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JPMorgan Chase Falls 5% as Consumer Cracking Begins to Show
S&P 500   5,123.41
DOW   37,983.24
QQQ   438.27
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2 Stocks to Buy on The Dip: One a Value, the Other High-Yielding
3 Key Stocks Helping to Drive the EV Race
Breakout Alert: Coinbase's Consolidation Is About To End
Closing prices for crude oil, gold and other commodities
You Can Follow BlackRock’s Market View for Your Money
JPMorgan Chase Falls 5% as Consumer Cracking Begins to Show
S&P 500   5,123.41
DOW   37,983.24
QQQ   438.27
5 Semiconductor Giants: Navigating the Recent Pullback
2 Stocks to Buy on The Dip: One a Value, the Other High-Yielding
3 Key Stocks Helping to Drive the EV Race
Breakout Alert: Coinbase's Consolidation Is About To End
Closing prices for crude oil, gold and other commodities
You Can Follow BlackRock’s Market View for Your Money
JPMorgan Chase Falls 5% as Consumer Cracking Begins to Show

Albemarle Q2 2022 Earnings Call Transcript


Listen to Conference Call View Latest SEC 10-K Filing View Latest SEC 10-Q Filing

Participants

Corporate Executives

  • Meredith H. Bandy
    Vice President of Investor Relations and Sustainability
  • Kent Masters
    Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer
  • Scott Tozier
    Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer
  • Eric Norris
    President

Presentation

Operator

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Q2 2022 Albemarle Corporation Earnings Conference Call. My name is Nadia, and I'll be coordinating the call today. [Operator Instructions] I will now hand over to your host, Meredith Bandy, Vice President of Investor Relations and Sustainability, to begin. Meredith, please go ahead.

Meredith H. Bandy
Vice President of Investor Relations and Sustainability at Albemarle

Thank you, Nadia, and welcome, everyone, to Albemarle's Second Quarter 2022 Earnings Conference Call. Our earnings were released after the close of market yesterday, and you'll find our press release and earnings presentation posted to our website under the Investors section at albemarle.com. Joining me on the call today are Kent Masters, Chief Executive Officer; and Scott Tozier, Chief Financial Officer. Raphael Crawford, President, Catalyst; Netha Johnson, President, Bromine; and Eric Norris, President, Lithium, are also available for Q&A. As a reminder, some of the statements made during this call, including our outlook, guidance, expected company performance and timing of expansion projects may constitute forward-looking statements within the meaning of federal securities laws. Please note the cautionary language about forward-looking statements contained in our press release and earnings presentation. That same language applies to this call. Please also note that some of our comments today refer to non-GAAP financial measures. A reconciliation to GAAP financial measures can be found in our earnings release in the appendix of these slides. And now I'll turn the call over to Kent.

Kent Masters
Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer at Albemarle

Thanks, Meredith, and thank you all for joining us today. On today's call, I will highlight our second quarter results and achievements. Scott will provide more details on our financial results, outlook, balance sheet and capital allocation. I will then close our prepared remarks with an update on our operating model and strategic growth projects aimed at further strengthening our long-term financial performance and sustainable competitive advantages. Albemarle's leadership positions in lithium and bromine, coupled with our team's ability to execute through the current inflationary environment led to another quarter of strong results. In the second quarter, we generated net sales of $1.5 billion, nearly double the prior year. Second quarter adjusted EBITDA of $610 million was over 3 times the prior year, continuing the trend of EBITDA significantly outpacing sales growth. The supply-demand balances remain tight in the markets we serve. Strong market prices and our continued success in contract renegotiation drove the tremendous strength we are experiencing in our lithium business.

As a result, we are again raising our 2022 outlook and now expect to be free cash flow positive for the year. Scott will review the key elements of that outlook later on in the call. We are also successfully executing our growth strategy. Our Kemerton I lithium conversion plant in Western Australia achieved first product in July. I want to especially congratulate our teams in Western Australia for their hard work and dedication in achieving this goal. And lastly, we made a major announcement regarding plans to build an integrated lithium mega site in the United States. This will support our western expansion and the development of the battery material supply chain in North America. Now I'll turn the call over to Scott to walk through our financials.

Scott Tozier
Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Albemarle

Thanks, Kent, and good morning, everyone. I'll begin on slide five. During the quarter, we generated net sales of approximately $1.5 billion, a year-over-year increase of 91%. This is due primarily to increased momentum in our pricing efforts as well as higher volumes driven by strong demand across our diverse end markets, especially for our Lithium and Bromine businesses. We saw volumes and pricing grow in all three of our businesses. For the second quarter, net income attributable to Albemarle was $407 million compared to $425 million in the prior year. As a reminder, the year ago quarterly results included a onetime benefit of $332 million related to the sale of Fine Chemistry Services. EPS for the second quarter was $3.46, a year-over-year improvement of 300%, excluding the onetime benefit of the FCS sale. This overall performance was driven by strong net sales and margin improvement, partially offset by the ongoing inflationary pressures we are feeling across all three businesses. Turning to slide six. Second quarter adjusted EBITDA was $610 million, up 214% year-over-year. The primary driver of the strong growth was higher lithium EBITDA.

