20-F 1 tv518701_20f.htm FORM 20-F

 

 

UNITED STATES

SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION

Washington, D.C. 20549

 

 

 

FORM 20-F

 

 

 

(Mark One)

¨REGISTRATION STATEMENT PURSUANT TO SECTION 12(b) OR (g) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934

 

OR

 

xANNUAL REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934

 

For the fiscal year ended December 31, 2018

 

OR

 

¨TRANSITION REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934

 

for the transition period from                      to

 

OR

 

¨SHELL COMPANY REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934

 

Date of event requiring this shell company report                     

 

Commission file number 33-65728

 

SOCIEDAD QUIMICA Y MINERA DE CHILE S.A.

(Exact name of Registrant as specified in its charter)

 

CHEMICAL AND MINING COMPANY OF CHILE INC.

(Translation of Registrant’s name into English)

 

CHILE

(Jurisdiction of incorporation)

 

El Trovador 4285, 6th floor, Santiago, Chile +56 2 2425 2000

(Address of principal executive offices)

 

Gerardo Illanes +56 2 2425-2485, gerardo.illanes@sqm.com, El Trovador 4285, 6th floor, Santiago, Chile

(Name, Telephone, E-mail and/or Facsimile Number and Address of Company Contact Person)

 

 

 

Securities registered or to be registered, pursuant to Section 12(b) of the Act:

 

Title of each class   Name of each exchange on which registered
Series B common shares, in the form of American Depositary Shares each representing one Series B share   New York Stock Exchange

 

Securities registered or to be registered pursuant to Section 12(g) of the Act:

None

 

Securities for which there is a reporting obligation pursuant to Section 15(d) of the Act:

 

None

 

Indicate by check mark if the registrant is a well-known seasoned issuer, as defined in Rule 405 of the Securities Act.    Yes  x    No  ¨

 

If this report is an annual or transition report, indicate by check mark if the registrant is not required to file reports pursuant to Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.     Yes  ¨    No  x

 

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant (1) has filed all reports required to be filed by Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to file such reports), and (2) has been subject to such filing requirements for the past 90 days.     Yes  x   No  ¨

 

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has submitted, electronically every Interactive Data File required to be submitted pursuant to Rule 405 of Regulation S-T during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to submit such files).     Yes  x    No  ¨

 

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer, a non-accelerated filer, or an emerging growth company. See the definitions of “large accelerated filer,” “accelerated filer,” and “emerging growth company” in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act.

 

Large accelerated filer  x         Accelerated filer  ¨           Non-accelerated filer  ¨           Emerging growth company  ¨

 

If an emerging growth company that prepares its financial statements in accordance with U.S. GAAP, indicate by check mark if the registrant has elected not to use the extended transition period for complying with any new or revised financial accounting standards † provided pursuant to Section 13(a) of the Exchange Act.  ¨

 

† The term “new or revised financial accounting standard” refers to any update issued by the Financial Accounting Standards Board to its Accounting Standards Codification after April 5, 2012.

 

Indicate by check mark which basis of accounting the registrant has used to prepare the financial statements included in this filing:

 

U.S. GAAP  ¨  

International Financial Reporting Standards as issued

by the International Accounting Standards Board  x

  Other  ¨

 

If “Other” has been checked in response to the previous question indicate by check mark which financial statement item the registrant has elected to follow.    Item 17  ¨    Item 18  ¨

 

If this is an annual report, indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a shell company (as defined in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act).    Yes  ¨    No  x

 

Indicate the number of outstanding shares of each of the issuer’s classes of capital stock or common stock as of the close of business covered by the annual report.  

 

Series A Common Shares 142,819,552
   
Series B Common Shares 120,376,972

 

 

 

 

 

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

Page

 

PRESENTATION OF INFORMATION iv
GLOSSARY iv
CAUTIONARY STATEMENT REGARDING FORWARD-LOOKING STATEMENTS vii
   
ITEM 1. IDENTITY OF DIRECTORS, SENIOR MANAGEMENT AND ADVISERS 1
ITEM 2. OFFER STATISTICS AND EXPECTED TIMETABLE 1
ITEM 3. KEY INFORMATION 1
ITEM 4. INFORMATION ON THE COMPANY 21
ITEM 4A. UNRESOLVED STAFF COMMENTS 68
ITEM 5. OPERATING AND FINANCIAL REVIEW AND PROSPECTS 69
ITEM 6. DIRECTORS, SENIOR MANAGEMENT AND EMPLOYEES 90
ITEM 7. MAJOR SHAREHOLDERS AND RELATED PARTY TRANSACTIONS 102
ITEM 8. FINANCIAL INFORMATION 106
ITEM 9. THE OFFER AND LISTING 115
ITEM 10. ADDITIONAL INFORMATION 116
ITEM 11. QUANTITATIVE AND QUALITATIVE DISCLOSURES ABOUT MARKET RISK 130
ITEM 12. DESCRIPTION OF SECURITIES OTHER THAN EQUITY SECURITIES 131
ITEM 13. DEFAULTS, DIVIDEND ARREARAGES AND DELINQUENCIES 132
ITEM 14. MATERIAL MODIFICATIONS TO THE RIGHTS OF SECURITY HOLDERS AND USE OF PROCEEDS 132
ITEM 15. CONTROLS AND PROCEDURES 132
ITEM 16. [Reserved] 133
ITEM 16A. AUDIT COMMITTEE FINANCIAL EXPERT 133
ITEM 16B. CODE OF ETHICS 133
ITEM 16C. PRINCIPAL ACCOUNTANT FEES AND SERVICES 133
ITEM 16D. EXEMPTIONS FROM THE LISTING STANDARDS FOR AUDIT COMMITTEES 134
ITEM 16E. PURCHASES OF EQUITY SECURITIES BY THE ISSUER AND AFFILIATED PURCHASERS 134
ITEM 16G. CORPORATE GOVERNANCE 134
ITEM 16H. MINE SAFETY AND DISCLOSURE 134
ITEM 17. FINANCIAL STATEMENTS 135
ITEM 18. FINANCIAL STATEMENTS 135
ITEM 19. EXHIBITS 135
SIGNATURES 137
   
