to approval by the CMF. In both cases, SQM has received the requisite approvals.
The new and modified Chilean Environmental Law defines the Ministry of the Environment as the governmental agency responsible for coordinating and supervising environmental issues. The Environmental Assessment Service is responsible for reviewing environmental assessments of new projects or significant modifications of existing ones, and the decision to grant or reject environmental permits rests with the Environmental Assessment Commission. On the other hand, the Superintendence for the Environment is responsible for supervising environmental performance during the construction, operation and closure of the projects that have been evaluated for environmental permits, and it is also responsible for enforcing compliance with prevention and atmospheric decontamination plans. The Environmental Law also promotes citizen participation in project evaluation and implementation, providing more opportunities for observations or objections to be made during the environmental evaluation process. Annually, the Superintendence for the Environment audits a sample of approved projects to verify compliance with the environmental permits, and it may pursue fines or sanctions if applicable, which can be challenged in the Environmental Court.
We continuously monitor the impact of our operations on the environment and on the health of our employees and other persons who may be affected by such operations. We have made modifications to our facilities in an effort to eliminate any adverse impacts. Also, over time, new environmental standards and regulations have been enacted, which have required minor adjustments or modifications of our operations. We anticipate that additional laws and regulations will be enacted over time with respect to environmental matters. There can be no assurance that future legislative or regulatory developments will not impose new restrictions on our operations. We are committed to continuously improving our environmental performance through our Environmental Management System (“EMS”), voluntary evaluations, such as Ecovadis, and international certifications, such as the Responsible Conduct certification from the Chilean Industrial Chemicals Association, which applies to our operations at Nueva Victoria, and the Protect & Sustain certification from the International Fertilizer Association, which applies to our operations at Coya Sur, the Salar de Atacama, Tocopilla, Antofagasta and Santiago.
We have submitted and will continue to submit environmental impact assessment studies related to our projects to the governmental authorities. We require the authorization of these submissions in order to maintain and to increase our production capacity.
We are subject to complex regulatory requirements in the various jurisdictions in which we operate, including the following implemented during 2019:
At the end of 2018, the European Parliament, the Council of Member States of the European Union and the European Commission agreed to a new regulation for fertilizers. The new European regulation reduces the maximum content limit of perchlorates in inorganic fertilizer with macronutrients, such as the potassium nitrate sold by us, to 50 ppm (0.005%). In addition to this limit, the regulation incorporates maximum levels of other pollutants, such as heavy metals, and establishes a new procedure – called a conformity assessment – to be undertaken prior to the commercialization of fertilizers in Europe. The fertilizers that we sell contain less than 0.005% of perchlorate; however, the Food Chain Security unit of the General Health and Consumer Affairs Council initiated a revision of the perchlorate limits in food that have been in force and effect since June 2015, following the European Food Safety Authority’s (“EFSA”) evaluation of human exposure to perchlorate in food and in drinkable water. We expect a new definition of the new limits of perchlorates in food in the near term.
In South Korea SQM pre-registered five chemical substances in the first half of 2019 under the K-REACH regulations, using an Exclusive Representative, in order to facilitate the regulatory compliance of our customers in this market. On January 15, 2019, the Occupational Safety and Health Act of Korea (“K-OSHA”) that applied to the chemical safety data sheets that SQM uses in South Korea was modified. The most important modification was related to that the safety data sheets must be provided to the competent authority. This modification is effective two years after publication.
On March 12, 2019, Australia approved the new Industrial Chemicals (General) Rules 2019, which regulates the import and production of industrial chemicals and replaces the current regulations. This new regulation enters into force on July 1, 2020 and establishes the import requirements for chemical substances for the product and the importer. It applies to iodine imports by SQM Oceania in Australia.
On May 25, 2019, Japan updated its standards for classification and labeling of chemical products (JIS Z 7252: 2019 and 7253: 2019) to certify them with the sixth version of the UN-GHS. This update has a transition period of three years and will require review of safety data sheets and labeling of the products that SQM sells in Japan, in 2020-2021.
During 2019, the countries that are members of the Eurasian Economic Union, including Russia, initiated a chemical inventory update process in which companies must report the chemical substances currently produced or imported into Eurasia. A pilot program was carried out in which Russia invited some companies to participate in reporting of certain chemical substances, and SQM worked with customers to provide such report. This reporting will soon be mandatory and non-reported substances will be subject to registration in accordance with Technical Regulation TR EAEU 041/2017 of the Eurasian Economic Union on Safety of Chemical Products (Eurasia-REACH).
On September 12, 2019, the Customs Standards Compendium was modified in Chile, modifying the requirements for customs declarations of products exported by SQM.
Research and Development, Patents and Licenses
See “Item 5.C. Research and Development, Patents and Licenses.”
4.C. Organizational Structure
All of our principal operating subsidiaries are essentially wholly owned, except for SQMC, which is approximately 61% owned by us and whose shares are listed and traded on the Santiago Stock Exchange, and Ajay SQM Chile S.A., which is 51% owned by us. The following is a summary of our main subsidiaries as of December 31, 2019. For a list of all our consolidated subsidiaries, see Note 2.5 to our Consolidated Financial Statements.