Lithium was up nearly $400 million compared to the prior year driven by momentum in our contracting efforts and overall higher market prices. That's an increase of 350%. In fact, lithium's second quarter EBITDA was greater than the EBITDA it generated in the full year of 2021. Bromine was also favorable year-over-year, up nearly 50%, reflecting higher pricing driven by tight market conditions and an uptick in volumes, partially offset by raw material and freight inflation. Catalyst was negative in the quarter as higher sales volumes and pricing were more than offset by cost pressures, particularly for natural gas in Europe and raw materials. And finally, we also experienced an overall FX headwind of $14 million for the total company. Moving to slide seven. We are further increasing our 2022 outlook from our last announcement in late May primarily to reflect the expected continued strength in execution in our Lithium business and further improvements in Bromine. We now expect 2022 total company net sales to be in the range of $7.1 billion to $7.5 billion, up about 115% to 125% versus last year. Adjusted EBITDA is expected to be between $3.2 billion and $3.5 billion, reflecting a year-over-year improvement of up to 300%.

This implies EBITDA margins are expected to improve significantly to a range of 45% to 47% for the total company. Together, this translates to updated 2022 adjusted EPS guidance in the range of $19.25 to $22.25. That is about 5 times more than 2021. Additionally, we are increasing our net cash from operations guidance to a range of $1.4 billion to $1.7 billion driven by our updated sales and margin expectations. We are maintaining guidance for capital expenditures of $1.3 billion to $1.5 billion as we drive our lithium investments forward to meet increased customer demand. Together, the midpoint of our guidance implies approximately $150 million in positive free cash flow for the full year. And further, if you assume our realized pricing remains relatively flat next year, we expect to continue to generate positive free cash flow in 2023, even with continued growth investments. Security of supply remains the number one priority for our customers.

And we are continuing to partner and work closely with them. We are pushing hard to meet those accelerating customer growth requirements. Regarding the quarterly progression of sales and EBITDA. On our last call, we indicated that we expect results to be relatively evenly split among quarters. Given the underlying strength across our portfolio and continued momentum in our contracting efforts, we now expect second half adjusted EBITDA to be roughly 120% higher relative to the first half. Turning to the next slide for more detail on our outlook by segment. Our Lithium business' full year 2022 EBITDA is expected to be up more than 500% year-over-year, up from the previous outlook for growth of approximately 300%. The improved outlook reflects renegotiations of pricing on legacy fixed-price contracts and continued strong market pricing flowing through our indexed referenced variable price contracts. We now expect our average realized selling price to be up more than 225% to 250% year-over-year.

This is the result of our successful efforts to renegotiate legacy contracts and implement more index referenced variable price contracts as well as a significant increase in index prices. From the beginning of the year to today, indices are up 60% to 130%. And note that our outlook assumes Albemarle's expected Q3 realized selling price remains constant into the fourth quarter. There's no change to our lithium volume outlook for the year. We continue to expect year-over-year volume growth in the range of 20% to 30% as we bring on new conversion assets plus some additional tolling. There is potential upside to our outlook if market prices remain near current levels or with additional contract renegotiations or additional tolling volumes. And conversely, there is potential downside with material declines in market pricing or volume shortfalls. For Bromine, we are also raising our full year 2022 EBITDA expectations with year-over-year improvement in the range of 25% to 30% compared to the prior outlook of 15% to 20%. This revised guidance reflects continued strong demand and pricing from end markets such as fire safety solutions and oilfield services plus other macro trends such as digitalization and electrification. We expect higher volumes of 5% to 10% following our successful execution of growth projects last year.

For Catalysts, full year 2022 EBITDA is expected to be down 25% to 65% year-over-year. This is below our prior outlook due to significant cost pressures primarily related to natural gas in Europe, certain raw materials as well as freight, partially offset by higher sales volumes and pricing. The large outlook range for Catalysts reflects increased volatility and a lack of visibility particularly related to the war in Ukraine. Given the extraordinary circumstances and the resulting changes in oil and gas markets, the business continues to aggressively seek cost pass-throughs particularly for higher natural gas costs. The strategic review of the Catalysts business is ongoing, but it is taking longer than we anticipated. As soon as we have any news, we will provide an update. Turning to slide nine for an update on our lithium pricing and contracts. This slide reflects the expected split of our 2022 lithium revenues. Battery grade revenues are now expected to make up approximately 85% compared to 70% to 80% in our prior guidance due to successful contract negotiations and higher market indices. Of the total battery grade revenues, 15% is expected to be from short-term spot purchase orders. 65% is expected to be from index reference variable price contracts. Pricing on these contracts generally reset with a 3-month lag.

And a number of these contracts do have floors and ceilings in place. The remaining 20% comes from legacy fixed contracts with price reopeners, normally every six or 12 months. And since we last updated the outlook in late May, we have successfully repriced a portion of these contracts to better reflect the current market price environment. This segmented approach to contracting gives more flexibility for our customers while allowing Albermarle to preserve upside and ensure returns on our growth investments. Our operations and project teams are also delivering volumetric growth. slide 10 shows the expected lithium sales volumes, including technical-grade spodumene and tolling sales. In 2022, we expect volumes to improve 20% to 30% year-over-year. This growth is largely driven by our expansions at La Negra and Kemerton, the acquisition of Qinzhou as well as some additional tolling volumes.

Looking forward, we expect volumes to grow approximately 20% per year from 2022 to 2025 driven primarily by the ramp-up of new conversion assets. We see room for further upside from additional conversion assets such as our greenfield in Meishan or additional tolling volumes. Turning to slide 11. Our strong net cash from operations and solid balance sheet give us ample financial flexibility to execute our growth strategy. Our balance sheet is in great shape with $931 million of cash and available liquidity of $2.6 billion. Current net debt to adjusted EBITDA is approximately 1.7 times. With rising EBITDA from higher pricing and volumes, we expect leverage to trend lower in the near term. This gives us plenty of capacity to accelerate our growth investments or value-creating M&A.

