|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 16. [Reserved]|
|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 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|
|Item 19.	 Exhibits|
|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 Financial Risk Management|
|Note 5 Changes in Accounting Estimates and Policies (Consistent Presentation)|
|Note 6 Background of Companies Included in Consolidation|
|Note 7Cash and Cash Equivalents|
|Note 9Related Party Disclosures|
|Note 10Financial Instruments|
|Note 11	Equity-Accounted Investees|
|Note 12	Joint Ventures|
|Note 13	Intangible Assets and Goodwill|
|Note 14	Property, Plant and Equipment|
|Note 15	Employee Benefits|
|Note 16 Executive Compensation Plan|
|Note 17 Disclosures on Equity|
|Note 18 Provisions and Other Non-Financial Liabilities|
|Note 19 Contingencies and Restrictions|
|Note 20 Revenue|
|Note 21 Earnings per Share|
|Note 22 Borrowing Costs|
|Note 23 Effect of Fluctuations on Foreign Currency Exchange Rates|
|Note 24 Other Current and Non-Current Non-Financial Assets|
|Note 25 Reportable Segments|
|Note 26Gains (Losses) From Operating Activities in The Statement of Income By Function of Expenses, Included According To Their Nature|
|Note 27Income Tax and Deferred Taxes|
|Note 28Disclosures on The Effects of Fluctuations in Foreign Currency Exchange Rates|
|Note 29Mineral Resource Exploration and Evaluation Expenditure|
|Note 30Lawsuits and Complaints|
|Note 31Sanction Proceedings|
|Note 32Closure of The Pedro De Valdivia Site|
|Note 33Railway for Transportation of Products Between The Site Coya Sur and The Port of Tocopilla|
|Note 34Events Occurred After The Reporting Date|
|Balance Sheet||Income Statement||Cash Flow|
SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION
Washington, D.C. 20549
|¨||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, 2016
|¨||TRANSITION REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934|
for the transition period from to
|¨||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 email@example.com 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||Name of each exchange on which registered|
|Series B shares, in the form of American Depositary Shares each representing one Series B share||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 by check mark if the registrant is a well-known seasoned issuer, as defined in Rule 405 of the Securities Act. Yes x No ¨
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 ¨ 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 ¨
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has submitted electronically and posted on its corporate Web site, if any, every Interactive Data File required to be submitted and posted 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 and post such files). Yes ¨ No ¨
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 ¨ Non-accelerated filer ¨ Emerging growth company ¨
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. ¨
† 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 ¨|| |
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 x Item 18 ¨
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 ¨ No x
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 Shares||142,819,552|
|Series B Shares||120,376,972|
TABLE OF CONTENTS
|PRESENTATION OF INFORMATION||iv|
|CAUTIONARY STATEMENT REGARDING FORWARD-LOOKING STATEMENTS||vii|
|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||68|
|ITEM 6.||DIRECTORS, SENIOR MANAGEMENT AND EMPLOYEES||88|
|ITEM 7.||MAJOR SHAREHOLDERS AND RELATED PARTY TRANSACTIONS||102|
|ITEM 8.||FINANCIAL INFORMATION||105|
|ITEM 9.||THE OFFER AND LISTING||113|
|ITEM 10.||ADDITIONAL INFORMATION||115|
|ITEM 11.||QUANTITATIVE AND QUALITATIVE DISCLOSURES ABOUT MARKET RISK||128|
|ITEM 12.||DESCRIPTION OF SECURITIES OTHER THAN EQUITY SECURITIES||130|
|ITEM 13.||DEFAULTS, DIVIDEND ARREARAGES AND DELINQUENCIES||131|
|ITEM 14.||MATERIAL MODIFICATIONS TO THE RIGHTS OF SECURITY HOLDERS AND USE OF PROCEEDS||131|
|ITEM 15.||CONTROLS AND PROCEDURES||131|
|ITEM 16A.||AUDIT COMMITTEE FINANCIAL EXPERT||132|
|ITEM 16B.||CODE OF ETHICS||132|
|ITEM 16C.||PRINCIPAL ACCOUNTANT FEES AND SERVICES||132|
|ITEM 16D.||EXEMPTIONS FROM THE LISTING STANDARDS FOR AUDIT COMMITTEES||133|
|ITEM 16E.||PURCHASES OF EQUITY SECURITIES BY THE ISSUER AND AFFILIATED PURCHASERS||133|
|ITEM 16G.||CORPORATE GOVERNANCE||133|
|ITEM 16H.||MINE SAFETY AND DISCLOSURE||133|
|ITEM 17.||FINANCIAL STATEMENTS||134|
|ITEM 18.||FINANCIAL STATEMENTS||134|
|CONSOLIDATED FINANCIAL STATEMENTS||137|
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, 2016, UF 1.00 was equivalent to US$39.49 and Ch$26,347.98 according to the Chilean Central Bank (Banco Central de Chile). As of April 20, 2017, UF 1.00 was equivalent to US$40.96 and Ch$26,528.10.
The Republic of Chile is governed by a democratic government, organized in fourteen 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.
Our fiscal year ends on December 31. As December 31 is a bank holiday in Chile, certain financial information is reflected as of December 30, 2016.
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”) 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 national organization in charge of promoting Chile’s manufacturing productivity and commercial development.
“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 samples 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 Proved Mineral Reserve.
“Reserves—Proven Mineral Reserve” ** The economically mineable part of a Measured Mineral Resource. The calculation of the reserves includes diluting 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 that applying to a Measured Mineral Resource, but has a higher level of confidence than that applying to 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 Number 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 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 that applying to 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 Number 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, 2016 divided by the total gross book value of the Company’s fixed assets at such facility as of December 31, 2016.
|*||The definition of a Controller Group that has been provided is the one that applies to the Company. Chilean law provides for a broader definition of a Controller Group.|
|**||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).|
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;|
|·||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; and|
|·||additional factors discussed below under Item 3. Key Information—Risk Factors.|
3.A. Selected Financial Data
The following table presents selected financial data as of and for the years ended December 31, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, and 2012. 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.
|As of and for the year ended December 31,|
(in millions of US$)(1)
|Statement of income:|
|Cost of sales||(1,328.3||)||(1,185.6||)||(1,431.2||)||(1,481.7||)||(1,400.6||)|
|Other income (2)||14.8||15.3||24.1||96.7||12.7|
|Other expenses (3)(4)(5)||(89.7||)||(106.4||)||(64.3||)||(49.4||)||(34.6||)|
|Other gains (losses)||0.7||3.8||4.4||(11.4||)||0.7|
|Equity income of associates and joint ventures accounted for using the equity method||13.0||10.3||18.1||18.8||24.4|
|Foreign currency exchange differences||0.4||(12.4||)||(16.5||)||(12.0||)||(26.8||)|
|Income before income tax expense (3)||414.9||308.3||405.0||613.1||873.5|
|Income tax expense (6)||(133.0||)||(83.8||)||(160.7||)||(138.5||)||(216.1||)|
|Profit for the year (3)(6)||281.9||224.5||244.3||474.6||657.4|
|Profit attributable to:|
|Controlling interests (3)(6)||278.3||220.4||236.9||467.1||649.2|
|Profit for the year (3) (6)||281.9||224.5||244.3||474.6||657.4|
|Basic earnings per share(7)||1.06||0.84||0.90||1.77||2.47|
|Basic earnings per ADS(8)(9)||1.06||0.84||0.90||1.77||2.47|
|Dividends per share(9)(10)(11)||1.44||0.47||1.42||1.04||1.25|
|Dividends per ADS(10)(11)(12)||1.44||0.47||1.42||1.04||1.25|
|Weighted average(7)(8) 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 ADS.|
|(2)||Other income for 2013 includes US$84 million for the sale of royalties for the Antucoya mining project. After taxes, this sale had a one-time effect of US$67 million on profit for the year.|
|(3)||Other expenses for 2014 includes provisions of approximately 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 Chilean Superintendence of Securities and Insurance (Superintendencia de Valores y Seguros or “SVS”), 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 in Chile as a result of ongoing investigations by the Chilean Public Prosecutor in relation to certain payments made by SQM between the tax years 2009 and 2015.”|
|(4)||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.|
|(5)||Other expenses for 2016 includes 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 includes charges of approximately US$30.5 million for impairment 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 in Chile as a result of ongoing investigations by the Chilean Public Prosecutor in relation to certain payments made by SQM between the tax years 2009 and 2015” and “Item 8.A.7 Legal Proceedings.”|
|(6)||In accordance with IAS 12, the effects generated by the change in the income tax rate approved by Law No. 20.780 on income and deferred taxes have been applied to the income statement. For purposes of the Company’s statutory consolidated financial statements filed with the SVS, in accordance with the instructions issued by the SVS in its circular 856 of October 17, 2014, the effects generated by the change in the income tax rate were accounted for as retained earnings. The amount charged to equity as of December 31, 2014 was US$52.3 million, thereby giving rise to a difference of US$52.3 million in profit and income tax expense in 2014 as presented in the Company’s Audited Consolidated Financial Statements compared with profit and income tax expense presented in the Company’s statutory consolidated financial statements filed with the SVS. The effects of subsequent changes in the income tax rate will be recognized in profit or loss for the period in the Company’s statutory consolidated financial statements in accordance with IAS 12.|
|(7)||The Company has not conducted any transaction that would give rise to a potential dilutive effect on its earnings per share in any of the indicated years. The total number of outstanding shares as of each period end is the same as the weighted average shares outstanding.|
|(8)||The calculation of earnings per ADSs and dividends per ADS for the years indicated is based on the ratio of 1:1.|
|(9)||Dividends per share are calculated based on 263,196,524 shares for each of the years indicated.|
|(10)||Dividends are paid from net income as determined in accordance with SVS regulations. See “Item 8.A. Dividend Policy.” For dividends in Ch$, see “Item 8.A. Dividend Policy—Dividends.”|
|(11)||Dividend amount paid per calendar year to shareholders of the Company. See “Item 8.A. Dividend Policy.”|
|(12)||Dividend amounts per share paid in Chilean pesos were Ch$936.15 in 2016, Ch$316.06 in 2015, Ch$806.79 in 2014, Ch$536.16 in 2013 and Ch$604.59 in 2012.|
|As of and for the year ended December 31,|
|(in millions of US$)||2016||2015||2014||2013||2012|
|Balance sheet data:|
|Equity attributable to controlling interests||2,246.1||2,339.8||2,232.6||2,376.6||2,132.8|
|Equity attributable to non-controlling interest||61.2||60.6||59.9||55.6||54.7|
Chile has two currency markets, the Formal Exchange Market (Mercado Cambiario Formal) in which we conduct our transactions, and the Informal Exchange Market (Mercado Cambiario Informal). The Formal Exchange Market comprises banks and other entities authorized by the Chilean Central Bank. The Informal Exchange Market comprises entities that are not expressly authorized to operate in the Formal Exchange Market, such as certain foreign exchange houses and travel agencies, among others. The Chilean Central Bank is empowered to determine that certain purchases and sales of foreign currencies be carried out on the Formal Exchange Market.
Both the Formal Exchange Market and the Informal Exchange Market are driven by free market forces. Current regulations require that the Chilean Central Bank be informed of certain transactions and that these transactions be effected through the Formal Exchange Market.
The Observed Exchange Rate (dólar observado), which is reported by the Chilean Central Bank and published daily in the Chilean newspapers, is computed by taking the weighted average of the previous business day’s transactions on the Formal Exchange Market. The Chilean Central Bank has the power to intervene by buying or selling foreign currency on the Formal Exchange Market to attempt to maintain the Observed Exchange Rate within a desired range. During the past few years the Chilean Central Bank has intervened to attempt to maintain the Observed Exchange Rate within a certain range only under special circumstances. Although the Chilean Central Bank is not required to purchase or sell U.S. dollars at any specific exchange rate, it generally uses spot rates for its transactions. Other banks generally carry out authorized transactions at spot rates as well.
The Informal Exchange Market reflects transactions carried out at an informal exchange rate (the “Informal Exchange Rate”). There are no limits imposed on the extent to which the Informal Exchange Rate can fluctuate above or below the Observed Exchange Rate. In recent years, the variations between the Observed Exchange Rate and the Informal Exchange Rate have not been significant.
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York does not report a noon buying rate for Chilean pesos.
The U.S. dollar is our functional currency. However, unless otherwise indicated, any amounts translated into U.S. dollars from Chilean pesos were translated using the Observed Exchange Rate for December 31, 2016, which was Ch$669.47 per US$1.00. As of April 20, 2017 the Observed Exchange Rate was US$1.00 per Ch$647.68.