|Principal subsidiaries||Activity||Country of |
|SQM Nitrates S.A.||Extracts and sells caliche ore to subsidiaries and affiliates of SQM||Chile||100%|
|SQM Industrial S.A.||Produces and markets SQM’s products directly and through other subsidiaries and affiliates of SQM||Chile||100%|
|SQM Salar S.A.||Exploits the Salar de Atacama to produce and market SQM’s products directly and through other subsidiaries and affiliates of SQM||Chile||100%|
|SQM Potasios S.A.||Produces and markets SQM’s products directly and through other subsidiaries and affiliates of SQM||Chile||100%|
|Servicios Integrates de Transitos y Transferencias S.A. (SIT)||Owns and operates a rail transport system and also owns and operates the Tocopilla port facilities||Chile||100%|
|Soquimich Comercial S.A.||Markets SQM’s specialty plant nutrition products domestically and imports fertilizers for resale in Chile||Chile||61%|
|Ajay-SQM Chile S.A.||Produces and markets SQM’s iodine and iodine derivatives||Chile||51%|
|Sales and distribution subsidiaries in the United States, Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, China, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, South Africa, Spain, and other locations.||Market SQM’s products throughout the world||Various|
4.D. Property, Plant and Equipment
We carry out our operations through the use of mining rights, production facilities and transportation and storage facilities. Discussion of our mining rights is organized below according to the geographic location of our mining operations. Our caliche ore mining interests are located throughout the valley of the Tarapacá and Antofagasta regions of northern Chile (in a part of the country known as “el Norte Grande”). From caliche ore, we produce products based on nitrates and iodine, and caliche also contains concentrations of potassium. Our mining interests in the brine deposits of the Salar de Atacama are found within the Atacama Desert, in the eastern region of el Norte Grande. From these brines we primarily produce products based on potassium, sulfate, and lithium.
The map below shows the location of our principal mining operations and the exploitation and exploration mining concessions that have been granted to us, as well as the mining properties that we lease from Corfo:
Mining Concessions for the Exploration and Exploitation of Caliche Ore Mining Resources
We hold our mining rights pursuant to mining concessions for exploration and exploitation of mining resources that have been granted pursuant to applicable law in Chile:
|(1)||“Mining Exploitation Concessions”: entitle us to use the land in order to exploit the mineral resources contained therein on a perpetual basis, subject to annual payments to the Chilean government; and|
|(2)||“Mining Exploration Concessions”: entitle us to use the land in order to explore for and verify the existence of mineral resources for a period of two years, at the expiration of which the concession may be extended one time only for two additional years, if the area covered by the concession is reduced by half. We may alternatively request an exploitation concession in respect of the area covered by the original exploration concession, which must be made within the timeframe established by the original exploration concession.|
A Mining Exploration Concession is generally obtained for purposes of evaluating the mineral resources in a defined area. If the holder of the Mining Exploration Concession determines that the area does not contain commercially exploitable mineral resources, the Mining Exploration Concession is usually allowed to lapse. An application also can be made for a Mining Exploitation Concession without first having obtained a Mining Exploration Concession for the area involved.
As of December 31, 2019, the surface area covered by Mining Exploitation Concessions that have been granted in relation to the caliche resources of our mining sites is approximately 558,801 hectares. In addition, as of December 31, 2019, the surface area covered by Mining Exploration Concessions in relation to the caliche resources of our mining sites is approximately 300 hectares. We have not requested additional mining rights.
Mining Concessions for the Exploitation of Brines at the Salar de Atacama
As of December 31, 2019, our subsidiary SQM Salar held exclusive rights to exploit the mineral resources in an area covering approximately 140,000 hectares of land in the Salar de Atacama in northern Chile, of which SQM Salar is only entitled to exploit the mineral resources in 81,920 hectares. These rights are owned by Corfo and leased to SQM Salar pursuant to the Lease Agreement. Corfo cannot unilaterally amend the Lease Agreement, and the rights to exploit the resources cannot be transferred. The Lease Agreement provides for SQM Salar to (i) make quarterly lease payments to Corfo based on product sales from leased mining properties and annual contributions to research and development, to local communities, to the Antofagasta Regional Government and to the municipalities of San Pedro de Atacama, María Elena and Antofagasta, (ii) maintain Corfo’s rights over the Mining Exploitation Concessions and (iii) make annual payments to the Chilean government for such concession rights. The Lease Agreement was entered into in 1993 and expires on December 31, 2030.
Under the terms of the Project Agreement, Corfo has agreed that it will not permit any other person to explore, exploit or mine any mineral resources in the approximately 140,000 hectares area of the Salar de Atacama mentioned above. The Project Agreement expires on December 31, 2030.
SQM Salar holds an additional 236,692 hectares of constituted Mining Exploitation Concessions in areas near the Salar de Atacama, which correspond to mining reserves that have not been exploited. SQM Salar also holds Mining Exploitation Concessions that are in the process of being granted covering 4,980 hectares in areas near the Salar de Atacama.
In addition, as of December 31, 2019, SQM Salar held Mining Exploration Concessions covering approximately 16,900 hectares and had applied for additional Mining Exploration Concessions of approximately 1,600 hectares. Exploration rights are valid for a period of two years, after which we can (i) request a Mining Exploitation Concession for the land, (ii) request an extension of the Mining Exploration Concession for an additional two years (the extension only applies to a reduced surface area equal to 50% of the initial area) or (iii) allow the concession to expire.
According to the terms of the Lease Agreement, with respect to lithium production, the CCHEN established a total accumulated extraction limit set as amended by the Corfo Arbitration Agreement in January 2018, up to 349,553 metric tons of lithium metallic equivalent (1,860,670 tons of lithium carbonate equivalent), which is in addition to the approximately 64,816 metric tons of lithium metallic equivalent (345,015 tons of lithium carbonate equivalent) remaining from the originally authorized amount in the aggregate for all periods while the Lease Agreement is in force. As of December 31, 2019, only 11 years remain on the term of the Lease Agreement. See “Item 3.D. Risk Factors” and “Item 8.A.7 Legal Proceedings.”
As of December 31, 2019, approximately 99% of SQM’s mining interests were held pursuant to Mining Exploitation Concessions and 1% pursuant to Mining Exploration Concessions. Of the Mining Exploitation Concessions, approximately 97% already have been granted pursuant to applicable Chilean law, and approximately 3% are in the process of being granted. Of the Mining Exploration Concessions, approximately 76% already have been granted pursuant to applicable Chilean law, and approximately 24% are in the process of being granted.
