Tianqi Lithium president leaves embattled Chinese firm

(Reuters) – China’s Tianqi Lithium Corp. said its president Vivian Wu has left the company, as the indebted producer of a key commodity for electric-vehicle batteries looks for a way out of a perilous financial situation.

Wu, who had been with the Chengdu-based firm since 2011, submitted a written resignation to Tianqi’s board of directors on Wednesday, saying she was stepping down as president and director for personal reasons, according to a filing to the Shenzhen Stock Exchange dated Friday.

Tianqi founder and chairman Jiang Weiping will assume the duties of president until a new appointment is made, the statement said. Wu’s term was not due to expire until 2023.

Her departure marks the end of a difficult two years for the executive, who was a key figure in Tianqi’s acquisition of nearly a quarter of Chilean lithium miner Sociedad Quimica y Minera de Chile SA (SQM) for $4.1 billion, announced in May 2018.

The high-profile purchase, described by Wu at the time as an “attractive investment” that would greatly benefit shareholders, has left Tianqi saddled with debt it is struggling to repay after a roughly 70% plunge in lithium carbonate prices AM-995C-LTCB since the deal was agreed, amid plentiful supply.

Tianqi has said it is considering asset sales and trying to renegotiate the terms of its loans, including a $3.5 billion syndicated facility led by China Citic Bank taken out for the SQM stake purchase.

The company last month removed senior vice president Ge Wei, while members of its Shanghai corporate communications team have also left.

Tianqi expects to stay in the red in the first half of 2020 after a 6 billion yuan ($860 million) net loss in 2019, but said on an investor platform this month it was seeing stronger orders in the second half and saw downstream demand improving. ($1 = 6.9501 Chinese yuan renminbi)

(Reporting by Tom Daly; Editing by William Mallard)

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