Observed Exchange Rate(1)
|(Ch$ per US$)|
|Year||Low (1)||High (1)||Average (1)(2)||Year/Month|
|Last six months||Low (1)||High (1)||Average (1)(2)||Year/Month|
Source: Central Bank of Chile
|(1)||Reflects high and low rates on a day-to-day basis, for each period reported.|
|(2)||The monthly average rate is calculated on a day-to-day basis for each month reported. The yearly average rate is calculated on a month-to-month basis for each year reported.|
|(3)||Based on transactions observed during the last day of the period.|
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 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 in Chile as a result of ongoing investigations by the Chilean Internal Revenue Service and the Chilean Public Prosecutor in relation to certain payments made by SQM between the tax years 2009 and 2015
The SII has been conducting investigations related to the payment of invoices by SQM and its subsidiaries, SQM Salar S.A. 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. The Chilean Public Prosecutor is conducting related inquiries to determine whether such payments may be linked with alleged violations by SQM, these subsidiaries and public officials of political contribution or anti-corruption laws. The SII and the Chilean Public Prosecutor are also conducting similar investigations related to the payment of invoices by other Chilean companies that may not have been properly supported or that may not have been necessary to generate corporate income.
On February 26, 2015, SQM’s Board of Directors resolved to establish an ad-hoc committee of the Board of Directors (the “ad-hoc Committee”) authorized to conduct an internal investigation relating to the issues that were the subject of the SII and Public Prosecutor investigations and to retain such independent external advice as it deemed appropriate. The original members of the ad-hoc Committee were José María Eyzaguirre B., Juan Antonio Guzmán M. and Wolf von Appen B.
The ad-hoc Committee engaged its own lawyers from Chile and the U.S. and forensic accountants from the U.S. to assist with its internal review. The U.S. lawyers retained by the ad-hoc Committee were principally charged with reviewing the relevant facts and analyzing those facts against the requirements of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). The factual findings of the ad-hoc Committee, however, were ultimately shared with Chilean as well as U.S. authorities.
On March 12, 2015, José María Eyzaguirre B. resigned from the ad-hoc Committee and his position was subsequently filled by Hernán Büchi B.
On March 16, 2015, the Board of Directors decided to terminate the employment contract of the Company’s then- CEO, Patricio Contesse G. This followed his failure to cooperate with the ad-hoc Committee’s investigation.
On March 17, 2015, three members of the Board of Directors resigned, all of whom had been nominated by Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan Inc. (“PCS”), one of SQM’s two principal shareholder groups. PCS issued a press release stating that the directors resigned because of their concern that they could not ensure that the Company was conducting an appropriate investigation and collaborating effectively with the Public Prosecutor.
On March 20, 2015, the Company identified to the SII approximately US$11 million in payments of invoices that may not have been properly supported by services rendered or that may not qualify as tax expenses under the Chilean tax code. These payments originated from the office of the former CEO, Patricio Contesse G., during the six-year tax period from 2009 to 2014. As a result, the Company subsequently submitted amendments to its tax returns for the 2009 to 2014 tax years and thereafter paid taxes and interest relating to such amended returns totaling approximately US$7 million. On April 24, 2015, the Company announced that it had identified up to an additional US$2 million in payments by its subsidiary SQM Salar S.A. during the same six-year tax period that were also authorized by the former CEO and that may be deemed not properly supported by services rendered or that may not qualify as tax expenses under the Chilean tax code. Subsequently, SQM Salar S.A. filed amended tax returns and paid taxes and interest relating to such amended returns totaling approximately US$1.2 million. On August 14, 2015, the Company announced that it had identified to the SII approximately US$1.6 million in additional payments by SQM S.A. and its subsidiary SQM Industrial S.A. that may be deemed not properly supported by services rendered or that may not qualify as tax expenses under the Chilean tax code. SQM S.A. and SQM Industrial S.A. subsequently filed amended tax returns and, in early 2016, SQM Industrial S.A. paid taxes and interest relating to such amended returns totaling approximately US$0.3 million, and SQM S.A. paid taxes and interest relating to such amended returns totaling approximately US$1.3 million. The statute of limitations under Chilean law for tax claims is up to six years, during which period the former CEO had an annual discretionary budget covering the Company and its subsidiaries of approximately US$6 million.
On March 23, 2015, the SII, based on the Income Tax Law (Ley de Impuesto a La Renta), filed a criminal claim against the Company’s former CEO and the current CEO and CFO in their capacities as the Company’s tax representatives relating to part of the payments referred to above. This and subsequent related similar claims filed by the SII against these officers and third parties are currently under review by the Public Prosecutor.
On March 31, 2015, the SVS filed an administrative claim against five then-current and former members of the Board of Directors, alleging that they did not release information in a timely manner relating to the payments that are subject to the tax claim referred to above. On September 30, 2015, the SVS proceeded to fine them UF1,000 each (approximately US$36,000). They are currently appealing this decision to the Chilean courts.
On April 24, 2015, new members were elected to the Board of Directors at the Annual General Shareholders’ Meeting, including three new members that were nominated by PCS, and the ad-hoc Committee was subsequently reconstituted by Board of Directors members Robert A. Kirkpatrick, Wolf von Appen B. and Edward J. Waitzer.
On April 30, 2015, the Public Prosecutor, after reviewing the claims filed by the SII, informed the Company’s former CEO that it was formally investigating allegations that he approved the payment of invoices that may not be properly supported by services rendered or that may not qualify as tax expenses under the Chilean tax code and in connection therewith made intentionally false or incomplete declarations or used fraudulent procedures designed to conceal or disguise the true amount of transactions or to circumvent taxes. If he is finally adjudicated responsible, the Company may also be subject to the payment of a fine by the Chilean Criminal Court totaling 50% to 300% of the taxes paid. The Company estimates that no provision is needed at this stage.
On May 11, 2015, the SII filed an additional criminal claim against the former CEO and the current CEO and CFO in their capacities as the Company’s tax representatives alleging violations of the Chilean Inheritance and Donations Law (Ley sobre Impuesto a Las Herencias, Asignaciones y Donaciones). The claim states that the Company paid two invoices in 2009 and 2010 totaling approximately US$175,000 that are alleged to have been improperly supported. The claim states that these payments should have been classified as donations, and appropriate taxes should have been paid. These payments were accounted for in the amended tax returns filed with the SII. Subsequently, the SII filed a number of additional claims against these officers and third parties alleging violations of Chilean tax law and the Chilean Inheritance and Donations Law. The most recent of these criminal claims was filed by the SII on March 9, 2016. All of these claims are under review by the Public Prosecutor.
On July 31, 2015, the deputy of the Tarapacá region of Chile, Hugo Gutiérrez G., filed a lawsuit against the Company, broadly alleging violations of the anti-corruption and money laundering provisions of Law No. 20,393 on Criminal Liability of Legal Entities. Potential sanctions 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 Company executing contracts with governmental entities, and (iv) dissolution of the Company. This claim is under review by the Public Prosecutor.
On September 29, 2015, the Company was notified of a labor lawsuit by its former CEO, Patricio Contesse, claiming payment from the Company related to the termination of his employment contract. The total amount claimed in the lawsuit is approximately Ch$4.0 billion (approximately US$5.7 million), including severance payments for years of service and other legal or contractual payments. The lower court held that Mr. Contesse’s claim was barred by the statute of limitations. On November 8, 2016, the Santiago Court of Appeals overruled the lower court decision. On March 27, 2017, the Company reached an agreement with Mr. Contesse to terminate the labor lawsuit Mr. Contesse filed against the Company. The amount included in the agreement was provisioned for in the financial statements as of December 31, 2016.
On October 14, 2015, two class action complaints then pending against the Company, our former CEO and 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 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. For more information on the consolidated class action, see “Item 8.A.7 Legal Proceedings.”
During 2015, the ad-hoc Committee that was established in February 15, 2015, conducted an investigation into whether the Company faced possible liability under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The ad-hoc Committee engaged its own separate counsel, Shearman & Sterling LLP, 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 calls 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 would be dismissed. On the same date, 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 calls for the Company to pay an additional monetary penalty of US$15 million. These penalites were reflected in the 2016 financial statements.
In Chile, the authorities’ review of the questioned payments is ongoing. We are unable to predict the duration, scope, or results of this review, or how it may affect our business, financial condition, cash flows, results of operations and the prices of our securities. There can be no assurance that the authorities will agree with the conclusions of the ad-hoc Committee or that the authorities will not conclude that a violation of applicable law has occurred. There can be no assurance that authorities in Chile or the U.S. will not undertake a broader investigation or seek to commence additional litigation against the Company.
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. If, as a result of further investigations, it is determined that our financial statements were materially incorrect, we could be required to restate financial information for prior reporting periods. Chilean authorities could impose sanctions discussed above under Law No. 20,393. The occurrence of any of the foregoing could materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition, cash flows, results of operations and the prices of our securities.
For more information, see “Item 8.A.7 Legal Proceedings.”
An arbitration proceeding under the Lease Agreement for the Salar de Atacama, if determined adversely to us, would materially adversely affect our business and operations
Our subsidiary SQM Salar S.A. (“SQM Salar”) holds exclusive and temporary exploitation rights to mineral resources in 81,920 hectares in the Salar de Atacama pursuant to a 1993 lease agreement over mining exploitation concessions between SQM Salar and Corfo, a Chilean government entity (the “Lease Agreement”). The mining exploitation concessions related to such rights are owned by Corfo and leased to SQM Salar in exchange for quarterly lease payments to Corfo based on specified percentages associated to the value of the products resulting from the minerals extracted from such concessions. For the year ended December 31, 2016, revenue related to products originating from the Salar de Atacama represented 48% of our consolidated revenues, which corresponded to revenues from our potassium product line and our lithium and derivatives product line for the period. All of our products originating from the Salar de Atacama are derived from our extraction operations under the Lease Agreement.
In May 2014, Corfo initiated an arbitration proceeding against SQM Salar alleging (i) SQM Salar had incorrectly applied the formulas to determine lease payments resulting in an underpayment to Corfo of at least US$8.9 million for 2009 through 2013 and (ii) SQM Salar had not complied with its obligation to protect the mining rights of Corfo by failing to construct or replace markers to delineate property lines. Based on the alleged breaches of the Lease Agreement, Corfo sought (i) at least US$8.9 million plus any other amount that may be due in respect of periods after 2013, (ii) early termination of the Lease Agreement, (iii) lease payments that would have been paid through 2030 as compensation for the early termination of the Lease Agreement and (iv) punitive damages (daño moral) equal to 30% of the contractual damages awarded. SQM Salar contested the claim, asserting that both parties have applied mutually agreed formulas for the calculation and payment of lease payments for more than 20 years without conflict, in accordance with the terms of the Lease Agreement and their mutual understanding of the agreements by the parties during the term of the Lease Agreement. SQM Salar also asserted that the alleged breaches would be technical breaches and that Corfo may terminate the Lease Agreement solely for a material breach. SQM Salar in consultation with external counsel believes that it is likely it will prevail in the arbitration proceeding. However, an adverse ruling awarding damages sought by Corfo or permitting early termination of the Lease Agreement would have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, cash flows, results of operations and share price. We cannot assure you that Corfo will not use this arbitration proceeding to seek to renegotiate the terms of the Lease Agreement in a manner that is not favorable to SQM Salar.
In August 2016, Corfo requested a second arbitration proceeding, demanding (i) the early termination of the Project Contract signed between Corfo, SQM Potasio S.A., SQM Salar, and the Company, (ii) the dissolution of SQM Salar and (iii) the early termination of the Lease Agreement for alleged breaches of the Project Contract. In addition, Corfo demanded SQM Salar return (i) the assets Corfo contributed to it under a condition subsequent, (ii) the OMA mining properties and the aquifers included in the Lease Agreement, (iii) the water rights granted to SQM Salar and (iv) the legal mining easements identified in the lawsuit. Finally, Corfo requested that the defendants pay damages as a result of the breaches alleged in the lawsuit. The Company believes there is insufficient evidence to demonstrate that the Project Contract has been breached. However, there can be no assurance that the Company will prevail against Corfo or that other legal actions will not be taken by Corfo against the Company’s interests.
Our market reputation, commercial dealings or the price of our securities could be adversely affected by the negative outcome of certain proceedings against certain former members of our Board and certain other named defendants
On September 10, 2013, the SVS issued a press release disclosing it had instituted certain administrative proceedings (the “Cascading Companies Proceedings”) against (i) Julio Ponce Lerou (who was the Chairman of the Board and a director of the Company until April 24, 2015), (ii) Patricio Contesse Fica, who was a director of the Company until April 24, 2015 and is the son of Patricio Contesse González (who was the Company’s CEO until March 16, 2015), and (iii) other named defendants. The Company has been informed that Mr. Ponce and persons related to him beneficially owned 29.97% of SQM’s total shares as of December 31, 2016. See “Item 6.E. Share Ownership.” The SVS alleged breaches of Chilean corporate and securities laws in connection with acts performed by entities with direct or indirect share ownership interests in SQM (the “Cascading Companies”). The allegations made in connection with the Cascading Companies Proceedings do not relate to the Company’s operations, nor do they relate to any acts or omissions of the Company or any of its directors, officers or employees in their capacities as such.