In 2019, we made payments of US$7.9 million to the Chilean government for Mining Exploration and Exploitation Concessions, including the concessions we lease from Corfo. These payments do not include the payments we made directly to Corfo pursuant to the Lease Agreement, according to the percentages of the sales price of products produced using brines from the Salar de Atacama.
The following table shows the Mining Exploitation and Exploration Concessions held by SQM, including the mining properties we lease from Corfo, as of December 31, 2019:
|Region of Chile||Total |
|Region III and others||486||109,776||2||1,100||488||110,876|
The majority of the Mining Exploitation Concessions held by SQM were requested primarily for non-metallic mining purposes. However, a small percentage of our Mining Exploration Concessions were requested for metallic mining purposes. The annual payment to the Chilean government for this group of concessions is higher.
Geological studies over mining properties that were requested primarily for non-metallic mining purposes may show that the concession area is of interest for metallic mining purposes, in which case we must inform the Sernageomin, indicating that the type of substance contained by such Mining Concessions has changed, for purposes of the annual payment for these rights.
Caliche: Facilities and Reserves
During 2019, our mining operations concentrated in the First Region where we mainly worked in the mining sector Tente en el Aire and in the mining sectors Nueva Victoria Oeste, Norte and Sur. In November 2015, the mining and nitrate operations at Pedro de Valdivia were suspended, and iodine production was reduced at the Pedro de Valdivia site, in order to take advantage of the highly efficient production facilities at Nueva Victoria. Operations at the Pampa Blanca site were suspended in 2010, and heap leaching operations at the María Elena site were suspended in October 2013, although iodine processing continued until 2017.
The Nueva Victoria mine and facilities are located 140 kilometers southeast of Iquique and are accessible by highway. Since 2007, the Nueva Victoria mine includes the mining properties Soronal, Mapocho and Iris. At this site, we use caliche to produce salts rich in nitrates and iodine, through heap leaching and the use of solar evaporation ponds. The main production facilities at this site include the operation centers for the heap leaching process, the iodide and iodine plants at Nueva Victoria and Iris and the evaporation ponds at the Sur Viejo sector of the site. The areas currently being mined are located approximately 25 kilometers northeast of Nueva Victoria. Solar energy and electricity are the primary sources of power for this operation.
The mining facilities at Pampa Blanca, which is located 100 kilometers northeast of Antofagasta, have been suspended since March 2010. At this site, we used caliche to produce nitrates and iodine through heap leaching and the use of solar evaporation ponds. The main production facilities at this site included the operation centers for the heap leaching system and the iodide plant. Electricity was the primary source of power for this operation.
Pedro de Valdivia
The Pedro de Valdivia mine and facilities are located 170 kilometers northeast of Antofagasta and are accessible by highway. At this site, we used caliche to produce nitrates and iodine through vat leaching and solar evaporation ponds. The main production facilities at this site include the crushing, vat leaching, fines processing, nitrate crystallization plant, and iodide and iodine plants. In November 2015, the mining and nitrate operations at Pedro de Valdivia were suspended, and iodine production was reduced. Electricity, natural gas and fuel oil are the primary sources of power for this operation.
The María Elena mine and facilities, named El Toco, are located 220 kilometers northeast of Antofagasta and are accessible by highway. Until February 2010, caliche was used at this facility to produce nitrates and iodine through vat leaching. Subsequently, these facilities were equipped to produce nitrates and iodine through the use of heap leaching and solar evaporation ponds. Heap leaching operations at this site were suspended in October 2013. During 2017, we continued to produce solutions rich in iodine and nitrates by leaching the mine tailings. which were treated at the iodide plant at María Elena, and subsequently the prilled iodine is produced at Pedro de Valdivia. This process was discontinued at the end of 2017.
Our in-house staff of geologists and mining engineers prepares our estimates of caliche ore reserves. The Proven and Probable Reserve figures presented below are estimates and may be subject to modifications due to natural factors that affect the distribution of mineral grades, which would, in turn, modify the recovery of nitrate and iodine. Therefore, no assurance can be given that the indicated levels of recovery of nitrates and iodine will be realized.
We estimate ore reserves based on evaluations, performed by engineers and geologists, of assay values derived from sampling of drill-holes and other openings. Drill-holes have been made at different space intervals in order to recognize mining resources. Normally, we start with 400x400 meters and then we reduce spacing to 200x200 meters, 100x100 meters and 50x50 meters. The geological occurrence of caliche ore is unique and different from other metallic and non-metallic minerals. Caliche ore is found in large horizontal layers at depths ranging from one to four meters and has an overburden between zero and two meters. This horizontal layering is a natural geological condition and allows the Company to estimate the continuity of the caliche bed based on surface geological reconnaissance and analysis of samples and trenches. Mineral resources can be calculated using the information from the drill-hole sampling.
A Mineral Resource is a concentration or occurrence of natural, solid, inorganic or fossilized organic material in or on the Earth’s crust in such form or quantity and of such grade or quality that it has reasonable prospects for economic extraction. The location, quantity, grade, geological characteristics and continuity of a mineral resource are known, estimated or interpreted from specific geological, metallurgical and technological evidence.
A Measured Resource is the part of a Mineral Resource for which tonnage, densities, shape, physical characteristics, grade and mineral content can be estimated with a high level of confidence. The estimate is based on detailed exploration, sampling and testing information gathered through appropriate sampling techniques from locations such as outcrops, trenches, and exploratory drill holes.
