Thursday 27 March 2014

No respite in sight as Lynas bleeds - Part 2 (By Soo Jin Hou)

Lynas has released its half year interim financial report for the period ending 31/12/13 on 11/3/14. On the cover page, Lynas warned investors of an imminent cash crunch and that it will need to raise fresh funds via additional equity, additional debt or some refinancing or restructure of the Group's debt facilities over the next 12 months. Subsequently, investors punished its shares through a 11% decline in price over the next 2 days, extending the 11% loss of the previous 2 days.

This paper is written to document various information that may not be immediately apparent to the lay investor which suggests that its predicament may be worse than it seems.

Average Selling Price (ASP)

The average selling price is USD 22.70/kg and USD 21.48/kg for quarters ending 30/9/13 and 31/12/13 respectively. What is certain now is that Lynas can only command prices closer to the China domestic price instead of the higher FOB (Freight on Board) China price (see Table 1). This may be a huge disappointment to many Lynas investors who continue to use FOB China price to justify a comfortable profit margin. The lower pricing is most likely due to its products being rare earths composites instead of the 99% pure rare earth elements from which the basket prices are derived from.

                                                        Quarter ended 31/9/13    Quarter ended 31/12/13
Average selling price                                22.70 USD/kg                21.48 USD/kg
Mt Weld basket price (China domestic)   21.80 USD/kg                22.62 USD/kg

Mt Weld basket price (FOB China)         29.80 USD/kg                29.30 USD/kg

Table 1: Comparison of average selling price vs Mt Weld basket prices

However, as low as the ASP may seem, it might be even lower if not because Lynas chose to stockpile its lanthanum instead of selling at a loss. As of 6/3/14, prices of lanthanum and cerium oxides remain below USD 6/kg [1], well below Lynas' optimal production cost of USD 15/kg [2]. To prop up the ASP, Lynas announced in January it will not accept new orders for lanthanum at prices below USD 15/kg [3]. It is unclear what is the actual ASP if the unsold lanthanum is included, but it will definitely be lower. After all, Lynas has admitted that the slight drop in ASP in the December quarter is due to a higher proportion of cerium than the prior quarter.

In the half year interim report, Lynas revealed that it had produced 994 tons but sold only 627 tons of rare earths oxides (REO). Similarly, inventory for finished goods also climbed from AUD 0.53 to AUD 4.42 million (m). These evidences are consistent with window dressing, although Lynas attributes the sales gap to timing.

Production Cost

Prices of lanthanum and cerium, which constitute 72% of Lynas' products, are much lower than Lynas' optimal production cost of $14-$15/kg if the plant is to run at the maximum capacity of 22,000 tons per annum (tpa) [2]. However, Lynas will only attempt to achieve half that by June quarter for fear of causing a collapse in rare earths price if it floods the market with excess supply. At half capacity, Lynas has claimed to be able to achieve production cost in the high teens [4].

In the comments section of the first part of this article [2], a Lynas investor has said that "Lynas has estimated (that) phase 1 capacity (11,000 tpa) cost of production will be US$19/kg". In view of the absence of any direct estimate from Lynas in any of its official documents, it is regrettable that the author has no choice but to adopt the data given by the investor.

Profit excluding Depreciation and Amortization

Assuming an ASP of USD 22/kg, gross profit margin is 13.6%. Assuming USD 19/kg is the all-in cost, encompassing even Nick Curtis' and Eric Noyrez' FY2013 remuneration of AUD 3.64m, at 11,000 tpa, annual gross profit is USD 33m (AUD 35.7m). Assuming the same net financial expense as FY2013's, profit before tax is AUD 23.1m. Assuming the profit split between Australia and Malaysia is 30:70 [5], Lynas will have to pay AUD 2.1m in taxes and net profit is AUD 21.0m. Table 2 summarizes the profit estimate.

Gross profit                       AUD 35.7 million 
Net financial expense        AUD 12.6 million
Tax expense                      AUD 2.1 million

Net profit                         AUD 21.0 million

Table 2: Projected profit

Free Cash Flow

Unfortunately, even if Lynas manages to eke out a slim profit, its free cash flow is negative after accounting for depreciation and amortization. After subtracting the annualized amount of AUD 24.5m (half year FY2014 is AUD 12.2m), free cash flow is negative AUD 3.5m. Free cash flow is a measure of a company's excess cash after spending to maintain its asset base. Having a negative free cash flow, even when the ideal conditions above are met, means that Lynas will not even be able to maintain its "state-of-the-art" plant. If Lynas scrimp on safety, more industrial mishaps may occur in the future.