CONSOLIDATED FINANCIAL STATEMENTS 138

   
EXHIBIT 1.1  
EXHIBIT 8.1  
EXHIBIT 12.1  
EXHIBIT 12.2  
EXHIBIT 13.1  
EXHIBIT 13.2  
EXHIBIT 23.1  
EXHIBIT 23.2  
EXHIBIT 23.3  
EXHIBIT 99.1  
EXHIBIT 99.2  
EXHIBIT 99.3  

 

 iii

 

 

PRESENTATION OF INFORMATION

 

In this Annual Report on Form 20-F, except as otherwise provided or unless the context requires otherwise, all references to “we,” “us,” “Company” or “SQM” are to Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile S.A., an open stock corporation (sociedad anónima abierta) organized under the laws of the Republic of Chile, and its consolidated subsidiaries.

 

All references to “US$,” “U.S. dollars,” “USD” and “dollars” are to United States dollars, references to “pesos,” “CLP” and “Ch$” are to Chilean pesos, references to ThUS$ are to thousands of United States dollars, references to ThCh$ are to thousands of Chilean pesos and references to “UF” are to Unidades de Fomento. The UF is an inflation-indexed, peso-denominated unit that is linked to, and adjusted daily to reflect changes in, the previous month’s Chilean consumer price index. As of December 31, 2018, UF 1.00 was equivalent to US$38.19 and Ch$26,565.79 according to the Chilean Central Bank (Banco Central de Chile). As of April 1, 2019, UF 1.00 was equivalent to US$40.63 and Ch$27,565.76.

 

The Republic of Chile is governed by a democratic government, organized in fifteen regions plus the Metropolitan Region (surrounding and including Santiago, the capital of Chile). Our production operations are concentrated in northern Chile, specifically in the Tarapacá Region and in the Antofagasta Region.

 

We use the metric system of weights and measures in calculating our operating and other data. The United States equivalent units of the most common metric units used by us are as shown below:

 

1 kilometer equals approximately 0.6214 miles

 

1 meter equals approximately 3.2808 feet

 

1 centimeter equals approximately 0.3937 inches

 

1 hectare equals approximately 2.4710 acres

 

1 metric ton (“MT” or “metric ton”) equals 1,000 kilograms or approximately 2,205 pounds.

 

We are not aware of any independent, authoritative source of information regarding sizes, growth rates or market shares for most of our markets. Accordingly, the market size, market growth rate and market share estimates contained herein have been developed by us using internal and external sources and reflect our best current estimates. These estimates have not been confirmed by independent sources.

 

Percentages and certain amounts contained herein have been rounded for ease of presentation. Any discrepancies in any figure between totals and the sums of the amounts presented are due to rounding.

 

GLOSSARY

 

assay values” Chemical result or mineral component amount contained by the sample.

 

average global metallurgical recoveries” Percentage that measures the metallurgical treatment effectiveness based on the quantitative relationship between the initial product contained in the mine-extracted material and the final product produced in the plant.

 

average mining exploitation factor” Index or ratio that measures the mineral exploitation effectiveness, based on the quantitative relationship between (in-situ mineral minus exploitation losses) / in-situ mineral.

 

CAGR” Compound annual growth rate, the year over year growth rate of an investment over a specified period of time.

 

cash and cash equivalents” The International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) defines cash and cash equivalents as short-term, highly liquid investments that are readily convertible to known amounts of cash and which are subject to an insignificant risk of changes in value.

 

Controller Group” * A person or company or group of persons or companies that according to Chilean law, have executed a joint performance agreement, that have a direct or indirect share in a company’s ownership and have the power to influence the decisions of the company’s management.

 

Corfo” Production Development Corporation (Corporación de Fomento de la Producción), formed in 1939, a Chilean national organization in charge of promoting Chile’s manufacturing productivity and commercial development.

 

 iv

 

 

CMF” The Chilean Financial Market Commission. (La Comisión para el Mercado Financiero), formerly known as the Superintendence of Securities and Insurance (Superintendencia de Valores y Seguros or SVS).

 

cut-off grade” The minimal assay value or chemical amount of some mineral component above which exploitation is economical.

 

dilution” Loss of mineral grade because of contamination with barren material (or waste) incorporated in some exploited ore mineral.

 

exploitation losses” Amounts of ore mineral that have not been extracted in accordance with exploitation designs.

 

fertigation” The process by which plant nutrients are applied to the ground using an irrigation system.

 

geostatistical analysis” Statistical tools applied to mining planning, geology and geochemical data that allow estimation of averages, grades and quantities of mineral resources and reserves.

 

heap leaching” A process whereby minerals are leached from a heap, or pad, of ROM (run of mine) ore by leaching solutions percolating down through the heap and collected from a sloping, impermeable liner below the pad.