During the second quarter, we extended our debt maturity profile through a public offering of senior notes. Proceeds totaled approximately $1.7 billion, a portion of which was used to redeem senior notes maturing in 2024. 92% of our debt position is at a fixed rate, which buffers us against the impacts of the rising interest rate environment. Before I turn the call back over to Kent, I wanted to briefly review our capital allocation priorities and our ability to adapt to market changes while building durable capacities to support growth. Our capital allocation priorities are unchanged. We remain committed to strategically grow our lithium and bromine capacity in a disciplined manner. Capacity growth will also be supported inorganically by continuously assessing our portfolio and pursuing bolt-on acquisitions at attractive returns to strengthen our top-tier resource base.

A perfect example of this strategy is the $200 million Qinzhou acquisition that is expected to close in the second half of the year. Maintaining financial flexibility and shareholder returns are also key capital allocation priorities. We remain committed to maintaining an investment-grade rating and a strong balance sheet to provide significant optionality to fund future growth. Finally, we also plan to continue to support our dividend. We are laser-focused on the durability of our business. The management team and the Board regularly review our capital allocation priorities and have identified levers we can pull to quickly adapt to changing market conditions if needed. These include slowing non-growth capex, reducing discretionary spending and hiring, shifting production volumes to highest demand markets and accelerating partnering and tolling arrangements to support cash generation. Additionally, a downturn may allow us to take advantage of lower priced acquisitions, capitalizing on the strength of our balance sheet. In summary, we believe Albemarle's ability to maintain a focus on growth through all market conditions is strong, thanks to our operating model that Kent is going to discuss next.

Kent Masters
Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer at Albemarle

Thanks, Scott. So let's turn to slide 13 to discuss our cost structure and how we are managing inflation. Our vertical integration and access to low-cost resources for lithium and bromine allow us to avoid the worst impacts of inflation and control our cost structure. For example, while approximately 45% of our costs come from raw materials and services, actually 20% of those costs relate to our owned spodumene. The implementation of our operating model, the Albemarle way of excellence is also helping manage costs. In 2020, we identified our supply chain as a key area for improvement. At that time, we reorganized to form a global supply chain function and implemented a new enhanced procurement strategy. That team's efforts are now paying dividends. Last year, our procurement team set a target to achieve $90 million in value creation by 2022 year-end.

We are on track to meet or exceed that target by about 40%. About half is from cost savings with lower year-over-year cost and about half is from cost avoidance, where procurement efficiencies have allowed us to realize below-market increases. An example of cost savings includes logistics efficiencies, minimizing material handling, maximizing equipment capacity and shortening haul routes. Cost avoidance includes using fewer suppliers and pooling buying for key raw materials and services to offset inflation. In other cases, we've shortened supply chains to improve resilience and reduce total cost. This success is driven by diverse teams, including supply chain, procurement and production scheduling, thanks to everyone across the enterprise and around the globe. It took commitment from every individual to make this happen. Our operating model is also focused on building the structure, capabilities, discipline and design approach to enable faster capacity growth. As a leading lithium producer, Albemarle is investing in lithium production around the world, including China, Australia and the Americas.

This year, we plan to deliver projects that more than double our annual capacity from 85,000 tons to 200,000 tons by year-end. We are also progressing a portfolio of projects that can grow our conversion capacity to as much as 500,000 tons per year on a 100% basis. As you can see, the near-term projects are largely in the Asia Pacific region. Longer term, we expect to transition to a more localized supply chain in North America and Europe. Turning to slide 15. Our capacity additions in Australia and Asia significantly enhanced our ability to leverage our low-cost resource base. In terms of lithium conversion capacity, we have made progress on the regulatory approval for the acquisition of the Qinzhou conversion facility. We continue to expect that acquisition to close in the second half of 2022.

In the meantime, we continue to toll spodumene through this facility. As I mentioned earlier, Kemerton I has achieved first product. This important milestone signifies that the manufacturing processes and equipment can meet the project's design objectives. Our focus now is on qualifying our products with our customers. At our China greenfield expansions, construction of a 50,000 ton per year lithium hydroxide conversion plant at Meishan is well underway. Importantly, with our ownership stakes at the Wodgina and Greenbushes lithium mines, we already have access to low-cost spodumene to feed these conversion facilities. The restart of the Wodgina lithium mine by our JV partner, Mineral Resources, is going well. We continue to negotiate agreements to expand and restructure the MARBL joint venture, and we'll update you when we have more information. We also have a 49% stake at Greenbushes, one of the best lithium resources in the world.

The Talison joint venture is ramping up chemical grade Plant two or CGP two and has approved construction of CGP 3, which has broken ground. Our intention is to ramp up lithium resources in advance of conversion assets. In which case, in the near term, we could be net long spodumene. If that's the case, we will elect to toll spodumene or sell spodumene into the market if it's economical to do so and if it allows us to bridge until new conversion assets ramp up. Albemarle is the leading global lithium producer with a significant U.S. presence and access to some of the world's best resources. As such, we are well positioned to establish a world-class production of battery grade lithium that enables the localization of the battery supply chain in North America. This would offer important benefits to U.S.-based automotive OEMs seeking a de-risked local supply chain, more reliable logistics and a reduced carbon footprint.