In connection with the Cascading Companies Proceedings, the SVS alleged the existence of a scheme involving the named defendants whereby, through a number of transactions occurring between 2009 and 2011, the Cascading Companies allegedly sold securities of various companies, including securities of SQM, at below-market prices to companies related to Mr. Ponce and other named defendants. These companies allegedly subsequently sold such securities after a lapse of time, in most cases back to the Cascading Companies, at prices higher than the purchase price. The SVS alleged violations by the defendants of a number of Chilean corporate and securities laws in furtherance of the alleged scheme.
On January 31, 2014, the SVS added a number of Chilean financial institutions and asset managers, and certain of their controlling persons, executives or other principals, as named defendants to the Cascading Companies Proceedings. On September 2, 2014, the SVS issued a decision imposing an aggregate fine against all of the defendants of UF 4.0 million (approximately US$144.7 million as of December 31, 2015), including a fine against Mr. Ponce of UF 1.7 million (approximately US$61.4 million as of December 31, 2015) and a fine against Mr. Contesse Fica of UF 60,000 (approximately US$2.2 million as of December 31, 2015). The defendants are currently challenging the SVS administrative decision before a Chilean Civil Court.
The High Complexity Crimes Unit (Unidad de Delitos de Alta Complejidad) of the Metropolitan District Central Northern Attorney’s Office (Fiscalía Metropolitana Centro Norte) is also investigating various criminal complaints filed against various parties to the Cascading Companies Proceedings. The SII requested payment of taxes by the Cascading Companies, and the Cascading Companies filed a complaint with the tax courts.
If, for any reason, the Company is unable to differentiate itself from the named defendants, such failure could have a material adverse effect on the Company’s market reputation and commercial dealings. Furthermore, we cannot assure you that a non-appealable ruling in connection with the Cascading Companies Proceedings or the investigations of the High Complexity Crimes Unit or the SII that is adverse to Mr. Ponce or Mr. Contesse Fica will not have a material adverse effect on our market reputation, commercial dealings and the price of our securities, or that the Cascading Companies will not sell shares of the Company or vote to increase the dividends we pay to our shareholders.
We identified a material weakness in our internal controls over payments directed by the office of the former Chief Executive Officer
In the past, our management determined that the Company did not maintain effective control over payments directed by the office of the former CEO. This determination was reported in our annual report for the year ended December 31, 2014 on Form 20-F, filed with the SEC on May 18, 2015.
We believe we have taken the necessary steps to remediate the identified material weakness and enhance our internal controls. However, any failure to maintain effective internal control over financial reporting could (i) result in a material misstatement in our financial reporting or financial statements that would not be prevented or detected, (ii) cause us to fail to meet our reporting obligations under applicable securities laws or (iii) cause investors to lose confidence in our financial reporting or financial statements, the occurrence of any of which could materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition, cash flows, results of operations and the prices of our securities.
Volatility of world fertilizer and 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 fertilizer and chemical prices 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 certain fertilizers or 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.
Since 2008, world prices of potassium-based fertilizers (including some of our specialty plant nutrients and potassium chloride) have fluctuated as a result of the broader global economic and financial conditions. Although prices of potassium-based fertilizers stabilized in 2009 after the conclusion of important contract negotiations between major producers and buyers, during the second half of 2013, potassium prices declined as a result of an unexpected announcement made by the Russian company Uralkali (“Uralkali”) that it was terminating its participation in Belarus Potash Corporation (“BPC”). As a result of the termination of Uralkali’s participation in BPC, there was increased price competition in the market. In addition, in 2016, we observed lower pricing of contracts between Chinese purchasers and major potash producers, which increased volatility in the price of fertilizers. The average price for our potassium chloride and potassium sulfate business line was approximately 24% lower in 2016 compared to 2015. Our sales volumes for this business line were approximately 24% higher in 2016 compared to 2015. We cannot assure you that potassium-based fertilizer prices and sales volumes will not decline in the future.
Iodine prices followed an upward trend beginning at the end of 2008 and continuing through 2012, reaching an average price of approximately US$53 per kilogram in 2012, over 40% higher than average prices in 2011. During the following years, supply growth outpaced demand growth, causing a decline in iodine prices. We obtained an average price for iodine of approximately US$23 per kilogram in 2016, approximately 19% less than average prices obtained in 2015. We cannot assure you that iodine prices or sales volumes will not continue to decline in the future.
As a result of events in global markets during 2009, demand for lithium carbonate declined, causing a decrease in lithium prices and sales volumes. In September 2009, we announced a 20% reduction in lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide prices as a means of stimulating demand. As a result, in 2010 we observed demand recovery in the lithium carbonate market, and this upward trend has continued over the last few years, driven mostly by an increase in demand related to battery use. In 2016, demand growth was accompanied by an increase in supply that was lower than expected, and as a result, average prices for this business line increased approximately 80% compared to 2015. We cannot assure you that lithium prices and sales volumes will not decline in the future.
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 have the ability to increase 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 more than 115 countries around the world. In 2016, approximately 46% of our sales were made in emerging market countries: 12% in Latin America (excluding Chile); 9% in Africa and the Middle East (excluding Israel); 8% in Chile and 16% in Asia and Oceania (excluding Australia, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and Singapore). 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 increase for economic or operational reasons
In general, economic conditions or operational factors can affect our inventory levels. At the end of 2016, our inventory levels were relatively high compared to prior years, but lower than 2015. Higher inventories carry a financial risk due to increased need for cash to fund working capital and could imply increased risk of loss of product. We cannot assure you that inventory levels will not continue to remain high or increase further in the future. These factors could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Our level of and exposure to unrecoverable accounts receivable may significantly increase
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 this risk, the 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 or lithium carbonate 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 and lithium carbonate, which has affected prices for both products. Further production increases could negatively impact prices. There is limited information on the status of new iodine or lithium carbonate 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.
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 13% in 2016. 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 reserves estimates could be subject to significant changes
Our caliche ore mining reserves estimates are prepared by our own geologists and were most recently validated in January 2017 by Mr. Sergio Alarcón and Mr. Orlando Rojas. Mr. Alarcón is a geologist with over 30 years of experience in the field. He is currently employed by SQM as Geology Supervisor. 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 Person 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”), and he is registered under No. 164 in the Public Registry of Competent Persons in Mining Resources and Reserves in accordance with such law and related regulations. Mr. Orlando Rojas is a civil mining engineer and independent consultant. He is Partner and Chief Executive Officer of the company EMI-Ingenieros y Consultores S.A., whose offices are located at Renato Sánchez No. 3357, 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 39 years since graduating from university, including more than 33 years working on estimates for reserves and resources.
Our Salar de Atacama brine mining reserve estimates are prepared by our own hydrogeologists and geologists and were most recently validated in March 2017 by Mr. Álvaro Henríquez and Mr. Orlando Rojas. Mr. Henríquez is a geologist with more than ten years of experience in the field of hydrogeology. He is currently employed by SQM as Superintendent of Geology, 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 and related regulations. As a hydrogeologist, he has evaluated multiple brine-based projects and has experience evaluating resources and reserves.
Estimation methods involve numerous uncertainties as to the quantity and quality of the reserves, and reserve estimates could change upwards or downwards. In addition, our reserve estimates are not subject to review by external geologists or an external auditing firm. 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 LCDs. Changes in technology, the development of substitute raw materials 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 95% of our employees are employed in Chile, of which approximately 65% were represented by 22 labor unions as of December 31, 2016. During 2016, we renegotiated collective labor contracts with individual unions one year before the expiration of such contracts. During 2017, we expect to renegotiate collective labor contracts with three unions. Our collective labor contracts with 16 unions, representing 80% of the unionized workers, will expire in 2019. Our collective labor contracts with five unions, representing 20% of the unionized workers will expire in 2020. 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 respective 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 19.1 of 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. 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 might 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 Environmental Evaluation Service (Servicio de Evaluación Ambiental or “Environmental Evaluation Service”) 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.
On June 6, 2016, the Superintendence of the Environment filed charges against SQM S.A. regarding the operations at Nueva Victoria for possible non-compliance with RCA No. 890/2010. The charges related to certain variables of a monitoring plan and to the implementation of a mitigation measure considered in the respective environmental impact study.
On November 28, 2016, the Superintendence of the Environment filed charges against SQM Salar S.A. regarding possible non-compliance with RCA No. 226/2006 as a result of the company’s operations at Salar de Atacama. The charges referred to certain aspects of the monitoring and contingency plans, and the condition of a group of trees in the Camar sector considered as a part of the environmental monitoring.
For both cases, we have presented compliance programs that detail the actions and commitments we will take to resolve the issues raised by the environmental authority. The Superintendence of the Environment is reviewing both compliance programs and will release an opinion on them.
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.
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. 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.
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. As of December 31, 2016, the Chilean peso exchange rate was Ch$669.47 per U.S. dollar, while as of December 31, 2015, the Chilean peso exchange rate was Ch$710.16 per U.S. dollar. The Chilean peso therefore appreciated against the U.S. dollar by 6.0% in 2016. As of April 20, 2017, the Observed Exchange Rate was Ch$647.68 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.
Interest rate fluctuations may have a material impact on our financial performance
We have outstanding short and long-term debt that bears interest based on LIBOR, plus a spread. Since we are currently hedging only a portion of these liabilities into fixed rates, we are exposed to interest rate risk relating to LIBOR fluctuations. As of December 31, 2016, approximately 2% our financial debt had LIBOR-based pricing that was not hedged into fixed rates. A relative increase in the rate could materially impact our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Risks Relating to Chile
As we are a company based in Chile, we are exposed to Chilean political risks
Our business, results of operations, financial condition and prospects 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.
Changes in regulations regarding, or any revocation or suspension of our concessions could negatively affect our business
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 operating costs
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 Salar de Atacama rights, which have been leased to us until 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. Our subsidiary SQM Salar, as leaseholder, holds exclusive and temporary rights over 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 entitled to exploit the mineral resources of 81,920 hectares. These rights are owned by Corfo and leased to SQM Salar pursuant to the Lease Agreement between Corfo and SQM Salar. Corfo may not unilaterally modify the Lease and Project Agreements, and the rights to exploit the mineral substances cannot be transferred. The Lease Agreement establishes that SQM Salar is responsible for making quarterly lease payments to Corfo, maintaining Corfo’s rights over the mining exploitation concessions, and making annual payments to the Chilean government for such concession rights. The Lease Agreement expires on December 31, 2030. Furthermore, under the regulations of the Chilean Nuclear and Energy Commission (Comisión Chilena de Energía Nuclear or “CCHEN”), we are limited to 180,100 tons of total lithium (958,672 tons of lithium carbonate equivalent) extraction in the aggregate for all periods. We are over halfway through the term of the Lease Agreement and have extracted approximately 59% of the total accumulated extraction limit of lithium. There can be no assurance that we will not reach the lithium extraction limit prior to the term of the lease agreement.
In August 2016, Corfo requested a second arbitration proceeding, demanding (i) the early termination of the Project Contract signed between Corfo, SQM Potasio S.A., SQM Salar, and the Company, (ii) the dissolution of SQM Salar and (iii) the early termination of the Lease Agreement for alleged breaches of the Project Contract. In addition, Corfo demanded SQM Salar return (i) the assets Corfo contributed to it under a condition subsequent, (ii) the OMA mining properties and the aquifers included in the Lease Agreement, (iii) the water rights granted to SQM Salar and (iv) the legal mining easements identified in the lawsuit. Finally, Corfo requested that the defendants pay damages as a result of the breaches alleged in the lawsuit. The Company believes there is insufficient evidence to demonstrate that the Project Contract has been breached. However, there can be no assurance that the Company will prevail against Corfo or that other legal actions will not be taken by Corfo against the Company’s interests See “—Risks Relating to our Business—An arbitration proceeding under the Lease Agreement for the Salar de Atacama, if determined adversely to us, would materially adversely affect our business and 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 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 operating costs
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 at the Chilean National Congress that seek desalinate seawater for use in mining production processes, amend the Mining Code for water use in mining operations, amend the Political 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. These and potential future changes to the Water Code or other relevant regulations could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
The Chilean government could levy additional taxes on corporations operating in Chile
In Chile, there is a royalty tax that is applied to mining activities developed in the country.
Following the earthquake and tsunami in February in 2010, the Chilean government raised the corporate income tax rate in order to pay for reconstruction. Such legislation increased the general corporate tax rate from its historic rate of 17.0% to 20.0% for the income accrued in 2011, which was declared and paid in 2012. In 2012, Law No. 20,630 introduced new amendments to existing tax legislation. There can be no assurance that this legislation will not be modified in the future.