 

horizontal layering” Rock mass (stratiform seam) with generally uniform thickness that conform to the sedimentary fields (mineralized and horizontal rock in these cases).

 

hypothetical resources” Mineral resources that have limited geochemical reconnaissance, based mainly on geological data and sample assay values spaced between 500–1000 meters.

 

Indicated Mineral Resource” See “Resources—Indicated Mineral Resource.”

 

Inferred Mineral Resource” See “Resources—Inferred Mineral Resource.”

 

industrial crops” Refers to crops that require processing after harvest in order to be ready for consumption or sale. Tobacco, tea and seed crops are examples of industrial crops.

 

Kriging Method” A technique used to estimate ore reserves, in which the spatial distribution of continuous geophysical variables is estimated using control points where values are known.

 

“LIBOR” London Inter Bank Offered Rate.

 

limited reconnaissance” Low or limited level of geological knowledge.

 

Measured Mineral Resource” See “Resources—Measured Mineral Resource.”

 

metallurgical treatment” A set of chemical and physical processes applied to the caliche ore and to the salar brines to extract their useful minerals (or metals).

 

ore depth” Depth of the mineral that may be economically exploited.

 

ore type” Main mineral having economic value contained in the caliche ore (sodium nitrate or iodine).

 

ore” A mineral or rock from which a substance having economic value may be extracted.

 

Probable Mineral Reserve” See “Reserves—Probable Mineral Reserve.”

 

Proven Mineral Reserve” See “Reserves—Proven Mineral Reserve.”

 

Reserves—Probable Mineral Reserve” ** The economically mineable part of an Indicated Mineral Resource and, in some circumstances, Measured Mineral Resource. The calculation of the reserves includes diluting of materials and allowances for losses which may occur when the material is mined. Appropriate assessments, which may include feasibility studies, have been carried out and include consideration of and modification by realistically assumed mining, metallurgical, economic, marketing, legal, environmental, social and governmental factors. These assessments demonstrate at the time of reporting that extraction is reasonably justified. A Probable Mineral Reserve has a lower level of confidence than a Proven Mineral Reserve.

 

Reserves—Proven Mineral Reserve” ** The economically mineable part of a Measured Mineral Resource. The calculation of the reserves includes diluting of materials and allowances for losses which may occur when the material is mined. Appropriate assessments, which may include feasibility studies, have been carried out and include consideration of and modification by realistically assumed mining, metallurgical, economic, marketing, legal, environmental, social and governmental factors. These assessments demonstrate at the time of reporting that extraction is reasonably justified.

 

 v

 

 

Resources—Indicated Mineral Resource” ** The part of a Mineral Resource for which tonnage, densities, shape, physical characteristics, grade and mineral content can be estimated with a reasonable level of confidence. The calculation is based on detailed exploration, sampling and testing information gathered through appropriate sampling techniques from locations such as outcrops, trenches and exploratory drill holes. The locations are too widely or inappropriately spaced to confirm geological continuity and/or grade continuity but are spaced closely enough for continuity to be assumed. An Indicated Mineral Resource has a lower level of confidence than a Measured Mineral Resource, but has a higher level of confidence than an Inferred Mineral Resource.

 

A deposit may be classified as an Indicated Mineral Resource when the nature, quality, amount and distribution of data are such as to allow the Competent Person, as that term is defined under Chilean Law No. 20,235, determining the Mineral Resource to confidently interpret the geological framework and to assume continuity of mineralization. Confidence in the estimate is sufficient to allow the appropriate application of technical and economic parameters and to enable an evaluation of economic viability.

 

Resources—Inferred Mineral Resource” ** The part of a Mineral Resource for which tonnage, grade and mineral content can be estimated with a low level of confidence, by inferring them on the basis of geological evidence and assumed but not verified geological and/or grade continuity. The estimate is based on information gathered through appropriate sampling techniques from locations such as outcrops, trenches, pits, workings and drill holes, and this information is of limited or uncertain quality and/or reliability. An Inferred Mineral Resource has a lower level of confidence than an Indicated Mineral Resource.

 

Resources—Measured Mineral Resource” ** The part of a Mineral Resource for which tonnage, densities, shape, physical characteristics, grade and mineral content can be estimated with a high level of confidence. The estimate is based on detailed exploration, sampling and testing information gathered through appropriate sampling techniques from locations such as outcrops, trenches and exploratory drill holes. The locations are spaced closely enough to confirm geological and/or grade continuity.

 

A deposit may be classified as a Measured Mineral Resource when the nature, quality, amount and distribution of data are such as to leave no reasonable doubt, in the opinion of the Competent Person, as that term is defined under Chilean Law No. 20,235, determining the Mineral Resource, that the tonnage and grade of the deposit can be estimated within close limits and that any variation from the estimate would not significantly affect potential economic viability. This category requires a high level of confidence in, and understanding of, the geology and controls of the mineral deposit. Confidence in the estimate is sufficient to allow the appropriate application of technical and economic parameters and to enable an evaluation of economic viability.

 

Resources—Mineral Resource” ** A concentration or occurrence of natural, solid, inorganic or fossilized organic material in or on the Earth’s crust in such form or quantity and of such grade or quality that it has reasonable prospects for economically viable extraction. The location, quantity, grade, geological characteristics and continuity of a mineral resource are known, estimated or interpreted from specific geological, metallurgical and technological evidence.

 

solar salts” A mixture of 60% sodium nitrate and 40% potassium nitrate used in the storage of thermo-energy.