We plan to leverage our Kings Mountain lithium mine, a top-tier resource and build a multi-train conversion site in the Southeast. This site would be capable of handling mineral resources from Kings Mountain as well as recycled feedstock. This mega flex site would leverage Albemarle's best-in-class know-how to design, build and commission both resource and conversion assets. This creates significant competitive advantages for Albemarle and its customers while also addressing the need for localized lithium supply to support growing demand in North America. In closing, on slide 17, we expect to achieve significant growth milestones this year, thanks to strong end market demand as well as actions that we've taken to invest in profitable growth for lithium and bromine. Those investments are now paying off as we ramp up volumetric growth. To maintain our financial flexibility to fund growth through cash and our balance sheet. And to leverage our operating model to manage cost and execute our growth projects. So this concludes our prepared remarks. Now I'll ask Nadia to open the question -- open the call for questions.

Questions and Answers

Operator

[Operator Instructions] Our first question today comes from P.J. Juvekar of Citi. Please go ahead your line is open.

P.J. Juvekar
Analyst at Smith Barney Citigroup

Yes. Good morning. Kent, your volume growth has been very impressive. Can you discuss your key steps you're taking at Kings Mountain in terms of building the mega site? What environmental permits do you need? Or are you engaging with the community today? And the same question on Silver Peak. When you expand that, what kind of production ramp-up can you see?

Kent Masters
Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer at Albemarle

Right. So I mean the two sites are slightly different scale. And Kings Mountain is a significant size. Silver Peak is smaller but still the expansion is important. I mean that is the only -- we're kind of lithium sourced in the U.S. today. But at Kings Mountain, we are early in that process. We're still in pre-feasibility. So we've got to do permitting, but we have done a lot of work already. We've done all of the drilling necessary.

We continue to do some of the drilling to make -- to understand the resource at Kings Mountain. But we still got to do permitting. We've engaged with the community. We've been doing community meetings for almost six months now, maybe not quite six months or early in the year that we started that process with public meetings. We've opened an office in the town, so people can come in and ask questions. So we've really engaged with the community early on. We're working on the permitting processes that we have to go through, but it's in a pre-feasibility study. We feel confident we'll be able to get there at Kings Mountain, but there's a lot of work to do, including all the permitting.

P.J. Juvekar
Analyst at Smith Barney Citigroup

Great. And then you have a strong balance sheet. You will be free cash flow positive this year. You talked about M&A. Can you give us some idea of what you would potentially be looking at? Would you look at technologies like DLE? Or what geographies would you look at?

Kent Masters
Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer at Albemarle

Well, I think it's what we've really always talked about from an M&A standpoint. So if we see conversion assets that we think are attractive, so we would do that, consider that as a bolt-on. Technologies, if we see technology that help us to direct lithium extraction could be part of that. And then resources, so we continue -- I mean we are good on resources pretty close to the end of the decade. But we need to be planning now to build out our resource base past that. So I think those are the three primary categories.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question comes from Christopher Parkinson of Mizuho. Please go ahead your line is open.

Christopher Parkinson
Analyst at Mizuho

Great. Thank you so much for taking my question. Just turning to slide 18, the third and the fourth point. Can you just give us a quick update in terms of some of the contract renegotiations on additional tolling? I mean on the former, what percent are still up for renewal that have essentially given you the momentum to raise guidance twice in the last quarter or so? Just any color you could offer on that would be very helpful.

Eric Norris
President at Albemarle

Good morning Chris, it's Eric here. So what we've been able to do, just to recap this year, is we've been able to renegotiate contracts that have opportunities for reopeners or with customers who are seeking additional volume commitments in the out years. And in order to entertain those discussions, we've opened up -- been able to ask for higher prices on legacy contracts. We don't have any contracts that are expiring anytime soon. Most of our book of business is committed. We're very tight in the next year or two as we anticipate bringing on new capacity from some of the projects Kent described. But that doesn't mean we won't have opportunities. There might be still some contracts that shift. The big thing that's happened in the past year has been the movement to having 2/3 under index reference variable price, whereas before most of that was fixed. Now our movement is going to be very much driven by market prices and some potential changes on the margins with a few contracts or potentially if prices remain where they are, some resets on some of the fixed price contracts.

Christopher Parkinson
Analyst at Mizuho

Got it. And just a quick follow-up. Just you've also seen OEMs make a very conscientious effort and been a little bit more decisive in attempting to lock in incremental supply through, let's say, the middle and the balance of the decade. I mean has that been fully reflected in your negotiations in terms of just what you're willing to commit to them? And as we progress over the next year or 2, it seems like there's still a bit of a bottleneck in terms of the OEMs versus what's available in lithium in terms of battery grade hydroxide. What else are you willing to do to help facilitate their growth plans? And how should we think about that just from a broader market perspective, you versus some of your peers?

Kent Masters
Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer at Albemarle

Well, look, we're working with our customers, and we are being very aggressive about adding capacity. So I think you see that in our investment plans, and they're coming through now. And we get better at that. So the period when those come on, we're able -- we believe we're able to execute better from a conversion. We're good on resource for a number of years, but we still need to add that. And we work with the customers to do kind of unique arrangements we're having in conversations with those -- with our customers about those. But they have to work for us. And we're working towards some arrangements like that. So -- and they may or may not come to pass. I'm not -- I can't say that because those are conversations and discussions that we're having. But we're in those discussions. But we're committed to build capacity to serve the customer base over the long term.