On September 29, 2014, Law No. 20,780 was published (the “Tax Reform”), introducing significant changes to the Chilean taxation system and strengthening the powers of the SII to control and prevent tax avoidance. Subsequently, on February 8, 2016, Law No. 20,899 that simplifies the income tax system and modifies other legal tax provisions was published. As a result of these reforms, open stock corporations like SQM are subject to the partially integrated shareholder tax regime (sistema parcialmente integrado). The corporate tax rate applicable to us increased to 24% in 2016. It will increase to 25.5% in 2017 and increase to a maximum rate of 27% in 2018.
Under the partially integrated shareholder taxation regime, shareholders bear the tax on dividends upon payment, but they will only be permitted to credit against such shareholder taxes a portion of the Chilean corporate tax paid by us on our earnings, unless the shareholder is resident in a country with a tax treaty in force with Chile or signed with Chile prior to January 1, 2017, whether or not in force. In that case, 100% of the Chilean corporate tax paid by us may be credited against the final taxes at the shareholder level.
As a result, foreign shareholders resident in a non-treaty jurisdiction will be subject to a higher effective tax rate than residents of treaty jurisdictions. There is a temporary rule in effect from January 1, 2017 through December 31, 2019 that treaty jurisdictions for this purpose will include jurisdictions with tax treaties signed with Chile prior to January 1, 2017, whether or not such treaties are in force. This is currently the status of the treaty signed between Chile and United States.
The Tax Reform tax increase prompted a US$52.3 million increase in our deferred tax liabilities as of December 31, 2014. In accordance with IAS 12, the effects generated by the change in the income tax rate approved by Law No. 20.780 on income and deferred taxes were applied to the income statement. For purposes of the Company’s statutory consolidated financial statements filed with the SVS, in accordance with the instructions issued by the SVS in its circular 856 of October 17, 2014, the effects generated by the change in the income tax rate were accounted for as retained earnings. The amount charged to equity as of December 31, 2014 was US$52.3 million, thereby giving rise to a difference of US$52.3 million in profit for the year and income tax expense as presented in the Company’s Audited Consolidated Financial Statements compared with profit and income tax expense as presented in the Company’s statutory consolidated financial statements filed with the SVS.
Given the difference in accounting treatments between IFRS and the instructions of the SVS, we will continue to analyze the effects of the Tax Reform on our financial statements and reporting obligations, and we cannot be sure of how our future financial statements will reflect these changes.
In addition, the Tax Reform may have other material adverse effects on our business, financial condition and results of operations. Likewise, we cannot assure you that the manner in which the Royalty Law or the corporate tax rate are interpreted and applied will not change in the future. The Chilean government may decide to levy additional taxes on mining companies or other corporations in Chile. Such changes 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, they 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.
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 earthquake in Chile occurred offshore in 2015 and had a magnitude of 8.3 on the Richter scale. There were also earthquakes in 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 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 into the Chilean market in the amount and at the price and time he 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 depositary bank 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 holders of ADSs would not realize any value from them. In either case, ADS holders’ equity interest 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 2016. Characterization as a PFIC could result in adverse U.S. tax consequences to you if you are 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—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 the full amount of the First Category Tax effectively reduces the rate of Withholding Tax. 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—Chilean Tax Considerations.”
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.
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 Series B ADSs have traded on the NYSE under the ticker symbol “SQM” since 1993. We accessed international capital markets again for the issuance of additional ADSs in 1995 and 1999. On December 21, 2006, two groups of shareholders, the “Pampa Group” (which includes the company Sociedad de Inversiones Pampa Calichera S.A. (“Pampa Calichera”) and its related companies, Inversiones Global Mining Chile Limitada and Potasios de Chile S.A.) and Kowa Group (which includes the companies Kowa Company Ltd., Inversiones La Esperanza (Chile) Limitada, Kochi S.A and La Esperanza Delaware Corporation) signed a joint agreement and became the controlling group of SQM.
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 enabled us to produce potassium chloride, lithium carbonate, 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 have 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 butyllithium plant located in Houston, Texas, in 2008. These sales allowed us to concentrate our efforts on our core products.
The 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 2013 we also opened a trading office in Thailand.
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. We also issued a bond in the international capital markets for US$250 million, primarily to refinance existing indebtedness.
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 the year, we increased our iodine production capacity at Nueva Victoria to approximately 9,000 metric tons per year. Including Pedro de Valdivia and Nueva Victoria our effective iodine capacity is approximately 10,000 metric tons per year.
In 2016, we entered into a 50/50 joint venture with Lithium Americas to develop the Caucharí-Olaroz lithium project in the Jujuy province of Argentina. The project’s production capacity is targeted at 50,000 tons per year of lithium carbonate equivalent. Under the current project timeline, we expect to commission plant production by 2019. 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 contributed US$20 million. These investments are not included in the capital expenditure program amounts discussed in the section below. These investments were carried out with internal financing.
Capital Expenditure Program
We regularly review different opportunities to improve our production methods, reduce costs, increase production capacity of existing products and develop new products and markets. Additionally, significant capital expenditures are required every year in order to sustain our production capacity. We are focused on developing new products in response to identified customer demand, as well as new products that can be derived as part of our existing production or other products that could fit our long-term development strategy. Our capital expenditures during the past five years were mainly related to the organic growth and sustainability of our business, including the construction of new facilities and the renovation of plants and equipment; during 2016, we begin new investment projects associated with our lithium, potassium nitrate and iodine business lines. These investments were carried out with internal financing through our capital expenditure program for investments in Chile.
Our capital expenditures for the years ended December 31, 2016, 2015 and 2014 were as follows:
|(in millions of US$)||2016||2015||2014|
During 2016, we had total capital expenditures of US$131.3 million, primarily related to:
|·||Completion of the project related to the expansion of ponds at Nueva Victoria to increase the production of iodine and nitrates;|
|·||Capacity expansion projects related to our potassium nitrate production;|
|·||Capacity expansion project related to our lithium hydroxide production;|
|·||Improvements in the open storage areas at the Port of Tocopilla;|
|·||General maintenance of all production units in order to ensure the fulfillment of production targets and the safety of all of our employees.|
During 2015, we had total capital expenditures of US$111.3 million, primarily related to:
|·||expansion of ponds at Nueva Victoria in order to increase the production of iodine and nitrates;|
|·||refining system at potassium nitrate plants;|
|·||exploration and construction of new wells to sustain production at the Salar de Atacama and|
|·||maintenance of production facilities in order to ensure production goals are met, as well as improvements in the open storage areas at the Port of Tocopilla.|
During 2014, we had total capital expenditures of US$112.1 million, primarily related to:
|·||development of new extraction sectors and production increases for both nitrates and iodine at Nueva Victoria;|
|·||investments aimed at maintaining and improving the quality of finished nitrate products;|
|·||exploration and construction of wells to sustain long-term production at the Salar de Atacama;|
|·||consolidation of our corporate enterprise resource planning into SAP and|
|·||maintenance across all production units in order to ensure fulfillment of production targets.|
The Board of Directors has approved a capital expenditures plan for 2017 of approximately US$170 million primarily focused on the maintenance of our production facilities in order to strengthen our ability to meet our production goals and to increase lithium and nitrates production capacity. This amount does not include an approximately US$100 million investment in the development of the Caucharí-Olaroz lithium project in Argentina, which we expect to begin construction on, as planned, during the first half of 2017. In addition, we will begin the engineering and preliminary supply purchases related to the potassium nitrate plant, and we will complete the construction of a new lithium hydroxide plant. We do not expect that our 2017 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. We also produce specialty plant nutrients, iodine derivatives, lithium and its derivatives, potassium chloride, potassium sulfate and certain industrial chemicals (including industrial nitrates and solar salts). Our products are sold in over 115 countries through our worldwide distribution network, with 92% of our sales in 2016 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, 2016, we had revenues of US$1,939.3 million, gross profit of US$611.0 million and profit attributable to controlling interests of US$278.3 million. Our worldwide market capitalization as of December 31, 2016 was approximately US$7.9 billion.
Specialty Plant Nutrition: We produce four main types of specialty plant nutrients: potassium nitrate, sodium nitrate, sodium potassium nitrate and specialty blends. Furthermore, we sell other specialty fertilizers including trading of 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. They 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 available in crystalline and 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 needs of more sophisticated customers are causing the industry to provide solutions rather than individual products. The advantages of our products, plus customized specialty blends that meet specific needs along with the agronomic service provided, allow us 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. We market iodine using the brand QIodine™.
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, primary aluminum smelting process, 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 certain cathodes for batteries. We market lithium using the following brands: QLithiumCarbonate™, QLithiumHydroxide™ and QLubelith™.
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. We market potassium chloride using the brand Qrop™ MOP.
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. 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 and enamel industries. 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 2016, 2015 and 2014 according to our product lines:
|Specialty Plant Nutrition||32||%||38||%||35||%|
|Iodine and Derivatives||12||%||15||%||17||%|
|Lithium and Derivatives||27||%||13||%||10||%|
Our business strategy is to be a mining operator that selectively integrates the production and sale of products, while efficiently supplying products to industries essential for human development (e.g. food, health, technology). This strategy was built on the following six principles:
|·||strengthen internal processes to ensure access to key resources required for the sustainability of the business;|
|·||extend M1 (lean operations) to the entire organization to strengthen our cost position, increase quality and ensure safety;|
|·||invest in the development of a specialty fertilizer market, including product differentiation, sales channel management and price optimization;|
|·||recover the iodine market share, seek consolidation and vertical integration opportunities, and invest in the development of industrial nitrate applications;|
|·||search and invest in lithium and potassium assets outside of Chile to leverage our operational capabilities and take advantage of the current lithium market appeal and ensure access to raw materials for our potassium nitrate production; and|
|·||seek diversification opportunities in gold, copper and zinc projects in the region to leverage our mining operating capabilities and provide business continuity to our exploration program.|
These principles are based on the following four concepts:
|·||build an organization with strategic clarity, inspirational leaders, responsible personnel and strong values;|
|·||develop a strategic planning process that responds to the needs of our customers and market trends, while ensuring coordination between all segments of the business, including sales and operations;|
|·||develop a robust risk control and mitigation process to actively manage our risk; and|
|·||improve our stakeholder management to establish links with the community and communicate to Chile and worldwide our contribution to industries essential for human development.|
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) continue expanding our sales of natural nitrates by continuing to leverage the advantages of our specialty products over commodity-type fertilizers; (ii) selectively expand by increasing our sales of higher margin specialty plant nutrients based on potassium and natural nitrates, particularly soluble potassium nitrate and NPK blends; (iii) pursue investment opportunities in complementary businesses to enhance our product portfolio, increase production, reduce costs, and add value to and improve 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 for 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 requirements of our customers.
Iodine and its Derivatives
Our strategy in our iodine business is to: (i) reach or at least maintain our market share of over 30% in 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 and (v) supply a product with consistent quality according to the requirements of our customers.
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) create 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 requirements of our customers.
Our strategy in our industrial chemical business is to: (i) maintain our leadership position in the industrial nitrates market as well as increase our supply of potassium chloride in markets where we have natural advantages; (ii) encourage demand growth in different applications; (iii) become a long-term, reliable supplier for the thermal storage industry, maintaining close relationships with R&D programs; (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
From time to time we evaluate opportunities to expand in our current core businesses or within new businesses in which we believe we may have sustainable competitive advantages, both within and outside Chile, and we expect to continue to do so in the future.
We are continuously exploring the possibility of acquiring controlling stakes or other interests in companies that have mining properties in our core business areas and are in early stages of development. Consistent with our business strategy, we will continue to evaluate acquisitions, joint ventures and alliances in our core businesses and, depending on all facts and circumstances, may seek to acquire controlling stakes or other interests related to our core businesses both inside and outside of Chile, including other emerging markets.
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, drilling targets and assessing new prospects. In 2016, the team identified 15 new targets and confirmed mineralization in four of the targets, using its own truck-mounted drill rigs. The number of perforated meters reached 32,000 meters, and were made with three machines of which two 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, 2016, we had ten option agreements in place with eight companies, including small junior mining companies, private equity firms and large mining companies.
Main Business Lines
Specialty Plant Nutrition
We believe we are the world’s largest producer of potassium nitrate. We estimate that our sales accounted for approximately 44% of global potassium nitrate sales for all applications by volume in 2016, an increase from 43% in 2015. During 2016, the potassium nitrate market increased by around 3%. These estimates do not include potassium nitrate produced and sold locally in China, only net imports/exports.
In addition to potassium nitrate, we also 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”).
These 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.
In particular, our specialty plant nutrients:
|·||are fully water soluble, allowing their use in hydroponics, fertigation, foliar applications and other advanced agricultural techniques;|
|·||improve the water use efficiency of crops and 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.|
In 2016, our specialty plant nutrients revenues decreased to US$623.9 million, representing 32% of our total revenues for that year and a 4.4% decrease from US$652.3 million in specialty plant nutrients revenues in 2015. This decrease was the result of lower prices compared to 2015. Prices decreased approximately 5% in 2016.