 

vat leaching” A process whereby minerals are extracted from crushed ore by placing the ore in large vats containing leaching solutions.

 

waste” Rock or mineral which is not economical for metallurgical treatment.

 

Weighted average age” The sum of the product of the age of each fixed asset at a given facility and its current gross book value as of December 31, 2018 divided by the total gross book value of the Company’s fixed assets at such facility as of December 31, 2018.

 

*The definition of a Controller Group that has been provided is the one that applied to the Company. Chilean law provides for a broader definition of a “controller group”, as such term is defined in Title XV of Chilean Law No. 18,045.
**The definitions we use for resources and reserves are based on those provided by the “Instituto de Ingenieros de Minas de Chile” (Chilean Institute of Mining Engineers).

 

 vi

 

 

CAUTIONARY STATEMENT REGARDING FORWARD-LOOKING STATEMENTS

 

This Form 20-F contains statements that are or may constitute forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. These statements are not based on historical facts and reflect our expectations for future events and results. Words such as “believe,” “expect,” “predict,” “anticipate,” “intend,” “estimate,” “should,” “may,” “likely,” “could” or similar expressions may identify forward-looking information. These statements appear throughout this Form 20-F and include statements regarding the intent, belief or current expectations of the Company and its management, including but not limited to any statements concerning:

 

·trends affecting the prices and volumes of the products we sell;
·level of reserves, quality of the ore and brines, and production levels and yields;
·our capital investment program and development of new products;
·the future impact of competition; and
·regulatory changes.

 

Such forward-looking statements are not guarantees of future performance and involve risks and uncertainties. Actual results may differ materially from those described in such forward-looking statements included in this Form 20-F, including, without limitation, the information under Item 4. Information on the Company, Item Number 5. Operating and Financial Review and Prospects and Item 11. Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures About Market Risk. Factors that could cause actual results to differ materially include, but are not limited to:

 

·volatility of global prices for our products;
·political, economic and demographic developments in certain emerging market countries, where we conduct a large portion of our business;
·changes in production capacities;
·the nature and extent of future competition in our principal markets;
·our ability to implement our capital expenditures program, including our ability to obtain financing when required;
·changes in raw material and energy prices;
·currency and interest rate fluctuations;
·risks relating to the estimation of our reserves;
·changes in quality standards or technology applications;
·adverse legal, regulatory or labor disputes or proceedings;
·changes in governmental regulations;
·a potential change of control of our company; and
·additional risk factors discussed below under Item 3. Key Information—Risk Factors.

 

 vii

 

 

PART I

 

ITEM 1.IDENTITY OF DIRECTORS, SENIOR MANAGEMENT AND ADVISERS

 

Not Applicable.

 

ITEM 2.OFFER STATISTICS AND EXPECTED TIMETABLE

 

Not Applicable.

 

ITEM 3.KEY INFORMATION

 

3.A.   Selected Financial Data

The following table presents selected financial data as of and for the years ended December 31, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, and 2014. The selected financial data should be read in conjunction with the Consolidated Financial Statements and notes thereto, “Item 5. Operating and Financial Review and Prospects” and other financial information included herein.

 

   For the years ended December 31, 
(in millions of US$) (1)  2018   2017   2016   2015   2014 
Statement of income:                         
Revenues   2,265.8    2,157.3    1,939.3    1,728.3    2,014.2 
Cost of sales   (1,483.5)   (1,394.8)   (1,328.3)   (1,185.6)   (1,431.2)
Gross profit   782.3    762.5    611.0    542.7    583.0 
                          
Other income (2)   32.0    17.8    15.2    15.3    24.1 
Administrative expenses   (118.1)   (101.2)   (88.4)   (86.8)   (96.5)
Other expenses by function (3)(4)(5)(6)(7)(8)   (36.9)   (53.6)   (82.5)   (106.4)   (64.3)
Other gains (losses)   6.4    0.5    0.7    3.8    4.4 
Net impairment gains on reversal (losses) on financial assets   3.0    (8.0)   (7.2)   (2.9)   13.2 
Finance income   22.5    13.5    10.1    11.6    16.1 
Finance expenses   (59.9)   (50.1)   (57.5)   (69.9)   (63.4)
Equity income of associates and joint ventures accounted for using the equity method   6.4    14.5    13.0    10.3    18.1 
Foreign currency exchange differences   (16.6)   (1.3)   0.5    (12.4)   (16.5)
Income before income tax expense (3)   621.1    594.6    414.9    308.3    405.0 
                          
Income tax expense (9)   (179.0)   (166.2)   (133.0)   (83.8)   (160.7)
                          
Profit for the year (3) (9)   442.1    428.4    281.9    224.5    244.3 
Profit attributable to:                         
Controlling interests (3) (9)   439.8    427.7    278.3    220.4    236.9 
Non-controlling interests   2.2    0.7    3.6    4.2    7.4 
Profit for the year (3) (9)   442.1    428.4    281.9    224.6    244.3 
                          
Basic earnings per share (10)   1.67    1.63    1.06    0.84    0.90 
Basic earnings per ADS (11)   1.67    1.63    1.06    0.84    0.90 
Dividends per share (12) (13)   2.09    1.84    1.44    0.47    1.42 
Dividends per ADS (12) (13) (14)   2.09    1.84    1.44    0.47    1.42 
Weighted average (10)(11) shares outstanding (000s)   263,197    263,197    263,197    263,197    263,197 

  

 1 

 

 