Eric Norris
President at Albemarle

Yes. I think what's also unique, Chris, just to add, is that we're speaking with OEMs and battery companies on three different continents. Out -- in the out years, you saw one of the charts. We're looking towards Europe, so that's the further south. Where we are established well now is in Asia. And where we've announced next we're headed is North America. And we've got the resource bases Kent described to be able to do that. So between that localization, which is very important to these OEMs and battery producers, the sustainability and principles in which we operate and then some of the new technology areas we're focused in for next-generation technology. The partnerships we strike are going to be -- fall in one of those dimensions. And we're not in a position where we need to raise capital. So we can look at and have been discussing with various producers, various OEMs upfront and potentially forms of investment. But that's not a requirement for us. We don't need that capital. It would only be something we do as part of a broader deal to advance our strategic agenda and help our customers win in the market.

Kent Masters
Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer at Albemarle

Very helpful. Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question comes from David Begleiter of Deutsche Bank.David please go ahead your line is open.

David Begleiter
Analyst at Deutsche Bank Aktiengesellschaft

Thank you. Good morning. A question for Eric. Eric, just on your slide 9, can you talk to the difference of pricing between the index reference contracts and the spot price in Q2 and how they compare versus Q1?

Eric Norris
President at Albemarle

I'm sorry, David. To make sure I understand your question, you're wondering how they compare now, the prices versus back in Q2 -- sorry, Q1?

David Begleiter
Analyst at Deutsche Bank Aktiengesellschaft

The price difference between index reference and spot prices in Q2 versus differential in Q1.

Eric Norris
President at Albemarle

Okay. I'm sorry. We don't give enough detail to disclose that. But I will say that you know that spot prices, you would know by looking at indices are -- they vary, but currently in the low 60s in China. They're actually some of the -- some contracts in -- outside of China are even higher now at $70. We are not there yet on our index pricing, which is one of the reasons our guidance is if prices stay where they are, we could continue to have a rising mix increase in our variable based contracts.

David Begleiter
Analyst at Deutsche Bank Aktiengesellschaft

Understood. And just on the Southeast project, have you given out any cost or timing indications for that project?

Kent Masters
Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer at Albemarle

David, we have not given out any costs yet since it's really pre-feasibility. So timing-wise, it's going to be later in the decade when that would come online. Clearly, it needs to have a feedstock with the mine, and that's probably the long pole in the tent.

David Begleiter
Analyst at Deutsche Bank Aktiengesellschaft

Understood. Thank you very much.

Operator

Thank you. And the next question goes to Josh Spector of UBS. Josh please go ahead your line is open.

James Cannon
Analyst at UBS Investment Bank

Hi guys. This is James Cannon on for Josh. Just wondering why it seems like the sales drop through to EBITDA and this earnings upgrade is much higher than the last updates through the year. Can you give any color as to why that is? And similarly on FCS, has anything in the underlying business changed to improve that?

Scott Tozier
Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Albemarle

Yes, James, I think the big difference is this upgrade has been purely driven by price. So you're seeing that drop through. And we're not seeing the same impact from spodumene, which was a drag. So the spodumene price increases was a drag on our earnings in the last guidance. As you look at free cash flow, we continue to see improvements there driven by the growth in EBITDA. And we're -- because of some of the tolling efforts that we're doing, we're actually absorbing some of the inventory that we didn't have before. So seeing a better working capital profile as a result.

James Cannon
Analyst at UBS Investment Bank

Thanks

Operator

Thank you. And our next question goes to Colin Rusch of Oppenheimer. Colin please go ahead your line is open.

Colin Rusch
Analyst at Oppenheimer

Thanks for much. Can you guys just talk a little bit about the ramp-up in Kemerton? And any surprises you're seeing at this point and concerns around labor or any equipment that you're concerned about here as we start moving forward?

Kent Masters
Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer at Albemarle

Yes. So I mean look, we're -- we've just -- we made first product last month. And we're just starting to ramp up. So I think the key thing for us when we're able to make product and are comfortable with the quality, it means that our process chemistry is right. So there are no surprises really around the kind of core process chemistry around that. So that was a big milestone. That's kind of the first big hurdle that you want to clear. And then now it's just getting everything run at scale and get purities up to the -- to our specification. So as you kind of run in a new plant, we continuously see that the spec on battery grade material is very high. And so it just takes a little bit of time to get to that and it takes volume to do that.

So it's just ramping up. We feel very good about the process chemistry and that the plant will be a good operating plant. It's just that we need a little bit of time to ramp it up and get to those -- the purities we need. And then we have to go through the qualification process with our customers. So -- and that's on the first train. Second train is still on schedule that we've indicated in the past and the learnings we had on Train 1. We've stumbled a bit on Train one with issues and getting it there. We think we -- as we saw those, we've rectified that for Train 2. There's still labor issues in Western Australia, but I think we're through the worst of that because we're past most of the big construction elements of it. So now we're in the commissioning on one and just finishing up construction on 2. There's still labor issues in the operating facility to some degree, but that's kind of business as usual in Western Australia, I would say.

Colin Rusch
Analyst at Oppenheimer

And then on the North America potential expansion, can you just talk about philosophically how you're thinking about contracting that out? Is that something where you would think about taking in prepayments to lock in volumes to the customers? How far down the road are you in terms of the thought process and the discussions on the offtake for that facility?

Kent Masters
Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer at Albemarle

Well, we're having discussions with people, but we're not -- I would say we're not very far down -- we're not locked anything in. We have some ideas around some unique models, and we're having conversations with people about that.

Operator

And now next question goes to Vincent Andrews of Morgan Stanley.

