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Livent, Philly-based battery giant, disappoints in IPO

The IPO priced on a day U.S. industrial stocks tumbled on fears the U.S.-China trade war will depress sales

Paul Graves (left) CEO of Livent with Pierre Brondeeau CEO of FMC at FMC Tower, Philadeplhia, 2017
Paul Graves (left) CEO of Livent with Pierre Brondeeau CEO of FMC at FMC Tower, Philadeplhia, 2017Read moreDavid Swanson

Shares of Livent, the Philadelphia-based lithium mining and processing company that helps supply the world's fast-growing electric car and smartphone-battery makers, closed down 3 cents, to $16.97, Thursday, their first day of trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

Livent's shares had priced at $17 a share late Wednesday, below the $18- to $20-a-share range expected in the initial public offering by the company, spun off by pesticide maker FMC Corp., which is also based in Philadelphia.

Livent, formerly FMC Lithium USA Holding Corp., mines lithium from the Salar del Hombre Muerto (Dead Man's Salts) desert in Argentina, and processes it at plants in China and the U.S., among other countries. The metal is used not only in batteries, but as an antidepressant, and for other industrial uses.

"We think demand is going to grow almost five times larger in 2025 than it was in 2017," Paul Graves, Livent's CEO and FMC's past chief financial officer, said in an interview Thursday in New York. "Our biggest challenge is producing enough to meet the demand — there's a much greater risk that this market is consistently in a deficit in the near future."

FMC raised $390 million from the sale of an initial 14 percent of Livent shares, Graves said. That values the entire company, including the majority shares FMC retains for now, at around $2.4 billion, or a modest seven times yearly sales of $347 million last year, and a little more than six times next year's expected sales.

The rest is still held by FMC, which for now retains effective control over Livent's board. FMC chief executive officer Pierre Brondeau has said both companies will remain based in Philadelphia.

Livent is one of a handful of worldwide lithium producers, who dig the mineral in mostly arid parts of China, Chile, Argentina and Bolivia. Though demand for lithium is expected to swell as more energy users convert from fossil fuels to batteries, investors fear a rapid increase from potential new mines in Quebec and other locations could flood the market, temporarily depressing prices and profits.

A Chinese competitor to Livent, Jiangxi Ganfeng Lithium Co., fell more than 28 percent in its first trading day in Hong Kong Thursday, even after pricing the shares at the bottom of a target range.

"I think investors have decided to pause the investments around lithium and cobalt," Chris Berry, a New York-based energy-metals analyst and founder of research firm House Mountain Partners LLC., said by phone on Wednesday. "Macro-economic concerns are driving the sentiment right now."

This article contains information from Bloomberg.