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, microirrigation has grown at 10% per year over the same period. Microirrigation 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 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.
Asia is the region with the lowest microirrigation to total irrigated hectares ratio in the world, reaching around 3%. This represents a high potential for this technology, which is reflected in the high growth rates in recent years.
The market for potassium nitrate in China is an important market for this product, although its demand is largely fulfilled by domestic producers. Demand totals approximately 400,000 to 420,000 metric tons, of which approximately 150,000 is related to the tobacco industry and 120,000 is related to the horticulture business. Of the total, between 20,000 and 30,000 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 Chile, the United States, Mexico, the United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Turkey, China, India, Thailand, Brazil, Spain, Netherlands and Peru.
The following table shows our sales volumes of and revenues from specialty plant nutrients for 2016, 2015 and 2014:
|Sales volumes (Th. MT)|
|Potassium nitrate and sodium potassium nitrate||475.8||493.6||531.6|
|Other specialty plant nutrients(2)||127.2||108.4||102.5|
|Total revenues (in US$ millions)||623.9||652.3||708.0|
|(1)||Includes Yara’s products sold pursuant to our commercial agreement.|
|(2)||Includes trading of other specialty fertilizers.|
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 chlorine 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 chlorine-free potassium (the two macronutrients most needed by plants) make it an indispensable source of nutrition for crops that use modern irrigation systems.
In addition, 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, when plants flower before the leaf growth phase, imposing limiting factors on xylem nutrient transport and|
|·||to promote rapid recovery from leaf stress caused by climatic conditions, soil conditions and irrigation management.|
Another benefit of our potassium nitrate is that, according to a 2014 study by the consulting firm Arthur D. Little Benelux, our production process generates up to 40% less greenhouse gases compared to other major potassium nitrate producers in the world.
In addition to these products, SQM has consolidated a product portfolio of over 200 specialty fertilizer blends, including top brands such as UltrasolTM, for fertigation; QropTM, for application to the soil; SpeedfolTM, for foliar feeding and AllganicTM, for organic crops.
In 2015, we added a new product to our portfolio of specialty field fertilizers: QropTMKS. This product was developed by our research and development team and is an improvement to existing products. It is more physically stable and is not required to be transported as hazardous cargo, which means it can be sold in other markets.
Specialty Plant Nutrition: Marketing and Customers
In 2016, we sold our specialty plant nutrients in approximately 98 countries. One customer represented more than 10% of our specialty plant nutrient revenues during 2016, representing approximately 27% of our total specialty plant nutrition revenues, and our ten largest customers accounted in the aggregate for approximately 50% 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||11||%||28||%||31||%|
|Asia and Others||37||%||16||%||18||%|
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 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.
In connection with our marketing efforts, we provide technical and agronomical assistance and support to some of our customers. By working closely with our customers, we are able to identify new, higher-value-added products and 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 command a premium price.
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, from time to time we 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.
In May 2008, we signed a joint venture agreement with Migao for the production and distribution of specialty plant nutrients in China. Through the joint venture, we constructed a potassium nitrate plant with a production capacity of 40,000 metric tons per year. The plant began operating in January 2011, and has allowed us to increase our presence in China, which is one of the most important and fastest growing markets for the fertilizer industry.
In May 2009, our subsidiary Soquimich European Holdings entered into an agreement with Coromandel Fertilizers Ltd. to create a joint venture for the production and distribution of water soluble fertilizers in India. The agreement established a 50⁄50 contribution to the joint venture. As part of the agreement, a new 15,000 metric ton facility was constructed in the city of Kakinada to produce water soluble NPK grade fertilizers. This new facility began operating in January 2012.
In December 2009, we signed an agreement with the French Roullier Group to form the joint venture SQM Vitas. This agreement joins two of the largest companies in the businesses of specialty plant nutrition, specialty animal nutrition and professional hygiene. Peru, Brazil and South Africa are the main focus markets of this joint venture, and Dubai is the main productive unit. As part of the agreement, our phosphate plant located in Dubai became part of this joint venture.
Between 2010 and 2012, we 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.
In 2012, SQM Vitas started the construction of new plants in Brazil (Candeias), Peru and South Africa (Durban) for the production of water soluble fertilizers containing different relative amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, and at times, smaller amounts of other chemicals. The Candeias Industrial Complex plant in Brazil began operating in March 2012 and has a production capacity of 25,000 metric tons per year.
In 2013, the operations of SQM Vitas in Spain began with a water soluble NPK fertilizer plant that has a production capacity of 15,000 metric tons per year.
During 2013, the marketing activities of our joint ventures integrated in SQM (Beijing). This change aims to enhance the efficiency of distribution channels for fertilizer products by consolidating marketing into a unified brand and management team, thus reducing costs. In addition, our strategy in this segment is to increase production of water soluble fertilizers and extend our technologies and their applications in order to increase popularity and expand the use of these products.
In 2015, an asset transfer agreement was signed in December 2014 between Plantacote BV and Plantacote NV entered into effect. As a result of this agreement, the business and Plantacote® brand were transferred to the new company Plantacote NV, but with no changes to the business or the Controlled Release Fertilizer project. SQM continues to hold a 50% ownership stake in the company.
In 2015, SQM Vitas South Africa, was acquired by Roulliers. As a result, Roullier manages the operations, and the production facilities are owned by SQM.
In 2016, we began operating soluble specialty plant nutrient production facilities through our joint ventures in Peru and Netherlands. We also began operating a third facility in Mexico.
Specialty Plant Nutrition: Fertilizer Sales in Chile
We market specialty plant nutrients in Chile through our subsidiary Soquimich Comercial S.A. (“SQMC”).
SQMC is currently one of the main players in the Chilean market, offering a wide range of products developed specifically for the crops grown in the country. As specialty plant nutrients have differentiating qualities with respect to traditional fertilizers, they play a key role in this market.
SQMC sells local products as well as products imported from different countries around the world.
All contracts and agreements between Soquimich Comercial S.A. and its foreign suppliers of fertilizers generally contain standard and customary commercial terms and conditions. SQMC has been able to obtain adequate supplies of these products with good pricing conditions.
Soquimich Comercial S.A.’s fertilizer sales represented approximately 24% of total fertilizer sales in Chile during 2016. No customer accounted for more than 10% of Soquimich Comercial S.A.’s revenues in 2016. Soquimich Comercial S.A.’s consolidated revenues were approximately US$150 million and US$177 million in 2016 and 2015, respectively.
Specialty Plant Nutrition: Competition
We believe 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 31% of total world sales during 2016 (excluding sales by Chinese producers to the domestic Chinese market), compared to our share of the market which accounted for approximately 44% 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.
The principal means of competition in the sale of potassium nitrate are product quality, customer service, location, logistics, agronomic expertise and price.
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 we are the world’s largest producer of iodine. In 2016, our revenues from iodine and iodine derivatives amounted to US$231.1 million, representing 12% of our total revenues in that year. We estimate that our sales accounted for approximately 29% of world iodine sales by volume in 2016.
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 23% 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, 10%; animal nutrition, 8%; fluoride derivatives, 7%; biocides, 5%; nylon, 4%; human nutrition, 3% and other applications, 16%.
During 2016, iodine demand grew slightly compared to 2015, partly as a result of very minimal growth in the iodine market for uses related to LEC and LCD and the reuse of iodine in the iodine market related to plastics. We estimate that the global market size in 2016 was approximately 33,500 metric tons, with around 57% of supply coming from Chilean producers, including us.
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 10,000 metric tons per year of iodine, including the Iris plant, which is located next 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 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 2016, 2015 and 2014:
|Sales volumes (Th. MT)|
|Iodine and derivatives||10.2||9.3||8.8|
|Total revenues (in US$ millions)||231.1||262.6||335.4|
Our revenues decreased to US$231.1 million in 2016 from US$262.6 million in 2015. This decrease was primarily attributable to the decrease in iodine prices during 2016. Average iodine prices were more than 19% lower in 2016 when compared to 2015. Our sales volumes increased 9% in 2016, outpacing global iodine demand growth.
Iodine: Marketing and Customers
In 2016, we sold our iodine products to approximately 300 customers in over 55 countries, and most of our sales were exports. Two in the aggregate customers each accounted for more than 10% of our iodine revenues in 2016. These two customers accounted for approximately 40% of revenues, and our ten largest customers accounted in the aggregate for approximately 77% 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 for 2016, 2015 and 2014:
|Central and South America||0||%||4||%||4||%|
|Asia and Others||38||%||33||%||30||%|
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 57% of total global sales of iodine in 2016, including SQM, with approximately 29%, and four other producers, accounting for the remaining 28%. The other Chilean producers are: Atacama Chemical S.A. (Cosayach), controlled by the Chilean holding 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 RB Energy (a Canadian company previously known as Sirocco Mining Inc. or as Atacama Minerals).
We estimate that eight Japanese iodine producers accounted for approximately 30% of global iodine sales in 2016, including recycled iodine.
We estimate that iodine producers in the United States (one of which is owned by Toyota Tsusho and another is owned by Ise Chemicals Ltd., both of which are Japanese companies) accounted for nearly 5% of world iodine sales in 2016.
Iodine recycling is a growing trend worldwide. Several producers have recycling facilities where they recover iodine and iodine derivatives from iodine waste streams. Iodine recycling, mainly related to LCD and LED consumption, has increased over the past few years and currently represents approximately 18% of world iodine sales. It is estimated that approximately 75% of total world iodine recycling was done by Japanese iodine producers.
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 decreased to approximately US$23 per kilogram in 2016, continuing the downward trend observed in 2015.
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
We believe we are one of the world’s largest producers of lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide. In 2016, our revenues from lithium sales amounted to US$514.6 million, representing 27% of our total revenues. We estimate that our sales volumes accounted for approximately 27% of the global lithium chemicals sales volumes.
Lithium is mainly sold as lithium carbonate. The next most traded compound is lithium hydroxide. Both of these compounds are 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 53% of total demand, including batteries for electric vehicles, which accounted for approximately 20% of total lithium demand. Lithium carbonate is also used in applications such as ceramic and enamel frits (approximately 4% of demand), heat resistant glass (ceramic glass) (approximately 4% of demand), air conditioning chemicals (approximately 3% of demand), continuous casting powder for steel extrusion (approximately 2% of demand), primary aluminum smelting process (approximately 1% of demand) and others, including the synthesis of pharmaceuticals and lithium derivatives.
Lithium hydroxide is also used as a raw material in the lubricating greases industry (approximately 9% of total lithium chemical demand), as well as in the dyes and the battery industries.
Lithium chloride solutions are primarily used as an input for the production of other lithium derivatives.
Lithium’s main properties, which facilitate its use in this range of applications, are:
|·||it is the lightest solid element at room temperature;|
|·||it has a low coefficient of thermal expansion;|
|·||it has high electrochemical potential and low density and|
|·||it is the solid with the highest specific heat capacity.|
During 2016, lithium chemicals demand increased by approximately 14%, reaching approximately 182,000 metric tons, with close to 44% supplied by Chilean producers. 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 solutions with high concentrations of lithium, in the form of lithium chloride, as a by-product of the potassium chloride production at the Salar de Atacama. The annual production capacity of our lithium carbonate plant is 48,000 metric tons per year. We also sell the lithium chloride solutions that we produce at the Salar de Atacama, which are purified in the Salar del Carmen. 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 our facilities at the Salar del Carmen, next to the lithium carbonate operation. The lithium hydroxide facility has a production capacity of 6,000 metric tons per year and is one of the largest plants in the world. During 2017, we plan to increase this capacity to 13,500 through increased efficiencies and the construction of a 7,000 metric ton plant.
The following table shows our total sales volumes and revenues from lithium carbonate and its derivatives for 2016, 2015 and 2014:
|Sales volumes (Th. MT)|
|Lithium and derivatives||49.7||38.7||39.5|
|Total revenues (in US$ millions)||514.6||223.0||206.8|
Our revenues in 2016 were US$514.6 million, a 131.0% increase from US$223.0 million in 2015, due to higher prices and higher sales volumes. The average price for 2016 was approximately 80% higher than the average price in 2015, as global demand growth outpaced supply growth.
Lithium: Marketing and Customers
In 2016, we sold our lithium products to over 235 customers in approximately 44 countries, and most of our sales were to customers outside of Chile. One customer accounted for more than 10% of our lithium revenues in 2016, accounting for approximately 12% of our lithium revenues. Our ten largest customers accounted in aggregate for approximately 62% of revenues. Only one supplier accounted for over 10% of the cost of sales of this business line, accounting for approximately 13% of the cost of sales.
