Lithium developer Liontown to raise funds after Albemarle dumps $4.2 billion bid

A sign at the approach road leads to Albemarle's lithium evaporation ponds at its facility in Silver Peak

By Melanie Burton and Scott Murdoch

MELBOURNE (Reuters) -Australian lithium developer Liontown Resources on Monday entered a trading halt to raise funding for its flagship Kathleen Valley lithium project after U.S.-based miner Albemarle abandoned a A$6.6 billion ($4.16 billion) buyout bid.

Albemarle withdrew its indicative proposal amid "growing complexities," the companies confirmed in separate statements that came days after Hancock Prospecting, an iron ore miner controlled by Australia's richest person, Gina Rinehart, raised its stake to 19.9% of Liontown.

That shareholding would likely have been enough to block the Albemarle bid of A$3 a share.

Liontown said it had halted trade to finalise funding for Kathleen Valley in Western Australia, which is due to start producing lithium in the middle of next year.

Kathleen Valley is widely regarded as one of the world's top five lithium projects, and Liontown has already signed deals to supply Ford Motor, Tesla and electric vehicle battery maker LG Energy.

Liontown said last month it was well advanced in discussions with lenders to obtain at least A$450 million to cover initial costs as it raised its capital cost estimate by 6% to A$951 million but kept its first production target.

The funding package being hammered out over the next few days is expected to include an equity raising, said a person with knowledge of the matter who was not authorised to speak publicly.

Liontown previously said it expected to raise debt financing from a banking syndicate and government credit agencies this year.

Broker Wilsons said it expects an equity raise of A$225 million by year-end to plug the funding gap, but the funding type not to be a material issue given Liontown's A$6 billion market capitalisation and near-term cash flows of more than A$500 million from 2025.

Liontown and Hancock declined to comment.

Hancock had previously cast doubt on Liontown's ability to bring Kathleen Valley online within cost and timeframe projections and offered its services.

Albemarle CEO Kent Masters said in a statement that moving forward with the Liontown acquisition was not in his company's best interests and was consistent with its disciplined approach to capital allocation.

Even if Albemarle has walked away from the buyout, it does not mean the chemicals maker is completely out of the picture, said Tim Hoff, a mining analyst at Canaccord in Perth.

"Albemarle still needs tonnes, the market still needs tonnes. Maybe there will be a supply agreement there and a capital commitment," Hoff said.

Albemarle declined to comment on whether it would engage further with Liontown and said it had sufficient feed for its Australian operations. ($1 = 1.5868 Australian dollars)

(Reporting by Melanie Burton in Melbourne, Scott Murdoch in Sydney and Rishav Chatterjee in Bengaluru; Editing by Jamie Freed)