Vincent Andrews o
Analyst at Morgan Stanley

Kent, I think when you discussed the mega project, you indicated an ability to take recycled feedstock. So I just was curious. One, just for that mega project, how much of a contributor you thought that would be? And whether your customers are telling you -- are indicating that, obviously, maybe more in the out years and any time soon that they would like to have some percentage of recycled feedstock in the mix of lithium that they procure.

Kent Masters
Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer at Albemarle

Yes. So I mean it's a big part of the conversation, and it's about recycling -- creating a recycled loop through the system. It is in the years out, but we have to design it in. And so we think we can build -- we'll build it in phases. But ultimately, we'll operate a recycled facility, be lower volumes at the time, but we'll have time to ramp that up and really learn how to use that, optimize that. And that would kind of be our roof facility that we would learn off of as well. So it's part -- we're trying to think ahead and design that into a facility so we get scale with the other operating facilities and have the benefit of having an operating plant next door.

Operator

And the next question goes to Kevin McCarthy of Vertical Research Partners.

Cory Murphy
Analyst at Vertical Research Partners

This is Cory on for Kevin. Going back to slide nine with the contract breakdown in lithium. I'm curious, versus last quarter, you have more index reference variable price contracts, right, 65% versus 50%. And the fixed contract piece is down to 20% from 30% of your battery grade revenues. Do you have a number in mind for how low you can go on in terms of having fixed contracts? Are you trying to get to all index reference price contracts?

Kent Masters
Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer at Albemarle

Yes. So I think -- I mean we've talked about this for a while. And we've always said we're not sure where this ends up. It's a little bit about how our customers want to contract and then the direction that we're trying to go. So I mean what you're seeing in that is just how the math is evolving. So we've upgraded -- we've changed contracts from those fixed. But remember, the fixed prices adjust over time. So they're not really fixed. And we're trying to shorten that period that we -- as they adjust. So I'm not -- I don't really want to call the mix. I mean we at one time said we thought it might be 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 between those categories. And it's turned out to be quite different. We do want to have some in the spot category that gives us flexibility.

But I don't know, it's hard to say where it goes. We're not necessarily absolutely driving it to that variable price. But we kind of like that model where it's index reference and variable. And I think our customers are getting comfortable with it as well.

Scott Tozier
Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Albemarle

The other moving piece that as you look at that chart between different presentations is, of course, where the market indices are. And so that can drive some mix shift in those percentages as you go forward.

Cory Murphy
Analyst at Vertical Research Partners

Got it. And then I guess to stick with that slide, similar question in terms of change quarter-over-quarter. Last quarter, you mentioned product offering. This quarter, you mentioned partnership offering. And in the context of one of your competitors receiving a large upfront payment for future capacity, have you approached anybody about similar upfront payments for future lithium capacity? Or maybe you could talk sort of the philosophical approach to how you want to contract future volumes?

Kent Masters
Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer at Albemarle

Well, I think we've migrated our philosophy around pricing contracting over time. And we've talked about that quite a bit, and that's coming to fruition. Our unique models, we've been having -- we've had discussions through years with people about prepayments and investments and things like that. We've not done that yet. It's not that we're opposed to it, but has to fit in our philosophy and it has to work for us. And that probably more relevant a few years ago, when we needed more cash for our investments. It's less important for us today, but we're still open for those investments. But we consider them strategic as part of a relationship and not just because we need the cash.

Cory Murphy
Analyst at Vertical Research Partners

Understood. Thank you

Operator

Thank you. And the next question goes to Aleksey Yefremov of KeyBanc Capital Markets. Aleksey your line is open please go ahead.

Aleksey Yefremov
Analyst at KeyBanc Capital Markets

Thank you and good morning everyone. You re-signed these lithium contracts. What's your philosophy towards the floor and the ceiling in those contracts? Are you widening that range? Are you narrowing it? Is it kind of staying the same versus what you held in general last year?

Kent Masters
Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer at Albemarle

Yes. Well, I would -- I mean it's a philosophy, but they are widening and going up. So there -- it is definitely not narrowing. So widening and they're moving up, I guess that's our philosophy.

Aleksey Yefremov
Analyst at KeyBanc Capital Markets

I guess I should assume that the floor is also moving up. Is it fair?

Kent Masters
Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer at Albemarle

Absolutely.

Aleksey Yefremov
Analyst at KeyBanc Capital Markets

And a follow-up question on Wodgina. Is the restart contributing in any meaningful way to your second half results this year? Or is it mostly in 2023 and thereafter story?

Kent Masters
Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer at Albemarle

So there'll probably be some volume coming through Wodgina in the second half, but it's not -- I don't think it's material. So that will start impacting in 2023.

Aleksey Yefremov
Analyst at KeyBanc Capital Markets

Great. Thanks a lot.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question comes from Joel Jackson of BMO Capital Markets. Joel please go ahead your line is open.

Joel Jackson
Analyst at BMO Capital Markets

Hi, thanks. Good morning. On slide 10, you gave your volume guidance again per year. So you guided to something like 180,000 tons or something else in 2023. Could you maybe risk adjust that? How much of that incremental for next year is in the bag? How much maybe you have to work for a bit harder and kind of give the ranges of how you get up to that number?