The conditions assumed are ideal because it has not taken into account the following:

a) the potentially lower ASP if unsold stockpile is included

b) net financial expense is likely higher as interest income from cash deposit dwindles with depleting cash pile

c) potential cost from meeting its obligation to build a permanent disposal facility or sending the waste overseas

d) interest payment for the Sojitz loan facility is partly tied to LIBOR rate and will likely increase in a rising interest rate environment

e) higher production cost due to partial withdrawal of subsidy for petrol (since September '13) and electricity (since January '14) as well as the implementation of the Fuel Cost Past Through mechanism this year

f) allocation for R&D expense from 1% of revenue as recommended by the Parliamentary Select Committee [6]

g) execution risk in bringing down production and labor cash burn rate of AUD 51/kg in the December quarter

h) execution risk in meeting production target from 2,964 tpa in the December quarter to 11,000 tpa by June quarter.

Financial Obligations

With negative free cash flow, Lynas will have no money to maintain its plant let alone meet its financial obligations. Lynas has 2 major creditors. The Sojitz loan facility has a principal repayment schedule as shown in Table 3.

30 September 2014        USD 35 million
31 March 2015               USD 45 million
30 September 2015        USD 45 million
31 March 2016               USD 90 million

Total:                               USD 215 million

Table 3: Sojitz loan facility repayment schedule

In addition, the principal of Mt Kellet convertible bonds amounting to USD 225m is payable in full on 25 July 2016. In short, Lynas will need to fork out a total of USD 440m by 2016. Without a doubt, Lynas will default on its borrowings unless it is able to raise fresh funds.

Interestingly, the Mt Kellet convertible bonds come with conditions that restrict Lynas from issuing new shares until Lynas can achieve at least 70% nameplate capacity of Phase 1 over 6 consecutive months [7]. Therefore, unless Mt Kellet relents, debt financing or debt restructuring are Lynas' only options.

Balance Sheet

Lynas is significantly leveraged with gearing (borrowings/equity) of 0.87, which means, Lynas has almost as much borrowings as it has its own funds. While it is still possible to borrow, it is unlikely Lynas will get favorable terms in view of its poor profitability and prospect. To make the matter worse, the Sojitz loan facility comes with a condition that 50% of any new debt raised must be used for partial repayment [7]. Therefore, even if Lynas is able to swap new debt with old, it will probably service the new debt with even higher interest than that of the old.

To add to Lynas' woes, as of 31/12/13, it has 5 times more trade payables than it has receivables (AUD 38.2m vs AUD 7.6m). Therefore, Lynas may burn cash even faster in the subsequent quarter.

Lynas' net asset per share is AUD 0.28. At the closing price of AUD 0.225 on 27/3/14, it is still trading at a price to book ratio of 0.8. That is quite a lofty valuation even though it has already shed more than 90% of its peak value. The author expects more room for the price to fall should Lynas fail to turnaround its business.

In conclusion, Lynas will fail. It is not a matter of if, but a matter of when. Will the existing creditors throw in the towel? Or will they continue to throw good money after bad? The next few quarters will be crucial for Lynas' survival, and the concerned people of Malaysia wait with bated breath.

Soo Jin Hou

Stop Lynas Coalition


[2] Soo Jin Hou, 4/12/2013, No respite in sight as Lynas bleeds,

[3] Quarterly Activities Report for period ending 31/12/2013.

[4] This information is hearsay from Lynas' investors who tuned in to the Investors Call held on 19/4/13. Unfortunately, the audio recording of that call does not include the Q&A section which is purportedly where the production cost for Phase 1 is revealed. These information are obtained from Topstocks forum under the thread "Lynas Quarter Report Investor relations Call" started on the same date.

[5] JP Morgan, 24/6/2010, Lynas Corporation Limited - A rare opportunity.

[6] Laporan Jawatankuasa Pilihan Khas Mengenai Projek Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) "Parliamentary Select Committee Report on the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) Project", 2012,

[7] Annual financial report and Sojitz/JOGMEC loan facility deferral of completion of phase 2 test and related matters, 16/9/13.