(1)Except shares outstanding, dividend and net earnings per share and net earnings per American Depositary Share (“ADS”).
(2)Other income for 2018 includes pre-tax income of US$14.5 million related to the sale of our interest in the Mínera Exar S.A. lithium project in Argentina.
(3)Other expenses for 2014 includes provisions of US$7 million corresponding to payments made in 2015 to the Chilean Internal Revenue Service (Servicio de Impuestos Internos or “SII”) for expenses that may not have qualified as tax expenses under the Chilean tax code. However, since such payments were made after March 3, 2015, the date on which the Company filed its statutory consolidated financial statements filed with the CMF, such provisions were included in net income for the period ended December 31, 2015 for purposes of the Company’s statutory consolidated financial statements. For more information, see “Item 3D. Risk Factors—Risks Relating to our Business—We could be subject to numerous risks as a result of legal proceedings and deferred prosecution agreements with U.S. and Chilean governmental authorities in relation to certain payments made by SQM between the tax years 2009 and 2015.”, and “Item 8.A.7. Legal Proceedings.”
(4)Other expenses for 2015 include a charge of US$57.7 million for impairment and severance indemnities related to the restructuring of our Pedro de Valdivia operations.
(5)Other expenses for 2016 include a charge of US$32.8 million for impairment related to the closing of the train between Coya Sur and Tocopilla. Other expenses for 2016 also include charges of US$30.5 million related to the Company's agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice and the administrative cease and desist order issued by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in connection the inquiries arising out of the alleged violations of the books and records and internal controls provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. For more information, see “Item 3D. Risk Factors—Risks Relating to our Business—We could be subject to numerous risks as a result of legal proceedings and deferred prosecution agreements with U.S. and Chilean governmental authorities in relation to certain payments made by SQM between the tax years 2009 and 2015.” and “Item 8.A.7 Legal Proceedings.”
(6)Other expenses for 2017 include a charge of US$20.4 million relating to payment by our subsidiary SQM Salar S.A. to Corfo after entering into the Corfo Arbitration Agreement (as defined in “Item 3.D. Risk Factors - Risks Relating to our Business”) to terminate the arbitration proceedings and amend the existing Lease Agreement and Project Agreement (each as defined in “Item 3.D. Risks Factors - Risks Relating to our Business”). For more information, see “Item 8.A.7 Legal Proceedings.”
(7)Other expenses include the rent under lease contract with Corfo, which is described in Note 18.2 of the Consolidated Financial Statements. The payment made to Corfo were US$84.8 million in 2018, US$32.3 million in 2017, US$11.5 million in 2016, US$6.3 million in 2015, and US$6.2 million in 2014.
(8)As a result of the adoption of IFRS 9, a reclassification was made to present gains on reversal (losses) separately from other expenses as function. The corresponding reclassifications for prior periods are described in Note 2.4 of the Consolidated Financial Statements.
(9)In accordance with IAS 12, the effects generated by the change in the income tax rate approved by Law No. 20.780 on income and deferred taxes have been applied to the income statement. For purposes of the Company’s statutory consolidated financial statements filed with the CMF, in accordance with the instructions issued by the CMF in its circular 856 of October 17, 2014, the effects generated by the change in the income tax rate were accounted for as retained earnings. The amount charged to equity as of December 31, 2014 was US$52.3 million, thereby giving rise to a difference of US$52.3 million in profit and income tax expense in 2014 as presented in the Company’s Audited Consolidated Financial Statements compared with profit and income tax expense presented in the Company’s statutory consolidated financial statements filed with the CMF. The effects of subsequent changes in the income tax rate are recognized in profit or loss for the period in the Company’s statutory consolidated financial statements in accordance with IAS 12.
(10)The Company has not conducted any transaction that would give rise to a potential dilutive effect on its earnings per share in any of the indicated years. The total number of outstanding shares as of each period end is the same as the weighted average shares outstanding.
(11)The calculation of earnings per ADSs and dividends per ADS for the years indicated is based on the ADS ratio of 1:1.
(12)Dividends are paid from net income as determined in accordance with CMF regulations. See “Item 8.A. Dividend Policy.” For dividends in Ch$, see “Item 8.A. Dividend Policy—Dividends.”
(13)Dividend amount paid per calendar year to shareholders of the Company. See “Item 8.A. Dividend Policy.”
(14)Dividend amounts per share paid in Chilean pesos were Ch$1,310.05 in 2018, Ch$916.32 in 2017, Ch$993.41 in 2016, Ch$316.06 in 2015, and Ch$806.79 in 2014.

 

 2 

 

 

   As of December 31, 
(in millions of US$)  2018   2017   2016   2015   2014 
Balance sheet data:                         
Total assets   4,268.1    4,296.2    4,218.0    4,643.8    4,663.7 
Total liabilities   2,130.3    2,048.8    1,910.8    2,243.4    2,371.1 
Total equity   2,137.8    2,247.5    2,307.3    2,400.4    2,292.5 
Equity attributable to controlling interests   2,085.5    2,187.8    2,246.1    2,339.8    2,232.6 
Equity attributable to non-controlling interest   52.3    59.6    61.2    60.6    59.9 
Capital stock   477.4    477.4    477.4    477.4    477.4 

 

 3 

 

 

3.B.   Capitalization and Indebtedness

Not applicable.

 

3.C.   Reasons for the Offer and Use of Proceeds

Not applicable.