An Indicated Mineral Resource is the part of a Mineral Resource for which tonnage, densities, shape, physical characteristics, grade and mineral content can be estimated with a reasonable level of confidence. The estimate is based on detailed exploration, sampling and testing information gathered through appropriate sampling techniques from locations such as outcrops, trenches and exploratory drill holes.
According to our experience in caliche ore, the grid pattern drill-holes with spacing equal to or less than 100 meters produce data on the caliche resources that is sufficiently defined to consider them Measured Resources and then, adjusting for technical, economic and legal aspects, as Proven Reserves. These reserves are obtained using the Kriging Method and the application of operating parameters to obtain economically profitable reserves.
Similarly, the information obtained from detailed geologic work and samples taken from grid pattern drill-holes with spacing equal to or less than 200 meters can be used to determine Indicated Resources. By adjusting such Indicated Resources to account for technical, economic and legal factors, it is possible to calculate Probable Reserves. Probable Reserves are calculated by using a polygon-based methodology and have an uncertainty or margin of error greater than that of Proven Reserves. However, the degree of certainty of Probable Reserves is high enough to assume continuity between points of observation.
Proven Reserves are the economically mineable part of a Measured Resource. The calculation of the reserves includes the application of mining parameters including maximum overburden, minimum thickness of caliche ore, stripping ratio, cutoff grade and application of dilution factors to the grade values. Appropriate assessments, including pre-feasibility studies or feasibility studies, have been carried out and include consideration of metallurgical, economic, marketing, legal, environmental, social and governmental factors. These assessments demonstrate at the time of reporting that extraction is reasonably justified.
Probable Reserves are the economically mineable part of an Indicated Resource and in some cases a Measured Resource. The calculation of the reserves includes the application of mining parameters including maximum overburden, minimum thickness of caliche ore, stripping ratio, cutoff grade and application of dilution factors to the grade values. Appropriate assessments, including pre-feasibility studies, have been carried out or are in process and include consideration of metallurgical, economic, marketing, legal, environmental, social and governmental factors. These assessments demonstrate at the time of reporting that extraction is reasonably justified.
The estimates of Proven Reserves of caliche ore at each of our mines as of December 31, 2019 are set forth below. The Company holds 100% of the concession rights for each of these mines.
|Nitrate Average |
|Iodine Average |
|Cutoff Grade |
|Pedro de Valdivia||91.9||6.9%||424||Nitrate 6.0 %|
|María Elena||83.3||7.2%||436||Iodine 300 ppm|
|Pampa Blanca||54.7||5.7%||538||Iodine 300 ppm|
|Nueva Victoria||324.7||5.5%||445||Iodine 300 ppm|
In addition, the estimates of our Probable Reserves of caliche ore at each of our principal mines as of December 31, 2019, are as follows:
|Cutoff Grade |
|Pedro de Valdivia||240.9||6.2%||414||Nitrate 6.0 %|
|María Elena||148.8||7.2%||381||Iodine 300 ppm|
|Pampa Blanca||535.5||5.3%||497||Iodine 300 ppm|
|Nueva Victoria||984.7||5.2%||421||Iodine 300 ppm|
|(1)||The Proven Reserves set forth in the table above are shown before losses related to exploitation and mineral treatment. Proven Reserves are affected by mining exploitation methods, which result in differences between the estimated reserves that are available for exploitation in the mining plan and the recoverable material that is finally transferred to the leaching vats or heaps. The average mining exploitation factor for each of our different mines ranges between 80% and 90%, whereas the average global metallurgical recoveries of processes for nitrate and iodine contained in the recovered material vary between 60% and 70%.|
|(2)||The cutoff grades for the Proven and Probable Reserves vary according to the objectives of each mine. These amounts correspond to the averages of the different areas.|
|(3)||Probable Reserves can be expressed as Proven Reserves using a conversion factor, only for purposes of obtaining a projection to be used for long-term planning purposes. On average, this conversion factor is higher than 60%, depending on geological conditions and caliche ore continuity, which vary from mine to mine (Pedro de Valdivia 60%, María Elena 50%, Pampa Blanca 70% and Nueva Victoria 60%).|
The complete technical supporting documentation for the information set forth in the table above is contained in the report “Methodology, Procedure, and Classification of SQM’s Nitrate and Iodine Resources and Reserves for the Year 2019,” was prepared for each mine by the geologist Vladimir Tejerina and other engineering professionals employed by SQM and validated by Mr. Sergio Alarcón and Mr. Marco Lema.
Mr. Sergio Alarcón is a geologist with more than 35 years of experience in the field. He is currently employed by SQM as a Senior Geologist in the Mining Production area. Mr. Alarcón is a Competent Person (Persona Competente), as that term is defined under Chilean Law No. 20,235, known as the Law that Regulates the Position of Competent Persons and Creates the Qualifying Committee for Competencies in Mining Resources and Reserves (Ley que Regula la Figura de las Personas Competentes y Crea la Comisión Calificadora de Competencias de Recursos y Reservas Mineras or “Competent Person Law”). He is registered under No. 164 in the Public Registry of Competent Persons in Mining Resources and Reserves in accordance with the Competent Person Law and related regulations. He has worked as a geologist with both metallic and non-metallic deposits, with vast experience in the latter.
Mr. Marco Lema is a civil mining engineer with more than 35 years of experience. He works for SQM as Superintendent of Geology and Engineering in the mining production area. Mr. Lema is a Competent Person (Persona Competente), as that term is defined under Chilean Law No. 20,235, known as the Law that Regulates the Position of Competent Persons and Creates the Qualifying Committee for Competencies in Mining Resources and Reserves (Ley que Regula la Figura de las Personas Competentes y Crea la Comisión Calificadora de Competencias de Recursos y Reservas Mineras or “Competent Person Law”). He has experience working on metallic and non-metallic mine deposits.