Kent Masters
Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer at Albemarle

So I think that -- I mean if I understand your question from a volume standpoint, right? So there will be -- it's ramping up at La Negra and Kemerton and some tolling volume. So it's -- we'll be producing -- pulling from Wodgina and ramping up at the facilities at Talison. So it's pretty much within our control. So -- but that's got to -- you can put the risk however you categorize each one of those. But it's probably -- we don't have to do anything extraordinary to get there. We have the plants that we built and now starting up, have to run and produce at volume. And then we just continue to ramp up at La Negra. And we're going to have some toll volume to handle some of the Wodgina product before we're able to build conversion. So that might be -- I mean -- but the tollers we're using, we used before. It's new product for them. So there's a little bit of risk in that, but not -- it's not extraordinary.

Scott Tozier
Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Albemarle

And Kent, I would just add, the other component is just the Qinzhou acquisition. So we still have to close that. So it's progressing well, but again, there's potential risk that, that just doesn't close.

Kent Masters
Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer at Albemarle

Yes. No, that's right. So that's probably the bigger risk in it.

Joel Jackson
Analyst at BMO Capital Markets

Okay. Then my second question would be the DOE seems to be throwing around a lot of money to battery metals to a lot of smaller companies these days, grants and loans, things like that. You could probably qualify for a bunch of this money. It's not a massive amount of money from where you guys sit, but it's probably nice little kicker. Can you talk about that?

Kent Masters
Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer at Albemarle

Yes. I mean look, it's money that's available strategically, it fits in, right, and we're working on that. So nothing we can announce today, but we're working on it.

Joel Jackson
Analyst at BMO Capital Markets

Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. The next question goes to Steve Richardson of Evercore. Steve your line is open, please go ahead.

Sean
Analyst at Evercore ISI

Hello, hi. This is Sean on for Steve. Just in terms of just returning back to Wodgina and Kemerton production, can you just please walk through how the volumes are flowing to there and also in terms of Greenbushes and how the COGS and the costs are moderating throughout the year?

Kent Masters
Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer at Albemarle

So let's just -- I mean Wodgina -- I mean we're running Wodgina today. We're ramping up, but we -- and we'll eventually toll that. We'll toll that volume until we get plants on that we can process through that. Kemerton is just -- it's a matter of ramping. And we've kind of -- we've said historically, we bring a plant on, we kind of -- our planning is we give it two years to ramp to full capacity. Now we would hope to beat that, but that's kind of what we built and that's how we build into our planning processes. And I don't -- the other was about Talison. So that's the expansion. CGP two is operating. And CGP 3, which is the next one is we've broken ground on that. So we're ramping up -- CGP 2, we're commissioning and ramping up. And we've just broken ground on CGP 3. I think that's the right.

Eric Norris
President at Albemarle

That's correct. That's correct. CGP three would come on and would be available in several years. And it would support some of the capacity expansions that are in one of our charts to talk about further China expansion and Kemerton III, IV. And then of course, as you already pointed out, Kent, the MARBL joint venture. Some of those China plants, at least one would be a part of the joint venture potentially and it would take that material.

Sean
Analyst at Evercore ISI

Thank you

Operator

Thank you. And our next question will go to David Deckelbaum of Cowen. David your please goahead your line is open.

David Deckelbaum
Analyst at Cowen

Thank you. Thanks all for taking my questions today. I just wanted to follow up on the conversation around the Megaflex site. I believe the target was 100,000 tons per annum of conversion capacity. I just wanted to confirm whether you all felt that Kings Mountain and recycled feedstock would be enough to feed up to that capacity as a resource eventually? Or it sounded like earlier, perhaps Eric was discussing perhaps another need for another asset to support that.

Kent Masters
Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer at Albemarle

Yes. So I mean our thinking -- and again, it's pre-feasibility and still -- we're trying to make sure we understand exactly the resource at Kings Mountain. So we're doing more work on that. But we think that we could feed that megaplex facility with Kings Mountain plus -- ultimately at steady state with recycled material that get to the scale that you referenced, 100,000 tons a year.

David Begleiter
Analyst at Deutsche Bank Aktiengesellschaft

Okay. And then I just wanted to follow up earlier on some of the conversations around upside volumes. It looks like in the current chart that you all sort of are still assuming this 10,000 to 20,000 tons per annum of tolled volumes, which is, I guess, basically the levels that you're at in 2022. And then how significant or how much available capacity is out there that you could theoretically toll into? Because I guess there's also the strategy of selling spodumene into the market, which seems like a pivot from sort of previous views that you all had. But I'm just wondering, volumetrically, how much capacity upside do you think that there is in the market?

Kent Masters
Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer at Albemarle

I'll let Eric can talk about the tolling. But just on the spodumene, I mean we're just being a little more flexible. That's a bridging strategy that we've not changed strategy long term about selling spodumene. We want to convert and sell to our end customers the products that they use, the lithium salts. So -- but if we have -- if we ramp up plants -- you can't do all this perfectly, right, between conversion and the mine. And we've decided to push the resources in advance of the mines because they have longer lead times, typically. And we get them up and operating. And if we've got resource available before we have conversion capacity, we'll either toll it or we'll sell spodumene rather than let it can sit on the ground.

David Deckelbaum
Analyst at Cowen

Okay. And -- there's no deviation from the strategy.

Kent Masters
Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer at Albemarle

That's right.

Eric Norris
President at Albemarle

Yes. There's no deviation from the strategy. As to your question about the availability of tolling volume, there's still a healthy market of conversion capacity being built or operating in China without available spodumene to source against that. So it varies by year. And China is -- and a lot of these projects, it can be opaque some time to get the exact numbers. It's a big market, but it can be sometimes 60% to 70% utilized. So that implies that there's capacity out there. In fact, we know this through our toll network that's available or coming on that we can take advantage of. But that is a bridging strategy to our own conversion assets and one which we would prefer to do as opposed to selling spodumene directly into the market.