 

3.D.   Risk Factors

 

Our operations are subject to certain risk factors that may affect SQM’s business, financial condition, cash flows, or results of operations. In addition to other information contained in this Annual Report on Form 20-F, you should carefully consider the risks described below. These risks are not the only ones we face. Additional risks not currently known to us or that are known but that we currently believe are not significant may also affect our business operations. Our business, financial condition, cash flows or results of operations could be materially affected by any of these risks.

 

Risks Relating to our Business

 

We could be subject to numerous risks as a result of legal proceedings and deferred prosecution agreements with U.S. and Chilean governmental authorities in relation to certain payments made by SQM between the tax years 2009 and 2015.

 

In 2015, the Chilean Internal Revenue Service (Servicio de Impuestos Internos or “SII”) and the Chilean Public Prosecutor brought a number of criminal and administrative proceedings following investigations related to the payment of invoices by SQM and its subsidiaries SQM Salar S.A. (“SQM Salar”) and SQM Industrial S.A., for services that may not have been properly supported or that may not have been necessary to generate corporate income, against (i) Patricio Contesse G., the Company’s former CEO whose employment was terminated in May 2015, (ii) Mr. Contesse and the Company’s then-current CEO, Patricio de Solminihac, as well as the then-current CFO (now CEO), Ricardo Ramos, in their capacities as the Company’s tax representatives and (iii) five then-current and former members of the Company’s Board of Directors. All the claims against Messrs. de Solminihac and Ramos were subsequently dismissed. The lawsuits against Mr. Contesse continue and the five Board members are appealing the fines of approximately US$36,000 imposed on each of them. For a further discussion of these lawsuits, see “Item 8.A.7. Legal Proceedings.”

 

On October 14, 2015, two class action complaints then pending against the Company, our former CEO and then-current CEO and CFO, alleging violations of the U.S. securities laws in connection with the subject matter of the investigations described above, were consolidated into a single action in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.  On November 13, 2015, our former CEO and then-current CEO and CFO were voluntarily dismissed from the case without prejudice.  On January 15, 2016, the lead plaintiff filed a consolidated class action complaint exclusively against the Company. On January 10, 2018, the lead plaintiff filed a motion to certify a class consisting of all persons who purchased SQM American Depositary Shares (“ADS”) between June 30, 2010 and March 18, 2015, and such motion remains pending before the court. For more information on the consolidated class action, see “Item 8.A.7 Legal Proceedings.”

 

During 2015, the ad-hoc committee of the Board of Directors (the “ad-hoc Committee”) established in February 2015 to conduct an internal investigation into the matters that were the subject of the SII and Chilean Public Prosecutor investigation also conducted an investigation into whether the Company faced possible liability under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA"). The ad-hoc Committee engaged its own U.S. separate counsel, which presented a report to the Board of Directors on December 15, 2015.

 

Following the presentation by the ad-hoc Committee of its findings to the Board of Directors, the Company voluntarily shared the findings of the ad-hoc Committee investigation with authorities in Chile and the U.S. (including the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”)).

 

 4 

 

 

On January 13, 2017, the Company and the DOJ reached agreement on the terms of a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (“DPA”) that would resolve the DOJ’s inquiry, based on alleged violations of the books and records and internal controls provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Among other terms, the DPA called for the Company to pay a monetary penalty of US$15,487,500, and engage a compliance monitor for a term of two (2) years. Upon successful completion of the three (3) year term of the DPA, all charges against the Company will be dismissed. On the same date, the SEC agreed to resolve its inquiry through an administrative cease and desist order, arising out of the alleged violations of the same accounting provisions of the FCPA. Among other terms, the SEC order called for the Company to pay an additional monetary penalty of US$15 million.

 

On January 26, 2018, the Eighth Lower Criminal Court of Santiago approved a deferred prosecution agreement proposed by the Chilean Public Prosecutor relating to SQM and its subsidiaries, SQM Salar and SQM Nitratos S.A., to suspend an investigation against these entities related to potential corruption issues and responsibility for the lack of supervision and management. Under the deferred prosecution agreement, SQM, SQM Salar and SQM Nitratos S.A., have not admitted responsibility in the matter subject to the investigation but agreed to pay an aggregate amount of (i) Ch$900,000,000 to the Chilean government, and (ii) Ch$1,650,000,000 to various charitable organizations. As of January 26, 2018, these amounts were equivalent to approximately US$1.5 million and US$2.8 million, respectively. In addition, the companies have agreed to provide the Chilean Public Prosecutor with a report on the enhancements to their compliance program, implemented in recent years, with special emphasis on the incorporation of best practices in various jurisdictions. On August 17, 2018, the Eighth Lower Criminal Court of Santiago considered the conditions and decided to terminate the legal process. See “Item 8.A.7 Legal Proceedings.”

 

In the event that the applicable regulatory authorities believe that the terms of the DPA or the deferred prosecution agreement with the Chilean Public Prosecutor are not complied with, it is possible that such regulatory authorities may reinstate the suspended proceedings against us and may bring further action against us, including in the form of additional inquiries or legal proceedings. Responding to our regulators’ inquiries and any future civil, criminal or regulatory inquiries or proceedings diverts our management’s attention from day-to-day operations. Additionally, expenses that may arise from responding to such inquiries or proceedings, our review of responsive materials, any related litigation or other associated activities may continue to be significant. Current and former employees, officers and directors may seek indemnification, advancement or reimbursement of expenses from us, including attorneys’ fees, with respect to the current inquiry or future proceedings related to this matter. The occurrence of any of the foregoing or adverse determination in litigation or other proceedings or similar actions could materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition, cash flows, results of operations and the prices of our securities.