Copies of the certificates of qualified competency issued by the Chilean Mining Commission are attached hereto as Exhibits 99.1 and 99.2.
The proven and probable reserves shown above are the result of the evaluation of approximately 21.00% of the total caliche-related mining property of our Company. However, we have explored more intensely the areas in which we believe there is a higher potential of finding high-grade caliche ore minerals. The remaining 79.00% of this area has not been explored or has had limited reconnaissance, which is not sufficient to determine the potential and hypothetical resources. In 2019, we did not carry out basic reconnaissance of new mining properties. With respect to detailed explorations, in 2019, we carried out recategorizations of indicated resources in the Tente en el Aire and Hermosa Norte sectors, totaling 4,456 hectares, which is still in process. Our 2020 exploration program includes the exploration of the Tente en el Aire sector, which totals 658 hectares, and the basic study of 4,100 hectares of the Mina Oeste and Tente en el Aire Oeste sectors. The reserves shown in these tables are calculated based on properties that are not involved in any legal disputes between SQM and other parties.
Caliche ore is the key raw material used in the production of iodine, specialty plant nutrients and industrial chemicals. The following gross margins for the business lines specified were calculated on the same basis as cut off grades used to estimate our reserves. We expect costs to remain relatively stable in the near future.
|Gross Margin||Price||Gross Margin||Price||Gross Margin||Price|
|Iodine and Derivatives||38%||US$29/kg||33%||US$24/kg||21%||US$20/kg|
|Specialty Plant Nutrition||21%||US$695/ton||22%||US$722/ton||20%||US$722/ton|
We maintain an ongoing program of exploration and resource evaluation on the land surrounding our production mines, and other sites for which we have the appropriate concessions.
Brines from the Salar de Atacama: Facilities and Reserves
Salar de Atacama: Facilites
Salar de Atacama
Our facilities at the Salar de Atacama are located 208 kilometers to the east of the city of Antofagasta and 188 kilometers to the southeast of the city of María Elena. At this site we use brines extracted from the salar to produce potassium chloride, potassium sulfate, boric acid, magnesium chloride salts and lithium solutions, which are subsequently sent to our lithium carbonate plant at the Salar del Carmen for processing. The main production plants at this site include the potassium chloride flotation plants (MOP-H I and II), the potassium carnallite plants (PC I and extension), the potassium sulfate flotation plant (SOP-H), the boric acid plant (ABO), the potassium chloride drying plant (Dual Plant or MOP-S), the potassium chloride compacting plant (MOP-G), the potassium sulfate drying plant (SOP-S) and the potassium sulfate compacting plant (SOP-G). Solar energy is the primary energy source used for the Salar de Atacama operations.
Salar de Atacama: Reserves
Our in-house staff of hydrogeologists and geologists prepares our estimates of the reserve base of potassium, sulfate, lithium and boron dissolved in brines at the Salar de Atacama. We have exploitation concessions covering an area of 81,920 hectares, in which we have carried out geological exploitation, brine sampling and geostatistical analysis. We estimate that our proven and probable reserves as of December 31, 2019, based on law, geological exploitation, brine sampling and geostatistical analysis up to a depth of 300 meters of our total exploitation concessions, are as follows:
|Potassium (K+) (2)||55.2||37.4||92.5|
|Sulfate (SO4-2) (3)||44.3||36.0||80.3|
|Lithium (Li+) (4)||5.7||3.4||9.2|
|Boron (B3+) (5)||1.6||1.2||2.8|
|(1)||Metric tons of potassium, sulfate, lithium and boron considered in the proven and probable reserves are shown before losses from evaporation processes and metallurgical treatment. The recoveries of each ion depend on both brine composition and the process applied to produce the desired commercial products.|
|(2)||Recoveries for potassium vary from 47% to 77%.|
|(3)||Recoveries for sulfate vary from 27% to 45%.|
|(4)||Recoveries for lithium vary from 28% to 50%.|
|(5)||Recoveries for boron vary from 28% to 32%.|
The information set forth in the table above was validated in February 2020 by Messrs. Andrés Fock and Orlando Rojas using information that was prepared by SQM’s hydrogeologists, geologists and engineers and external advisors.
Mr. Fock is a geologist with more than 15 years of experience in the field of mining hydrogeology. He is currently employed by SQM as Superintendent of Geology and Exploration, in the Salar Hydrogeology department. He is a Competent Person and is registered under No. 226 in the Public Registry of Competent Persons in Mining Resources and Reserves, in accordance with the Competent Person Law. As a hydrogeologist in Chile and abroad, he has evaluated multiple brine-based projects and has experience evaluating resources and reserves.
Mr. Orlando Rojas is a civil mining engineer and independent consultant. He is Partner and Chief Executive Officer of EMI-Ingenieros y Consultores S.A., whose offices are located at Los Domínicos No 7772, Las Condes, Santiago, Chile. He is a member of the Institute of Mining Engineers and is registered under No. 118 in the Public Registry of Competent Persons in Mining Resources and Reserves in accordance with the Competent Person Law and related regulations. He has worked as a mining engineer for 40 years since graduating from university, including more than 34 years working on estimates for reserves and resources.
Copies of the certificates of qualified competency issued by the Chilean Mining Commission for Mr. Rojas and Mr. Fock are attached hereto as Exhibit 99.3 and 99.4.
The cutoff grade for lithium extraction is set at 0.05% Li. The cost of the process is competitive in the market despite a small cost increase due to the expansions in the evaporation area (to reach the required Li concentration) and to the use of additives to maintain the quality of the brine that is used to feed the plant.
A cutoff grade of 1.0% K is used in the calculation, considering a low margin scenario using only MOP-S as and using diluted brine with higher levels of contaminants as the raw material and with recovery yields of approximately 47%, which is on the lower end of the range. In this scenario, considering current market conditions and market conditions from recent years, the production cost of MOP production is still competitive.