David Deckelbaum
Analyst at Cowen

Thanks Sir. Thanks Kent.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question comes from Arun Viswanathan of RBC Capital Markets. Arun please go ahead your line is open.

Arun Viswanathan
Analyst at RBC Capital Markets

Great, thanks for taking my question..Yes. And I guess I just wanted to ask a more high-level question. So you noted that obviously, your contracts have -- your results or your guidance has some upside if market prices stay where they are but also some downside if we do receive from these present levels. So what would it take for the market to kind of go back to prior levels? Obviously, $60 to $70 is a new normal. So is it really a new normal? Do we ever go back down into the lower $20s or $30s or $40s? Has there been any demand destruction or changes to the adoption curves that you've been observing, especially as the cost of lithium rises in the battery and the vehicle?

Kent Masters
Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer at Albemarle

Right. So that -- I mean we're not going to call the long-term price because we don't know that. And I think it will move up and down. It's not going to just go -- it's not going to sit where it is forever. I'm probably pretty confident in saying that. It will move around over time. But we see the market being tight on lithium for a pretty long period of time. And there might be periods -- slight periods of oversupply. And we see that several -- a number of years out, but then that disappears pretty quickly. So we model that. I'm sure all of you guys model that. Everybody has their own opinion on it. But prices are going to -- they're going to move around, and we're not -- we can't call it. We do know that the cost to produce to get to the volumes, the market needs goes up quite a bit from what we see the cost curve today out over time. Could it move into the $20s and $30s at some point? It absolutely could. But we still -- we see the market being tight for a pretty long period of time.

Eric Norris
President at Albemarle

And I'll just add on your point.

Arun Viswanathan
Analyst at RBC Capital Markets

And then -- sorry, go ahead.

Eric Norris
President at Albemarle

You had another question that had to do with cost in the vehicle and technology. I mean as you know, lithium is a small part of the cost of the battery but is seen as significant as you pointed out escalation in its cost over the past year. I think the other phenomenon that's important to note is the technology phenomenon around innovation and driving out. But longer range, energy density and penetration doesn't come from lower-cost raw materials. It comes from innovation and energy density and more dense materials. So that's the movement towards higher nickel. That's the movement towards more elaborate chemistries on the anode side and maybe potentially some day solid state. So those innovations are well and continue on that experience curve, notwithstanding the price of lithium, which again, is a fairly small part of the cost of the battery.

Arun Viswanathan
Analyst at RBC Capital Markets

Okay. That's helpful. And then maybe if I could just elaborate on that just earlier what you said. The cost curve now, I guess, are you seeing most of the additions at the upper end of the cost curve outside of yourselves? And what would you kind of say is kind of a good range to think of as the cost curve, maybe the upper end? Should we just take kind of spodumene prices and use that and convert that into battery grade? Or how should we think about where the cost curve has moved to now?

Kent Masters
Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer at Albemarle

Well, I think what we're thinking -- we think about it as a longer term to get to the volumes the market needs over time. So new capacity coming on, and some of that is about the quality of the resource, where it is, the technology that you need or even to develop in order to bring that to market. So we don't publish what we -- our view of the cost curve. So I'm not going to talk about those particular numbers. But I think from our view, it's moved up over the last several years. And as the market requires more and more volume, it will continue to move up.

Operator

Thank you. And the next question goes to Laurence Alexander of Jefferies. Laurence please goahead your line is open.

Laurence Alexander
Analyst at Jefferies Financial Group

Good morning. How much could you flex the tolling side of the business? And are the margins significantly different from your segment average? And secondly, as you look at the opportunities around recycling, is there any incentive to shift your center gravity downstream and just more the processing? And can -- are there ways to integrate your knowledge of the chemistry with the downstream processing and capture more margin that way?

Eric Norris
President at Albemarle

Yes. So first of all, Laurence, on the tolling, I would say we're evaluating that now. There's -- as per the earlier question, there is capacity in the marketplace. And we will have spodumene coming from MRL -- the MARBL joint venture and our partner with MRL that we can put into the market. So it could flex upwards from the guidance that we have here. That is possible. Our margins are slightly less because you're paying several dollar a kilogram sort of fee over what our normal cost would be. But obviously, at current pricing, that's fairly immaterial in the scheme of things. And then your second question, Laurence, was around recycling going downstream.

I think we are looking at this now that we believe -- if you look at what it takes to process black mass to various mineral components that many of the unit operation, in fact, we more than believe, we know that many of the unit operations are very similar to what we do throughout our company and certainly in lithium. Many of the technologies are practiced in our existing operations to process mineral resources we do. And so other than just that last step processing to battery-grade lithium, we're evaluating just how we partner, invest and develop that supply chain, which will be a regional effort from region to region because it's a very regionalized business recycling in. So we're in that, and we'll -- as we develop that strategy further, we'll obviously share more details of that in the future.

Operator

That is all the questions we have time for today. I will now hand back to Kent Masters for any closing remarks.

Kent Masters
Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer at Albemarle

Okay. Thank you, Nadia, and thank you all for the participation on our call today. The momentum we are experiencing in 2022, combined with our pipeline of projects strongly positions us to execute on profitable and sustainable growth for the longer term. I'm confident in our team's ability to drive value for all stakeholders by accelerating our growth in a sustainable way and to lead by example. Thank you for joining us.

Operator

[Operator Closing Remarks]

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