 

 5 

 

 

Legal challenges to the amendments of the Lease Agreement and the Project Agreement relating to the Salar de Atacama concession, if successful, or failure to comply with the requirements of either agreement, could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

 

Our subsidiary SQM Salar S.A. (“SQM Salar”), as leaseholder, holds exclusive and temporary rights over the mineral resources in an area covering approximately 140,000 hectares of land in the Salar de Atacama in northern Chile, of which SQM Salar is entitled to exploit the mineral resources in 81,920 hectares. These rights are owned by Corfo and leased to SQM Salar pursuant to (i) a 1993 lease agreement over mining exploitation concessions between SQM Salar and Corfo, a Chilean government entity (the “Lease Agreement”), and (ii) the Salar de Atacama project agreement between Corfo and SQM Salar (the “Project Agreement”). Corfo may not unilaterally amend the Lease Agreement or the Project Agreement. The Lease Agreement establishes that SQM Salar is responsible for making quarterly lease payments to Corfo, maintaining Corfo’s rights over the mining exploitation concessions, and making annual payments to the Chilean government for such concession rights. The Lease Agreement expires on December 31, 2030. Furthermore, under the regulations of the Chilean Nuclear Energy Commission (Comisión Chilena de Energía Nuclear or “CCHEN”), we were originally limited to 180,100 tons of total lithium metallic equivalent (958,672 tons of lithium carbonate equivalent) extraction in the aggregate for all periods. On January 17, 2018, Corfo and our subsidiaries SQM Potasio S.A. and SQM Salar reached an agreement (the “Corfo Arbitration Agreement”) to (i) terminate the previously disclosed arbitration proceedings between Corfo and SQM Salar, which, among other things, sought early termination of the Lease Agreement and (ii) amend the Lease Agreement and the Project Agreement. As part of the agreement to amend the Lease Agreement, Corfo authorized an increase of the production and sales of lithium products produced in the Salar de Atacama up to 349,553 metric tons of lithium metallic equivalent (1,860,670 tons of lithium carbonate equivalent), which is in addition to the approximately 64,816 metric tons of lithium metallic equivalent (345,015 tons of lithium carbonate equivalent) remaining from the originally authorized amount. The amendments of the Lease Agreement and the Project Agreement required under Chilean law the issuance of the applicable resolutions of the Office of the Controller General of the Republic (Contraloría General de la República) and the CCHEN, which were issued.

 

Our business is substantially dependent on the exploitation rights under the Lease Agreement and the Project Agreement, since all of our products originating from the Salar de Atacama are derived from our extraction operations under the Lease Agreement. For the year ended December 31, 2018, revenues related to products originating from the Salar de Atacama represented 44% of our consolidated revenues, consisting of revenues from our potassium business line and our lithium and derivatives business line for the period. As of December 31, 2018, only 12 years remain on the term of the Lease Agreement and we had extracted approximately 23% of the total permitted accumulated extraction and sales limit of lithium under the increased lithium extraction and sales limits.

 

These agreements expire in 2030 and establish a series of obligations with which SQM Salar must comply. A serious failure to comply with these obligations may jeopardize the exploitation rights under the agreements and the continuity of our operations in the Salar de Atacama. While we believe that we have taken the appropriate precautions to ensure compliance with the obligations and conditions in the agreements, there can be no assurance that we will be able to maintain such compliance, which could jeopardize the continued benefits to us of the agreements and could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

 

On February 15, 2018 and February 16, 2018, the Atacamenos Indigenous Organization (Consejo de Pueblos Atacamenos) initiated legal actions challenging the amendments of the Lease Agreement and the Project Agreement. The legal actions are pending before the Supreme Court of Chile. See “Item 8.A.7 Legal Proceedings.”

 

In the event the amendments to the Lease Agreement and the Project Agreement under the Corfo Arbitration Agreement are successfully challenged, or the CCHEN authorization for the increased extraction is revoked, there can be no assurance that we will not reach the lithium extraction limit referred to above prior to the expiration of the term of the Lease Agreement. In such event, we would then be unable to continue extraction of lithium under the Lease Agreement, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

 

 6 

 

 

Our market reputation, commercial dealings or the price of our securities could be adversely affected by the negative outcome of certain proceedings against certain former members of our Board and certain other named defendants.

 

On September 10, 2013, the CMF issued a press release disclosing it had instituted certain administrative proceedings (the “Cascading Companies Proceedings”) against (i) Julio Ponce Lerou (who was the Chairman of the Board and a director of the Company until April 24, 2015), (ii) Patricio Contesse Fica, who was a director of the Company until April 24, 2015 and was later re-elected as a director on April 27, 2018, and is the son of Patricio Contesse González (who was the Company’s CEO until March 16, 2015), and (iii) other named defendants. The Company has been informed that Mr. Ponce and persons related to him beneficially owned 32% of SQM’s total shares as of December 31, 2018. See “Item 6.E. Share Ownership.” The CMF alleged breaches of Chilean corporate and securities laws in connection with acts performed by entities with direct or indirect share ownership interests in SQM (the “Cascading Companies”). The allegations made in connection with the Cascading Companies Proceedings do not relate to the Company’s operations, nor do they relate to any acts or omissions of the Company or any of its directors, officers or employees in their capacities as such.