The proven and probable reserves are based on production experience, drilling, brine sampling and geo-statistic reservoir modeling in order to estimate brine volumes and their composition. We calculate the reserve base, which is the volume of brine effectively drainable or exploitable in each evaluation unit, by building a three-dimensional block model. The following variables are used to populate the model:
|·||Porosity: obtained from measurements of drainable porosity and effectiveness in core rocks, test pumping data, geophysical records and changes in the level of the brine. The volume of brine is estimated on the basis of the interpolation of the on-site porosity data.|
|·||Grades: The brine concentration chemistry of the brine measured in the ponds is subjected to an exploratory data analysis and a variographic analysis, in order to determine the chemical populations in the Salar. Subsequently, the grades are interpolated using the Kriging method.|
Based on the chemical characteristics, and the volume of brine, we determine the number of metric tons for each of the chemical ions being evaluated. Reserve classification is finally achieved by using geostatistical criteria and hydrogeological knowledge of the units that have been explored, as an indicator between proven and probable reserves.
Proven reserves are defined as hydrogeological units with proven historical brine yield production, and a quality and piezometric brine monitoring network to control brine evolution over time.
Probable reserves and inferred resources are being continually explored in order to be able to reclassify them as proven reserves and indicated or measured resources, respectively. This exploration includes systematic packer testing, chemical brine sampling and long-term pilot production pumping tests.
We consider chemical parameters to determine the process to be applied to the brines. These parameters are used to estimate potential restrictions on production yields, and the economic feasibility of producing such commercial products as potassium chloride, potassium sulfate, lithium carbonate and boric acid is determined on the basis of the evaluation.
Complementing the reserves information, SQM has an environmental impact assessment (RCA 226/06) which defines a maximum brine extraction until the end of the Lease Agreement (December 31, 2030). Considering the authorized maximum net brine production rates, we have performed hydrogeological simulations using numeric flow and transport models to estimate changes in the volume and quality of the brine during the life of the project, considering the ponds infrastructure projected and existing on January 1, 2020. According to these simulations, a total of 1.19 million metric tons of lithium and 14.41 million metric tons of potassium will be extracted from the producing wells. On the other hand, the proven and probable base reserve in situ, within the authorized area of environmental extraction (RCA 226/06), corresponds to 4.89 million metric tons of lithium and 34.8 million metric tons of potassium, enough to satisfy the demand of the project until the end of the concession.
Brines from the Salar de Atacama are the key raw material used in the production of potassium chloride and potassium sulfate, and lithium and its derivatives. The following gross margins for the business lines specified were calculated on the same basis as cut off grades used to estimate our reserves. We expect costs to remain relatively stable in the near future.
|Potassium Chloride and Potassium Sulfate||17%||US$355/ton||19%||US$322/ton||17%||US$282/ton|
|Lithium and Derivatives||39%||US$11,212/ton||57%||US$16,289/ton||71%||US$12,970/ton|
Other Production Facilities
The Coya Sur site is located approximately 15 kilometers south of María Elena, and production activities undertaken there are associated with the production of potassium nitrate and finished products. The main production plants at this site include four potassium nitrate plants with a total capacity of 1,300,000 metric tons per year. There are also five production lines for crystallized nitrates, with a total capacity of 1,200,000 metric tons per year, and a prilling plant with a capacity of 360,000 metric tons per year. The potassium nitrate produced at Coya Sur is an intermediate product that is used as a raw material for the production of finished products (crystallized nitrates and prilled nitrates). Therefore, the production capacities listed above are not independent of one another and cannot be added together to obtain an overall total capacity. Natural gas is the main source of energy for our Coya Sur operation.
Salar del Carmen
The Salar del Carmen site is located approximately 14 kilometers to the east of Antofagasta. The production plants at this facility include the lithium carbonate plant, with a production capacity of 70,000 metric tons per year, and the lithium hydroxide plant, with a production capacity of 13,500 metric tons per year. Electricity and natural gas are the main sources of energy for our Salar del Carmen operation.
The following table provides a summary of our production facilities as of December 31, 2019:
|Facility||Type of Facility|
|Nominal Production |
|Gross Book |
|Coya Sur (3) (4)||Nitrates production||1.518||Potassium nitrate: 1,300 |
Crystallized nitrates: 1,200
Prilled nitrates: 360
|María Elena (5) (6)||Nitrates and iodine production||35.830||Nitrates: n/a|
Prilled nitrates: 300
|Nueva Victoria (5) (7)||Concentrated nitrate salts and iodine production||47.492||Iodine: 13.0||9.4||543.4|
|Pampa Blanca (5) (7) (8)||Concentrated nitrate salts and iodide production||10.441||Nitrates: n/a|
|Pedro de Valdivia (3) (9)||Nitrates and iodine production||253.880||Nitrates: n/a|
|Salar de Atacama (3) (10)||Potassium chloride, potassium sulfate, lithium chloride, and boric acid production||35.911||Potassium chloride: 2,680|
Potassium sulfate: 245
Boric acid: 15
|Salar del Carmen, Antofagasta (3)||Lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide production||184.3||Lithium carbonate: 70|
Lithium hydroxide: 13.5
|Tocopilla (11)||Port facilities||22||-||12.6||168.2|
|(1)||Approximate size considers both the production facilities and the mine for María Elena, Nueva Victoria, Pampa Blanca, Pedro de Valdivia and the Salar de Atacama. Mining areas are those authorized for exploitation by the environmental authority and/or Sernageomin.|
|(2)||Weighted average age and gross book value correspond to production facilities, excluding the mine, for María Elena, Nueva Victoria, Pampa Blanca, Pedro de Valdivia and the Salar de Atacama.|
|(3)||Includes production facilities and solar evaporation ponds. During 2019, we began to work on the expansion of discard deposit area of the new lithium hydroxide plant and accumulation ponds.|
|(4)||The potassium nitrate produced at Coya Sur is an intermediate product that is used as a raw material for the production of finished products (crystallized nitrates and prilled nitrates). Therefore, the production capacities listed above are not independent of one another and cannot be added together to obtain an overall total capacity.|
|(5)||Includes production facilities, solar evaporation ponds and leaching heaps.|
|(6)||Operations at the El Toco mine at María Elena were suspended in November 2013.|
|(7)||The nominal production capacity for iodine considers the capacity of our plants. The effective capacity is 14,800 metric tons per year.|
|(8)||Operations at Pampa Blanca were suspended in March 2010.|
|(9)||In November 2015, the mining and nitrate operations at Pedro de Valdivia were suspended, and iodine production was reduced at the Pedro de Valdivia site, in order to take advantage of the highly efficient production facilities at Nueva Victoria.|
|(10)||Potassium chloride and potassium sulfate are produced in a dual plant, and the production capacity for each of these products depends on the production mix. Therefore, the production capacities for these two products are not independent of one another and cannot be added together to obtain an overall total capacity.|
|(11)||The Tocopilla port facilities were originally constructed in 1961 and have been refurbished and expanded since that time.|
We directly or indirectly through subsidiaries own, lease or hold concessions over the facilities at which we carry out our operations. Such facilities are free of any material liens, pledges or encumbrances, and we believe they are suitable and adequate for the business we conduct in them.