The following table shows the geographical breakdown of our revenues for 2016, 2015 and 2014:
|Central and South America||1||%||1||%||1||%|
|Asia and Others||73||%||67||%||66||%|
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, lithium hydroxide and lithium chloride solutions 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.
Our main competitors in the lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide businesses are Albemarle, which, according to our estimates, has a market share of approximately 17%, and FMC Corporation (“FMC”), which has an estimated market share of approximately 10%. In addition, there are at least ten lithium producers in China that, together, supplied approximately 37% of the world market in 2016. These producers can be divided according to the type of raw material they use: brines (6%) or hard rock (31%). A significant portion of the hard rock that is processed in China is imported from Australia. The largest producer in China is Sichuan Tianqi Lithium Industries (“Tianqi”). Albemarle produces lithium carbonate at its operations in Chile and in Nevada, United States. Its production of downstream lithium products is mostly performed in the United States, Germany and Taiwan. Albemarle and Tianqi are 49%/51% partners in Talison Lithium Pty Ltd., an Australian company that produces lithium mineral concentrate in Western Australia. FMC has production facilities in Argentina through Minera del Altiplano S.A., where it produces lithium chloride and lithium carbonate. Production of its downstream lithium products is mostly performed in the United States and the United Kingdom. In 2015, Orocobre Ltd. began producing lithium carbonate in Argentina. It is estimated that it had a market share of approximately 8% in 2016.
We believe that lithium production will increase in the near future, balancing the expected growth in demand. Recently, a number of new projects to develop lithium deposits have been announced recently. Some of these projects are already under advanced development and others could materialize in the medium term.
We produce potassium chloride and potassium sulfate by extracting brines from the Salar de Atacama that are rich in potassium chloride and other salts.
Since 2009, our effective end product capacity has increased to over 2 million metric tons per year, granting us improved flexibility and market coverage.
In 2016, our potassium chloride and potassium sulfate revenues amounted to US$403.3 million, representing 21% of our total revenues and a 6.3% decrease compared to 2015.
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.
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% to 2%. We estimate that demand totaled approximately 58 million metric tons in 2016, similar to demand in 2015.
According to studies prepared by the International Fertilizer Industry Association, cereals account for approximately 37% of world potassium consumption, including corn (15%), rice (12%) and wheat (6%). Oilseeds, predominantly soybeans and palm oil, represent approximately 20% of total potassium demand. Fruits and vegetables account for around 17% of world potassium demand, and sugar crops account for close to 8%.
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 2016, 2015 and 2014:
|Sales volumes (Th. MT)|
|Potassium chloride and potassium sulfate||1,534.7||1,241.8||1,556.2|
|Total revenues (in US$ millions)||403.3||430.6||584.3|
Potassium: Marketing and Customers
In 2016, we sold potassium chloride and potassium sulfate to approximately 500 customers in over 80 countries. There were three individual customers that each accounted for more than 10% of our revenues of potassium chloride and potassium sulfate in 2016, totaling approximately 35% of the revenues of potassium chloride and potassium sulfate during this period. We estimate that our ten largest customers accounted in the aggregate for approximately 55% of such revenues. One supplier accounted for more than 10% of the cost of sales of this business line, accounting for approximately 16% of the cost of sales for the business line.
The following table shows the geographical breakdown of our revenues for 2016, 2015 and 2014:
|Central and South America||38||%||42||%||45||%|
|Asia and Others||22||%||24||%||19||%|
We estimate that we accounted for less than 3% of global sales of potassium chloride in 2016. Our main competitors are Uralkali, Belaruskali, PCS and Mosaic. We estimate that in 2016, Uralkali accounted for approximately 19% of global sales, Belaruskali accounted for approximately 16% of global sales, PCS accounted for approximately 15% of global sales, and The Mosaic Company 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 the worldwide production of potassium sulfate. SQM accounts for less than 2% of global production.
In addition to producing sodium and potassium nitrate for agricultural applications, we produce different grades of these products for industrial applications. The different grades differ mainly in their chemical purity. We enjoy certain operational flexibility when 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.
In 2016, our revenues from industrial chemicals were US$104.1 million, representing approximately 5% of our total revenues for that year.
Industrial Chemicals: Market
Industrial sodium and potassium nitrates are used in a wide range of industrial applications, including the production of glass, ceramics, explosives, charcoal briquettes, metal treatments and 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 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).
Experts believe that CSP plays a critical role in electricity grid stabilization and manageability due to its inherent large scale storage capability. Nevertheless, such large installations are capital intensive and are strongly influenced by the generation mix in each country. Therefore, fluctuations in solar salts demand are unavoidable in terms of quantity and timing. During 2017 and thereafter, we expect to see further developments in new markets such as the Middle East, Chile and China, as well as recently developed markets such as Morocco and South Africa that continue to make progress on their programs.
Industrial-grade potassium chloride is used as an additive in oil drilling as well as in food processing, among other applications.
Industrial Chemicals: Our Products
The following table shows our sales volumes of industrial chemicals and total revenues for 2016, 2015 and 2014:
|Sales volumes (Th. MT)|
|Total revenues (in US$ millions)||104.1||97.6||101.9|
Revenues for industrial chemicals increased from US$97.6 million in 2015 to US$104.1 million in 2016, as a result of higher sales volumes in this business line.
Industrial Chemicals: Marketing and Customers
We sold our industrial nitrate products in approximately 54 countries in 2016 to approximately 317 customers. Two customers accounted for more than 10% of our revenues of industrial chemicals in 2016, accounting for approximately 46%, and our ten largest customers accounted in the aggregate for approximately 62% of such 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 for 2016, 2015 and 2014:
|Central and South America||9||%||11||%||14||%|
|Asia and Others||54||%||43||%||17||%|
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, South Africa, Asia and South America to achieve prompt deliveries to customers. Our Research and Development department, together with our foreign affiliates, provides technical support to our customers and continuously works 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, potassium nitrate and potassium chloride for industrial uses. In the case of industrial sodium nitrate, we estimate that our sales represented close to 33% of world demand in 2016 (excluding internal 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 in the European and Asian markets. 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 Chemicals, which we estimate had a market share of 25%. We estimate that our market share was approximately 24% for 2016.
In the solar salts business, we believe we have been the market leader since we started selling to commercial projects in 2007. Our competitors include Haifa Chemicals, which is a potassium nitrate supplier, and BASF AG, which is a sodium nitrate supplier.
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.
In the industrial potassium chloride market, we are a relatively small producer, mainly supplying regional needs.
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 northern Chile. During 2016, we operated one mine in this region: Nueva Victoria. We also began establishing a new mining area called Tente en el Aire, which is also located in northern Chile, about 15 kilometers northwest of our Nueva Victoria operations. We believe this new mine will allow us to capture operating synergies that will increase efficiency and reduce costs. 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. Mining operations at the Pampa Blanca site and the El Toco mine (which is part of the María Elena site) were suspended in March 2010 and November 2013, 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 one centimeter to four meters, and with the overburden varying in thickness between zero centimeters 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 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 breaking and then 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 load the ore onto off-road trucks, which take it to be processed.
The run of mine ore is loaded in heaps and leached with water to produce concentrated solutions containing nitrate, iodine 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 rich nitrate salts are produced. These concentrated nitrate salts are then sent to Coya Sur where they are used to produce potassium nitrate.
Currently, the Pedro de Valdivia and María Elena sites continue to generate solutions that are produced by leaching the mine tailings. These solutions are treated at the iodide plants at María Elena and Pedro de Valdivia. The iodide that is produced at the María Elena plant is subsequently sent to Pedro de Valdivia in order to produce prilled iodine. After iodide is obtained at both plants, 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 2016, 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. At the Pedro de Valdivia facility, until November 2015, the caliche ore was crushed, creating two products: a coarse fraction and a fine fraction. In preparation for the eventual suspension of nitrates operations at Pedro de Valdivia, we had increased our sodium nitrate inventory levels through November 2015. As of December 2016, we had approximately 450,000 tons of crystallized sodium nitrate in inventory, which will provide us with enough sodium nitrate to produce finished nitrates for approximately three years. For subsequent production, we are in the process of adapting the crystallization plant at Pedro de Valdivia to be able to produce sodium nitrate using nitrate salts from our Nueva Victoria facility.
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 qualities, including crystallized and prilled products. Finally, the products are transported by railway or 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 by us. The brines generated by the leaching processes at Pedro de Valdivia and María Elena 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, producing brine with dissolved potassium nitrate. This brine is pumped to a crystallization plant, which crystallizes the potassium nitrate by cooling it and separating it from the liquid by centrifuge.
Our current potassium nitrate production capacity at Coya Sur is approximately 1,100,000 metric tons per year. Since the end of 2013, we have been working with external advisors to implement the “lean” method of manufacturing in our potassium nitrate plants. We achieved complete implementation of this method of manufacturing during 2015. The improvements we have achieved have enabled us to reduce costs, improve energy consumption, increase the production of potassium nitrate and decrease our accident rates. This method is based on increasing the involvement of our workers in decision-making, and strengthening the leadership of our production supervisors. The goal is to identify opportunities to improve the production process and reduce waste on an ongoing basis.
During 2016, the potassium nitrate refining plants entered into operation, allowing the production of a higher quality product with lower impurity content as required by the new market conditions. These new facilities enable integrated production at the plants of Coya Sur, allowing the Company to reuse rinsing solutions, and thereby reducing the total cost of production.
The potassium nitrate produced in crystallized or prilled form at Coya Sur has been certified by TÜV-Rheiland under the quality standard ISO 9001:2008. The potassium nitrate produced at Coya Sur is transported to Tocopilla for shipping and delivery to customers and distributors.
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 mixed with the crystallized potassium nitrate to make sodium potassium nitrate, which is then 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.
Iodine and Iodine Derivatives
During 2016, we produced iodine at our facilities at Nueva Victoria (including the Iris facility), Pedro de Valdivia and María Elena. 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 carry iodine in iodate form. Part of the iodate solution is reduced to iodide using sulfur dioxide, which is produced by combusting 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 as 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 Iris. The concentrated iodide is oxidized to solid 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 maxibags 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 2016 was 8,542 metric tons: 7,744 metric tons from Nueva Victoria and Iris; 610 metric tons from Pedro de Valdivia; and 188 metric tons from María Elena. 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 announced in 2015, our total current effective production capacity at our iodine production plants is approximately 10,000 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 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 570.8 liters per second. 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 9,000 metric tons per year of iodine (including the Iris operations) and 700,000 metric tons per year of nitrates. Additional expansions may be done 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. 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 permits the CCHEN to establish a total accumulated extraction and sales limit of 180,100 tons of lithium metal (958,672 tons of lithium carbonate equivalent) in the aggregate for all periods. We are over halfway through the term of the Lease Agreement and have extracted approximately 59% of the total accumulated extraction and sales limit of lithium.
Brines are pumped from depths of 1.5 to 60 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, sulfate, boron and other minerals.
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 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 precipitation, sodium chloride salts are removed; these salts are not used in the production process of other products. After further evaporation, the sodium and potassium salts are harvested and 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 potassium and magnesium are harvested and sent for treatment at one of the cold leach plants where magnesium is removed. 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. We sell potassium chloride produced at the Salar de Atacama in excess of our needs to third parties. All of our potassium-related plants in the Salar de Atacama currently have nominal production capacity in excess of up to 2.6 million metric tons per year. Actual production capacity depends on volume, metallurgical recovery rates 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 concentrated and purified by precipitation to remove impurities it may still contain, including calcium, sulfate, potassium, sodium and magnesium. 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 from 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. A portion of this purified lithium chloride solution is packaged and shipped to customers. The production capacity of our lithium carbonate facility is approximately 48,000 metric tons per year. 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 is also subject to the extraction limit of 180,100 tons of lithium (958,672 tons of lithium carbonate equivalent) in the aggregate for all periods of the Lease Agreement mentioned above.
Our lithium carbonate production quality assurance program has been certified by TÜV-Rheiland under ISO 9001:2000 since 2005 and under ISO 9001:2008 since October 2009.
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. This facility has a production capacity of 6,000 metric tons per year and is 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.
Our lithium hydroxide production quality assurance program has been certified by TÜV-Rheiland under ISO 9001:2000 since 2007 and under ISO 9001:2008 since October 2009.
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.
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 13% of our cost of sales in 2016.
We have been connected to the northern power grid in Chile, which currently supplies electricity to most cities and industrial facilities in northern Chile, since April 2000. 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. (formerly known as 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 the supply of liquefied natural gas, in 2013 and 2014 we had a contract with Solgas. For 2015 and 2016, we executed supply contracts with Enel Chile (formerly Endesa) as with Solgas, primarily to serve our operations at the Salar del Carmen and Coya Sur.
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 annual quotas that limit the total tonnage of lithium authorized to be sold.
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 in water rights laws and other regulations could affect our operating costs.” 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.