The following table shows certain operating data relating to each of our mines for 2019, 2018 and 2017:
|(in thousands, unless otherwise stated)||2019||2018||2017|
|Pedro de Valdivia(1)|
|Metric tons of ore mined||—||—||—|
|Average grade nitrate (% by weight)||—||—||—|
|Iodine (parts per million (ppm))||—||—||—|
|Metric tons of crystallized nitrate produced||—||—||—|
|Metric tons of iodine produced||1.4||1.0||0.9|
|Maria Elena (2)|
|Metric tons of ore mined||—||—||—|
|Average grade nitrate (% by weight)||—||—||—|
|Metric tons of crystallized nitrate produced||—||—||—|
|Metric tons of iodine produced||—||—||—|
|Coya Sur (3)|
|Metric tons of crystallized nitrate produced||771||699||613|
|Pampa Blanca (2)|
|Metric tons of ore mined||—||—||—|
|Metric tons of iodine produced||—||—||—|
|Metric tons of ore mined||42,196||42,753||36,383|
|Metric tons of iodine produced||10.7||10.2||8.8|
|Salar de Atacama (4)|
|Metric tons of lithium carbonate produced||62.3||50.4||45|
|Metric tons of potassium chloride and potassium sulfate and potassium salts produced||1,049||1,505||1,881|
|(1)||In November 2015, mining and nitrate operations at Pedro de Valdivia were suspended, and iodine production was reduced at the Pedro de Valdivia site, in order to take advantage of the highly efficient production facilities at Nueva Victoria.|
|(2)||Operations at the Pampa Blanca mine and María Elena were suspended in March 2010 and November 2013, respectively. In María Elena, production of nitrate and iodine solutions continued in subsequent years from caliche ore exploited in prior years.|
|(3)||Includes production at Coya Sur from treatment of nitrates solutions from María Elena and Pedro de Valdivia, nitrate salts from pile treatment at Nueva Victoria, and net production from NPT, or technical grade potassium nitrate, plants.|
|(4)||Lithium carbonate is extracted at the Salar de Atacama and processed at our facilities at the Salar del Carmen near Antofagasta. Potassium salts include synthetic sylvinite produced in the plant and other harvested potassium salts (natural sylvinite, carnallites and harvests from plant ponds) that are sent to Coya Sur for the production of crystallized nitrates.|
Transportation and Storage Facilities
The transportation of our products is carried out by trucks that are operated by dedicated third parties through long-term contracts. Furthermore, we own port and storage facilities for the transportation and management of finished products and consumable materials.
Our main centers for the production and storage of raw materials are the Nueva Victoria, Coya Sur and Salar de Atacama facilities. Other facilities include chemical plants for the finished products of lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide at the Salar del Carmen plant. The Port of Tocopilla terminal, which we own, has a surface area of approximately 22 hectares and is the principal facility for the storage and shipment of our bulk products and packaged potassium chloride (MOP) and nitrates.
The nitrate finished products are produced at our Coya Sur facilities and then transported via trucks to the Port of Tocopilla terminal where they are stored and shipped, either packaged (polypropylene bags, polyethylene or polypropylene FIBC big bags) or in bulk. The potassium chloride is produced at our Salar de Atacama facilities and we transport it by truck, either to the Port of Tocopilla terminal or the Coya Sur facility. The product transported to Coya Sur is an intermediate product that is used as a raw material for the production of potassium nitrate. On the other hand, the product transported to the Port of Tocopilla is a final product that will be shipped or transported to the client or affiliate. The raw material of nitrate for the production of potassium nitrate in Coya Sur is currently produced at Nueva Victoria and the remaining raw material is provided from historical stock stored in Coya Sur that was produced at the Pedro de Valdivia facility when it was operating. This raw material is obtained from the processing of caliche that is extracted from our mines.
The lithium chloride solution, which contains a high concentration of boron, produced at our Salar de Atacama facilities, is transported to the lithium carbon plant in the Salar del Carmen area where the finished lithium carbonate is produced. Part of the lithium carbonate is provided to the adjacent lithium hydroxide plant where the finished lithium hydroxide is produced. These two products are packed in packaging of distinct characteristics (polyethylene bags, multi-layer or polypropylene FIBC big bags), stored within the same facilities and secured in storerooms. Thereafter, they are consolidated into containers that are transported by trucks to a transit warehouse or directly to port terminals for their subsequent shipment. The port terminals used are currently suited to receive container ships and are situated in Antofagasta, Mejillones and Iquique.
Iodine obtained from the same caliche used for the production of nitrates, is processed, packaged and stored exclusively in the Pedro de Valdivia and Nueva Victoria facilities. The packaging used for iodine are drums and polypropylene FIBC big bags with an internal polyethylene bag and oxygen barrier, which at the time of transportation are consolidated into containers and sent by truck to port terminals suited for their management, principally located in Antofagasta, Mejillones and Iquique. Thereafter, they are sent to distinct markets by container ship or by truck to Santiago where iodine derivatives are produced in the Ajay-SQM Chile plants.
The Port of Tocopilla terminal facilities are located approximately 186 kilometers north of Antofagasta, approximately 124 kilometers west of María Elena and Coya Sur and 372 kilometers to the west of Salar de Atacama. Our affiliate, Servicios Integrales de Tránsitos y Transferencias S.A. (SIT), operates facilities for the shipment of products and the delivery of certain raw materials based on renewable concessions granted by Chilean regulatory authorities, provided that the facilities are used in accordance with the authorization granted and we pay an annual concession fee. The Port of Tocopilla terminal facilities include a truck weighing machine that confirms product entry into the port and transfers the product to distinct storage zones, a piezometer within the shipping system to carry out bulk product loaded onto ships, a crane with a 40 ton capacity for the loading of sealed product onto ships and a nitrate mixing facility.
The storage facilities consist of a system of six silos, with a total storage capacity of 55,000 metric tons, and a mixed storage area of open storehouses with a total storage capacity of approximately 250,000 metric tons. In addition, to fulfill future storage needs, we will continue to make investments in accordance with the investment plan outlined by management. The products are also put into bags at the Port of Tocopilla terminal facilities where the bagging capacity is established by two bag packaging machines, one for sacks and polypropylene FIBC big bags and one for FFS polyethylene. The products that are packaged in Tocopilla may be subsequently shipped at the same port or may also be consolidated into trucks or containers for its subsequent dispatch to clients by land or sea through containers from other ports, principally located in Antofagasta, Mejillones and Iquique.
For the transportation of bulk product, the transportation belt system extends across the coastline to deliver products directly to the hatches of bulk cargo ships. The nominal load capacity of this shipping system is 1,200 tons per hour. The transportation of packaged product is carried out utilizing the same bulk cargo ships using trailers without motors located in the dock and loaded by a crane with a 40 ton capacity from the Port of Tocopilla terminal. Thereafter, they are towed and unloaded using ship cranes to the respective warehouses.
We normally contract bulk cargo ships to transfer the product from the Port of Tocopilla terminal to our hubs around the world or to clients directly, who, in certain instances, use their own contracted vessels for delivery.
Tocopilla processes related to the reception, handling, storage and shipment of bulk/packaged nitrates produced at Coya Sur are certified by the third-party organization TÜV-Rheiland under the quality standard ISO 9001:2015.
In addition to the above-listed facilities, we operate varies computer and information systems linking our principal subsidiaries to our operating and administrative facilities throughout Chile, and other parts of the world. The computer and information system is used mainly for accounting, monitoring of supplies and inventories, billing, quality control, research activities and production process and maintenance control. The mainframe computing system is located at our offices in Santiago and our Chilean and international subsidiaries are interconnected with each other, through data links.
In addition, we have cloud technologies, which allow us to support new business processes and respond quickly and at low cost to changing conditions of our business and of the market.
A cyber security review is being carried out to highlight possible risks and mitigate them, including raising awareness among our users related to best process and computational use practices.
ITEM 4A. UNRESOLVED STAFF COMMENTS
ITEM 5. OPERATING AND FINANCIAL REVIEW AND PROSPECTS
The information in this Item 5 should be read in conjunction with the Company’s Consolidated Financial Statements and the notes thereto included elsewhere in this Annual Report.
The Company’s Consolidated Financial Statements have been prepared in accordance with the International Financial Reporting Standards as published by the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB).
CRITICAL ACCOUNTING POLICIES AND ESTIMATES
Critical accounting policies are defined as those that are reflective of significant judgments and uncertainties, which would potentially result in materially different results under different assumptions and conditions.
We believe that our critical accounting policies applied in the preparation of our Audited Consolidated Financial Statements are limited to those described below. It should be noted that in many cases, IFRS specifically dictates the accounting treatment of a particular transaction, limiting management’s judgment in their application. There are also areas in which management’s judgment in selecting available alternatives would not produce materially different results.
Useful lives of property, plant and equipment and intangible assets
Property, plant and equipment and intangible assets, other than goodwill, are recorded at acquisition cost. Property, plant and equipment and intangible assets with definite useful lives are depreciated or amortized on a straight-line basis over their estimated useful lives.
Accounting for long-lived assets and intangible assets involves the use of estimates for determining the useful lives of the assets over which they are to be depreciated or amortized. We believe that the estimates we make to determine an asset’s useful life are “critical accounting estimates” because they require our management to make estimates based on current facts and past experience and take into consideration the expected physical life of the asset, the potential for technological obsolescence, and regulations.
The Company measures inventories at the lower of production cost and net realizable value. The cost price of finished products and work in progress includes the direct cost of materials and, when applicable, labor costs, the depreciation of goods that are involved in the production process, the indirect costs incurred in transforming raw materials into finished products, and general expenses incurred in carrying inventories to their current location and conditions. The method used to determine the cost of inventories is the weighted average monthly cost by warehouse or storage center.
Commercial discounts, rebates obtained, and other similar entries are deducted when determining the acquisition price.