In 2012, new modifications to the tax laws were enacted to set the corporate tax rate at 20% for companies like SQM.
On September 29, 2014, Law No. 20,780 was published (the “Tax Reform”), introducing significant changes to the Chilean taxation system and strengthening the powers of the SII to control and prevent tax avoidance. Subsequently, on February 8, 2016, Law No. 20,899 that simplifies the income tax system and modifies other legal tax provisions was published. As a result of these reforms, open stock corporations, like SQM, are subject to the partially integrated shareholder tax regime (sistema parcialmente integrado). The corporate tax rate applicable to us increased gradually from 20% to 24% in 2016. It will increase to 25.5% in 2017 and increase to a maximum rate of 27% in 2018.
The Tax Reform tax increase prompted a US$52.3 million increase in our deferred tax liabilities as of December 31, 2014. In accordance with IAS 12, the effects generated by the change in the income tax rate approved by Law No. 20.780 on income and deferred taxes were applied to the income statement. For purposes of the Company’s statutory consolidated financial statements filed with the SVS, in accordance with the instructions issued by the SVS in its circular 856 of October 17, 2014, the effects generated by the change in the income tax rate were accounted for as retained earnings. The amount charged to equity as of December 31, 2014 was US$52.3 million, thereby giving rise to a difference of US$52.3 million in profit for the year and income tax expense as presented in the Company’s Audited Consolidated Financial Statements compared with profit and income tax expense as presented in the Company’s statutory consolidated financial statements filed with the SVS.
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 governed by the Securities Law and Law No. 18,046 on Corporations (Ley de Sociedades Anónimas or the “Chilean Corporations Act”), which regulates corporate governance. Specifically, the Chilean Corporations Act regulates, among other things, independent director requirements, disclosure obligations to the general public and to the SVS, 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 in Note 19.1 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 must comply with 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 SVS. In both cases, SQM has received the requisite approvals and kept the respective guarantees up to date according to the useful life of each mining site.
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 for full compliance. We anticipate that additional laws and regulations will be enacted over time with respect to environmental matters. While we believe we will continue to be in compliance in all material respects with all applicable environmental regulations of which we are now aware, there can be no assurance that future legislative or regulatory developments will not impose new restrictions on our operations. We are committed to both complying with all applicable environmental regulations and 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 several 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 employ our best efforts to ensure compliance with the complex regulatory environments in which we operate.
In March 2016, the European Commission sent to the European Parliament a new regulatory proposal for fertilizers, which is expected to be approved by the end of 2017, following which there will be a transition period for its implementation. The new European regulation proposes to reduce the maximum content limit of perchlorates in inorganic fertilizer with macronutrients, such as the potassium nitrate sold by us, from 0.01% to 0.005%. The fertilizers that we sell contain less than 0.005% of perchlorate. However, we anticipate that in 2017, the Food Chain Security unit of the General Health and Consumer Affairs Council may revise the perchlorate limits in food that are currently in force and effect, following the European Food Safety Authority’s (“EFSA”) evaluation of the data from the 2016 monitoring program that analyzed perchlorate levels in food and in drinkable water. The new limits of perchlorates in food is expected to be established by the end of 2017.
With respect to the regulation on explosives in Europe, we issued a procedure for all employees of SQM Europe NV (Procedure for the Reporting of Suspicious Transactions and Theft of Products covered by Regulation (EU) No. 98/2013). We completed a new training program for employees in related European companies with respect to such regulation. This regulation considers nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (“NPK”) mixes produced in Europe as well as the nitrates in the product line and third party products covered by the regulation. The member states that participate in the European Committee that reviews the regulation did not reach a consensus on defining the ranges of concentration for fertilizer products. We will continue to monitor the development of changes to the regulation through our participation in the Potassium Nitrate Association as part of the public–private committee created by the European Committee. In 2017, the reviewing committee expects to prepare a report evaluating the regulation.
In September 2016, we fulfilled the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (“US-EPA”) requirement under the Chemical Data Reporting (“CDR”) regulation and the Toxic Substances Control Act (US-TSCA) to disclose all chemical substances imported to the United States by SQM North America Corp. during the 2012-2015 period, including the amount in tons per year and its uses. We conducted a survey of all products imported to the United States of America from our headquarters and affiliates during this period and reported the information per chemical substance to the US-EPA. This disclosure will be made again in 2020 for products imported during the 2016-2019 period.
In January 2016, a new Korean regulation for the management of chemical products known as K-REACH came into effect. K-REACH contains requirements that are similar to those established by the European regulation, REACH. K-REACH defines obligations for both importers and users of our products with respect to the evaluation of security and the communication of risks to the supply chain. K-REACH also defines substances that should be registered in accordance with the regulation that will be implemented in July 2018. We intend to act through a sole representative in Korea for all products subject to the regulation.
On March 14, 2016, Normative Instruction No. 5 became effective in Brazil, which defines specification requirements, guarantees, tolerances, registration requirements, packaging requirements, and the labeling of fertilizer products, among others. Normative Instruction No. 5 also defines changes to the information presented for the new registration of products and for the renewal of existing registries, when applicable.
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 Soquimich Comercial S.A., 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, 2016. 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, Belgium, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, Mexico, South Africa, Spain, China, Thailand 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 produce products based on potassium, sulfate, lithium and boron.
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.|
|(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, 2016, the surface area covered by Mining Exploitation Concessions that have been granted in relation to the caliche resources of SQM S.A.’s mining sites corresponds to approximately 569,323 hectares. In addition, as of December 31, 2016, the surface area covered by Mining Exploration Concessions in relation to the caliche resources of SQM S.A.’s mining sites corresponds to approximately 6,800 hectares. We have not requested additional mining rights.
Mining Concessions for the Exploitation of Brines at the Salar de Atacama
As of December 31, 2016, 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 of 81,920 hectares. These rights are owned by Corfo and leased to SQM Salar pursuant to the Lease Agreement. Corfo cannot unilaterally modify the Lease Agreement, and the rights to exploit the resources cannot be transferred. The Lease Agreement establishes that SQM Salar is responsible for making quarterly lease payments to Corfo according to specified percentages of the value of production of minerals extracted from the Salar de Atacama brines, maintaining Corfo’s rights over the mining exploitation concessions and making annual payments to the Chilean government for such concession rights. The Lease Agreement expires on December 31, 2030.
Under the terms of the Salar de Atacama project agreement between Corfo and SQM Salar (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 254,940 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 72,178 hectares in areas near the Salar de Atacama.
In addition, as of December 31, 2016, SQM Salar held constituted Mining Exploration Concessions covering approximately 68,400 hectares and had applied for additional Mining Exploration Concessions of approximately 2,600 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 has established a total accumulated extraction limit set at 180,100 tons of lithium (958,672 tons of lithium carbonate equivalent) in the aggregate for all periods while the Lease Agreement is in force. More than halfway through the term of the Lease Agreement, we have extracted approximately 59% of the total accumulated extraction limit of lithium.
Corfo has initiated arbitration proceedings in connection with the Lease Agreement. For more information, see “Item 8.A.7 Legal Proceedings”.
As of December 31, 2016, approximately 96% of SQM’s mining interests were held pursuant to Mining Exploitation Concessions and 4% pursuant to Mining Exploration Concessions. Of the Mining Exploitation Concessions, approximately 93% already have been granted pursuant to applicable Chilean law, and approximately 7% are in the process of being granted. Of the Mining Exploration Concessions, approximately 96% already have been granted pursuant to applicable Chilean law, and approximately 4% are in the process of being granted.
In 2016, we made payments of approximately US$7.2 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 constituted Mining Exploitation and Exploration Concessions held by SQM, including the mining properties we lease from Corfo, as of December 31, 2016:
|Region of Chile||Total|
|Region III and others||406||97,768||31||10,300||437||108,068|
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 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 2016, caliche ore mining operations were focused in the first region of Chile, and our Nueva Victoria mine was exploited. 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 operations at the María Elena site were suspended in October 2013.
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 2014 and 2015, we continued to produce solutions rich in iodine and nitrates by leaching the mine tailings. These solutions are treated at the iodide plant at María Elena, and subsequently the prilled iodine is produced at Pedro de Valdivia. The main production facilities at this site include the operations center located at El Toco and the iodide plant located at María Elena. The area mined until operations were suspended is located approximately 14 kilometers north of the María Elena production facilities. Electricity and fuel oil are the primary sources of power for this operation.
The Nueva Victoria mine and facilities are located 180 kilometers north of María Elena 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 4 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.
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, 2016 are set forth below. The Company holds 100% of the concession rights for each of these mines.
|Mine||Proven Reserves (1)|
(millions of metric
(parts per million)
Average for Mine
|Pedro de Valdivia||109.0||7.1||%||377||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||377.0||6.4||%||430||Iodine 300 ppm|
In addition, the estimates of our Probable Reserves of caliche ore at each of our principal mines as of December 31, 2016, are as follows:
|Mine||Probable Reserves (3)|
(millions of metric
(parts per million)
|Cutoff Grade (2)|
|Pedro de Valdivia||334.7||7.3||%||421||Nitrate 6.0 %|
|María Elena||148.8||7.2||%||381||Iodine 300 ppm|
|Pampa Blanca||464.6||5.7||%||540||Iodine 300 ppm|
|Nueva Victoria||1,020.7||5.3||%||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 2016,” 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. Orlando Rojas.
Mr. Sergio Alarcón is a geologist with more than 30 years of experience in the field. He is currently employed by SQM as a Geology Supervisor. 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 Person 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. Orlando Rojas is a civil mining engineer and independent consultant. He is Partner and Chief Executive Officer of the company EMI-Ingenieros y Consultores S.A., whose offices are located at Renato Sánchez No. 3357, 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 39 years since graduating from university, including more than 33 years working on estimates for reserves and resources.
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 21.34% 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 78.66% of this area has not been explored or has had limited reconnaissance, which is not sufficient to determine the sources of potential and hypothetical resources. In 2016, we did not carry out basic reconnaissance of new mining properties. With respect to detailed explorations, in 2016, we carried out recategorizations of indicated resources in the NVWS (“Nueva Victoria West South”), and Franja West sectors, totaling 1,575.64 hectares, which is still in process. Our 2017 exploration program includes the exploration of Tente en el Air section, which totals 687 hectares. 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.
|Iodine and Derivatives||17||%||US$23/kg||30||%||US$28/kg||42||%||US$38/kg|
|Specialty Plant Nutrition||23||%||US$742/ton||29||%||US$784/ton||21||%||US$806/ton|
We maintain an ongoing program of exploration and resource evaluation on the land surrounding the mines at Nueva Victoria, Pedro de Valdivia, María Elena, Pampa Blanca and other sites for which we have the appropriate concessions.
Brines from the Salar de Atacama: Facilities and Reserves
Salar de Atacama: Facilities
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 hydro-geologists 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, 2016, based on economic restrictions, geological exploitation, brine sampling and geostatistical analysis up to a depth of 110 meters of our total exploitation concessions, and additionally, up to a depth of 300 meters over approximately 47% of the same total area, are as follows:
|Proven Reserves (1)|
(millions of metric tons)
|Probable Reserves (1)|
(millions of metric tons)
(millions of metric tons)
|Potassium (K+) (2)||54.62||39.00||90.62|
|Sulfate (SO4-2) (3)||47.82||37.06||84.88|
|Lithium (Li+) (4)||4.89||3.17||8.06|
|Boron (B3+) (5)||1.76||1.26||3.02|
|(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 40%.|
|(5)||Recoveries for boron vary from 28% to 32%.|
The information set forth in the table above was validated in February 2017 by Messrs. Álvaro Henríquez and Orlando Rojas using information that was prepared by SQM’s hydrogeologists, geologists and engineers and external advisors.
Mr. Henríquez is a geologist with more than thirteen years of experience in the field of mining hydrogeology. He is currently employed by SQM as Superintendent of Geology, 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 the company EMI-Ingenieros y Consultores S.A., whose offices are located at Renato Sánchez No. 3357, 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 38 years since graduating from university, including more than 32 years working on estimates for reserves and resources.
Copies of the certificate of qualified competency issued by the Chilean Mining Commission for Mr. Rojas and Mr. Henríquez are attached hereto as Exhibit 99.2 and 99.3.
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 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.
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 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 drainable porosity data.|
|·||Grades: The brine chemistry 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, the volume of brine and drainable porosity, we determine the number of metric tons for each of the chemical ions being evaluated.
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. Reserve classification is finally achieved by using the geostatistical estimation error and hydrogeological knowledge of the units that have been explored, as an indicator between proven and probable reserves.
Probable reserves and inferred resources are being 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 per year until the end of the Lease Agreement (in 2030). Considering the maximum brine production rates, and including reinjection factors, we have performed several hydrogeological numeric simulations to estimate changes in the volume and quality of the brine during the life of the project. This procedure allows us to estimate an amount of 30.8 metric tons of potassium out of our environmentally approved reserves, which is considered to be a fraction of the proven and probable reserves previously defined.
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||11||%||US$263/ton||29||%||US$346/ton||28||%||US$375/ton|
|Lithium and Derivatives||66||%||US$10,362/ton||51||%||US$5,762/ton||42||%||US$5,235/ton|
Other Production Facilities
The Coya Sur site is located approximately 15 kilometers south of María Elena, and production activities undertaken there are associated with the production of potassium nitrate and finished products. The main production plants at this site include four potassium nitrate plants with a total capacity of 1,100,000 metric tons per year. There are also five production lines for crystallized nitrates, with a total capacity of 1,200,000 metric tons per year, and a prilling plant with a capacity of 320,000 metric tons per year. The potassium nitrate produced at Coya Sur is an intermediate product that is used as a raw material for the production of finished products (crystallized nitrates and prilled nitrates). Therefore, the production capacities listed above are not independent of one another and cannot be added together to obtain an overall total capacity. Natural gas is the main source of energy for our Coya Sur operation.
Salar del Carmen
The Salar del Carmen site is located approximately 14 kilometers to the east of Antofagasta. The production plants at this facility include the lithium carbonate plant, with a production capacity of 48,000 metric tons per year, and the lithium hydroxide plant, with a production capacity of 6,000 metric tons per year. Electricity and natural gas are the main sources of energy for our Salar del Carmen operation.
The following table provides a summary of our production facilities as of December 31, 2016:
|Facility||Type of Facility||Approximate |
(thousands of metric
|Gross Book |
(millions of US$)
|Coya Sur (3) (4)||Nitrates production||1.518||Potassium nitrate: 1,100 |
Crystallized nitrates: 1,200
Prilled nitrates: 320
|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: 9.0||7.8||455.2|
|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||126||Lithium carbonate: 48 |
Lithium hydroxide: 6
|Tocopilla (11)||Port facilities||22||-||12.6||164.5|
|(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.|
|(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 10,000 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.|
The railway line that runs between our Coya Sur production facilities and our Tocopilla port facilities was damaged in August 2015 as a result of storms in the north of Chile. The train is not currently operating and as a consequence, we have replaced the train with trucks to ship products from Coya Sur. Detailed engineering studies were performed to assess the damage of the railway. During the third quarter of 2016, the report was completed; it concluded that the cost and time needed to repair the railway at this time is not economical in the short and medium term. As a result of this determination, the Company wrote-off the assets related to the train. We do not believe it will materially impact future sales volumes or transportation costs.
We consider the condition of our principal plant and equipment to be good, with the exception of the railway line.
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 2016, 2015 and 2014:
|(in thousands, unless otherwise stated)||2016||2015||2014|
|Pedro de Valdivia(1)|
|Metric tons of ore mined||–||9,754||11,401|
|Average grade nitrate (% by weight)||–||7.8||8.1|
|Iodine (parts per million (ppm))||–||424||418|
|Metric tons of crystallized nitrate produced||–||346||453|
|Metric tons of iodine produced||0.6||2.8||3.2|
|Metric tons of ore mined||–||–||–|
|Average grade nitrate (% by weight)||–||–||–|
|Metric tons of crystallized nitrate produced||–||–||–|
|Metric tons of iodine produced||0.2||0.1||0.4|
|Metric tons of crystallized nitrate produced||573||611||519|
|Metric tons of ore mined||–||–||–|
|Metric tons of iodine produced||–||–||–|
|Metric tons of ore mined||29,902||23,969||19,792|
|Metric tons of iodine produced||7.7||7.5||6.0|
|Salar de Atacama (5)|
|Metric tons of lithium carbonate produced||44||33||30|
|Metric tons of potassium chloride and potassium sulfate and potassium salts produced||2,045||1,988||1,993|
|(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 El Toco and Pampa Blanca mines were suspended in November 2013 and March 2010, respectively. During 2014 and 2015, María Elena obtained production 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)||Operations at the Iris iodine plant were suspended in October 2013 and restarted in August 2014.|
|(5)||Lithium carbonate is extracted at the Salar de Atacama and processed at our facilities at the Salar del Carmen. Potassium salts include synthetic sylvinite produced in the plant and other harvested potassium salts (natural sylvinite, carnalites 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, Pedro de Valdivia 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), potassium sulphate (SOP) 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. On the other hand, our potassium sulphate and boric acid products are produced at our Salar de Atacama facilities and later transported by trucks to the Port of Tocopilla terminal.
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 roofed 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 also complies with the ISPS (International Ship and Port Security) Code. 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 and a crane with a 40 ton capacity for the loading of sealed product onto ships.
The storage facilities consist of a system of 6 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 9001:2008.
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.
In addition to the above-listed facilities, we operate a computer and information system linking our principal subsidiaries to our operating facilities throughout Chile via a local area network. The computer and information system is used mainly for accounting, monitoring of supplies and inventories, billing, quality control and research activities. The system’s mainframe computer equipment is located at our offices in Santiago.
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.
Since January 1, 2010, 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.
Trade and Other Accounts Receivable
Trade and other accounts receivable relate to non-derivative financial assets with fixed payments that can be determined and are not quoted in any active market. These arise from sales operations involving products and/or services that we sell directly to our customers that are not within the following categories:
|·||those which we have the intention of selling immediately in the near future and which are held-for-sale;|
|·||those designated at their initial recognition as available-for-sale and|
|·||those through which we do not intend to recover for reasons other than credit impairment and therefore must be classified as available-for-sale.|
These assets are initially recognized at their fair value (which is equivalent to their face value, discounting implicit interest for installment sales) and subsequently at amortized cost according to the effective interest rate method less a provision for impairment loss. When the face value of the account receivable does not significantly differ from its fair value, it is recognized at face value. An allowance for impairment loss is established for trade accounts receivable when there is objective evidence that we will not be able to collect all the amounts owed to us according to the original terms of accounts receivable. The Company calculates the allowance for doubtful accounts corresponding to receivables that are not guaranteed or insured as a function of the delays that may occur in the collection of such accounts.
Implicit interest in installment sales is recognized as interest income when interest is accrued over the term of the sale.
Corporate income tax for the year is determined as the aggregate of current taxes from all of the consolidated companies. Current taxes are calculated on the basis of the tax laws enacted or substantively enacted as of the date of our statements of financial position in the countries in which we and our subsidiaries operate and generate taxable income.
Deferred tax is recognized using the liability method on temporary differences arising between the tax basis for assets and liabilities and their carrying amounts in our Audited Consolidated Financial Statements. Deferred income taxes are calculated using the tax rates expected to be applicable when the assets are realized or the liabilities are settled.
In conformity with current Chilean tax regulations, the provision for corporate income tax and taxes on mining activity is recognized on an accrual basis, presenting the net balances of accumulated monthly tax provisional payments for the fiscal period and credits associated with it. The balances of these accounts are presented in current income taxes recoverable or current taxes payable, as applicable.
Tax on companies and variations in deferred tax assets or liabilities that are not the result of business combinations are recorded in income statement accounts or net shareholders’ equity accounts in our consolidated statements of financial position, depending on the origin of the gains or losses which have generated them.
At the year end, the carrying value of deferred tax assets has been reviewed and reduced for as long as possible for there to be no sufficient taxable income to allow the recovery of all or a portion of the deferred tax asset. Likewise, at the date of the statement of financial position, deferred tax assets not recognized are revalued and recognized as long as it has become possible that future taxable income will allow the recovery of the deferred tax asset.
With respect to deductible temporary differences associated with investments in subsidiaries, associated companies and interests in joint ventures, deferred tax assets are recognized solely provided that there is a possibility that the temporary differences will be reversed in the near future and that there will be taxable income with which they may be used.
The deferred income tax related to entries directly recognized in equity is recognized with an effect on equity and not with an effect on profit or loss.
Deferred tax assets and liabilities are offset if there is a legally receivable right of offsetting tax assets against tax liabilities and the deferred tax is related to the same tax entity and authority.
We state inventory at the lower of cost and net realizable value. The method used to determine the cost of inventory is weighted average cost. The cost of finished products and products-in-progress includes direct costs of materials and, as applicable, labor costs, indirect costs incurred to transform raw materials into finished products and general expenses incurred in carrying inventory to their current location and conditions.
The net realizable value represents the estimate of the sales price less all finishing estimated costs and costs that will be incurred in sales and distribution processes. Commercial discounts, rebates obtained and other similar entries are deducted in the determination of the cost. We conduct an evaluation of the net realizable value of inventory at the end of each year, recording a provision with a charge to income when circumstances warrant. When the circumstances that previously gave rise to the reserve cease to exist, or when there is clear evidence of an increase in the net realizable value due to a change in economic circumstances or prices of main raw materials, the estimate made previously is modified. The valuation of obsolete, impaired or slow-moving products relates to their estimated net realizable value.
Provisions on our inventory have been made based on a technical study which covers the different variables affecting products in stock (density, humidity, among others).
Raw materials, supplies and materials are recorded at the lower of acquisition cost or market value. Acquisition cost is calculated according to the annual average price method.
Obligations related to staff severance indemnities and pension commitments
Our obligations with respect to our employees are established in collective bargaining agreements and individual employment contracts. In the case of certain employees in the United States, our obligations are established through a pension plan, which was terminated in 2002.
These obligations are valued using an actuarial calculation that considers factors such as mortality rate, employee turnover, interest rates, retirement dates, effects related to increases in employees’ salaries, as well as the effects on variations in services derived from variations in the inflation rate.
Actuarial losses and gains that may be generated by variations in previously defined obligations are directly recorded in profit or loss for the year.
Actuarial losses and gains originating from deviations between the estimate and the actual behavior of actuarial hypotheses or in the reformulation of established actuarial hypotheses are recorded in equity.
The discount rate used for calculating obligations outside the United States was 4.5% and 4.9% for the periods ended as of December 31, 2016 and 2015, respectively.
Our United States subsidiary, SQM North America Corp. has established pension plans for its retired employees that are calculated by measuring the projected benefit obligation in accordance with International Accounting Standards (“IAS”) using a net salary progressive rate net of adjustments to inflation, mortality and turnover assumptions, deducting the resulting amounts at present value using a 5.5% interest rate for both 2015 and 2016. The net balance of this obligation is presented in the “Provisions for employee benefits, non-current” line item.
Mining development costs
Mine exploration costs and stripping costs to maintain production of mineral resources extracted from operating mines are considered variable production costs and are included in the cost of inventory produced during the period. Mine development costs at new mines, and major development costs at operating mines outside existing areas under extraction that are expected to benefit future production, are capitalized under “other long-term assets” and amortized using a units-of-production method over the associated proven and probable reserves. We determine our proven and probable reserves based on drilling, brine sampling and geostatistical reservoir modeling in order to estimate mineral volume and composition.
All other mine exploration costs, including expenses related to low grade mineral resources rendering reserves that are not economically exploitable, are charged to the statement of income in the period in which they are incurred.
Asset value impairment
We assess on an annual basis any impairment on the value of buildings, plant and equipment, intangible assets, goodwill and investments accounted for using the equity method of accounting in accordance with IAS 36 “Impairment of Assets.” Assets to which this method applies are:
|·||investments recognized using the equity method of accounting;|
|·||property, plant and equipment;|
|·||intangible assets and|
Assets are reviewed for impairment as to the existence of any indication that the carrying value is lower than the recoverable amount. If such an indication exists, the asset recoverable amount is calculated in order to determine the extent of the impairment, if any. In the event that the asset does not generate any cash flows independent from other assets, we determine the recoverable amount of the cash generating unit to which this asset belongs according to the corresponding business segment (specialty plant nutrients, iodine and derivatives, lithium and derivatives, potassium, industrial chemicals and other products and services.)
We conduct impairment tests on intangible assets and goodwill with indefinite useful lives on an annual basis and every time there is indication of impairment. If the recoverable value of an asset is estimated at an amount lower than its carrying value, the latter decreases to its recoverable amount.
The results of the impairment tests the Company has performed on its primary intangible assets demonstrated that there was no need for the Company to make any accounting adjustments to such assets. These impairment tests were performed using conservative scenarios. For more information, see Note 13.1 to our Consolidated Financial Statements.
Financial derivatives and hedging transactions
Derivatives are recognized initially at fair value at the date in which the derivatives contract has been signed and subsequently they are valued at fair value at each period end. The method for recognizing the resulting loss or gain depends on whether the derivative has been designated as an accounting hedging instrument and if so, the type of hedging, which may be:
|a.||fair value hedge of assets and liabilities recognized (fair value hedges), or|
|b.||hedging of a single risk associated with an asset or liability recognized or a highly possible foreseen transaction (cash flow hedge).|
At the beginning of the transaction, we document the relationship between hedging instruments and those entries hedged, as well as their objectives for risk management purposes and the strategy to conduct different hedging operations.