 

In connection with the Cascading Companies Proceedings, the CMF alleged the existence of a scheme involving the named defendants whereby, through a number of transactions occurring between 2008 and 2011, the Cascading Companies allegedly sold securities of various companies, at below-market prices to companies related to Mr. Ponce and other named defendants. These companies allegedly subsequently sold such securities after a lapse of time, in most cases back to the Cascading Companies, at prices higher than the purchase price. The CMF alleged violations by the defendants of a number of Chilean corporate and securities laws in furtherance of the alleged scheme.

 

On January 31, 2014, the CMF added a number of Chilean financial institutions and asset managers, and certain of their controlling persons, executives or other principals, as named defendants to the Cascading Companies Proceedings. On September 2, 2014, the CMF issued a decision imposing an aggregate fine against all of the defendants of UF 4.0 million (approximately US$174 million as of December 31, 2018), including a fine against Mr. Ponce of UF 1.7 million (approximately US$74 million as of December 31, 2018) and a fine against Mr. Contesse Fica of UF 60,000 (approximately US$2.6 million as of December 31, 2018). The defendants are currently challenging the CMF administrative decision before Chilean courts.

 

The High Complexity Crimes Unit (Unidad de Delitos de Alta Complejidad) of the Metropolitan District Central Northern Attorney’s Office (Fiscalía Metropolitana Centro Norte) is also investigating various criminal complaints filed against various parties to the Cascading Companies Proceedings. The SII requested payment of taxes by the Cascading Companies, and the Cascading Companies filed a complaint with the tax courts.

 

If, for any reason, the Company is unable to differentiate itself from the named defendants, such failure could have a material adverse effect on the Company’s market reputation and commercial dealings. Furthermore, we cannot assure you that a non-appealable ruling in connection with the Cascading Companies Proceedings or the investigations of the High Complexity Crimes Unit or the SII that is adverse to Mr. Ponce or Mr. Contesse Fica will not have a material adverse effect on our market reputation, commercial dealings and the price of our securities.

 

We identified a material weakness in our internal controls over payments directed by the office of the former Chief Executive Officer.

 

In the past, our management determined that the Company did not maintain effective control over payments directed by the office of the former CEO. This determination was reported in our annual report for the year ended December 31, 2014 on Form 20-F, filed with the SEC on May 18, 2015.

 

We believe we have taken the necessary steps to remediate the identified material weakness and enhance our internal controls. However, any failure to maintain effective internal control over financial reporting could (i) result in a material misstatement in our financial reporting or financial statements that would not be prevented or detected, (ii) cause us to fail to meet our reporting obligations under applicable securities laws or (iii) cause investors to lose confidence in our financial reporting or financial statements, the occurrence of any of which could materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition, cash flows, results of operations and the prices of our securities.

 

 7 

 

 

Volatility of world lithium, fertilizer and other chemical prices and changes in production capacities could affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.

 

The prices of our products are determined principally by world prices, which, in some cases, have been subject to substantial volatility in recent years. World lithium, fertilizer and other chemical prices constantly vary depending upon the relationship between supply and demand at any given time. Supply and demand dynamics for our products are tied to a certain extent to global economic cycles, and have been impacted by circumstances related to such cycles. Furthermore, the supply of lithium, certain fertilizers or other chemical products, including certain products that we provide, varies principally depending on the production of the major producers, (including us) and their respective business strategies.

 

World prices of potassium-based fertilizers (including some of our specialty plant nutrients and potassium chloride) fluctuated as a result of the broader global economic and financial conditions. During the second half of 2013, potassium prices declined as a result of an unexpected announcement made by the Russian company Uralkali (“Uralkali”) that it was terminating its participation in Belarus Potash Corporation (“BPC”). As a result of the termination of Uralkali’s participation in BPC, there was increased price competition in the market. In 2018, the average price for our potassium chloride and potassium sulfate business line was approximately 14% higher than in 2017. Our sales volumes for this business line were approximately 38% lower in 2018 compared to 2017. We cannot assure you that potassium-based fertilizer prices and sales volumes will not decline in the future.

 

Iodine prices followed an upward trend beginning at the end of 2008 and continuing through 2012, reaching an average price of approximately US$53 per kilogram in 2012, over 40% higher than average prices in 2011. During the following years, supply growth outpaced demand growth, causing a decline in iodine prices. We obtained an average price for iodine of approximately US$24 per kilogram in 2018, approximately 23% more than average prices obtained in 2017. We cannot assure you that iodine prices or sales volumes will not continue to decline in the future.

 

In 2018, lithium demand continued to grow creating tight market conditions and increasing prices by 26% compared to 2017, driven mostly by an increase in demand related to battery use. During the second half of 2018, lithium supply increased, and prices slightly decreased in the fourth quarter. We cannot assure you that lithium prices and sales volumes will not decline in the future.

 

We expect that prices for the products we manufacture will continue to be influenced, among other things, by worldwide supply and demand and the business strategies of major producers. Some of the major producers (including us) have increased or have the ability to increase production. As a result, the prices of our products may be subject to substantial volatility. High volatility or a substantial decline in the prices or sales volumes of one or more of our products could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

 

Our sales to emerging markets and expansion strategy expose us to risks related to economic conditions and trends in those countries.

 

We sell our products in more than 110 countries around the world. In 2018, approximately 34% of our sales were made in emerging market countries: 8% in Latin America (excluding Chile); 8% in Africa and the Middle East (excluding Israel); 8% in Chile and 11% in Asia and Oceania (excluding Australia, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and Singapore). In note 26.6 of our consolidated financial statements, we reported revenues from Chile, Latin America and the Carribean and Asia and others of US$1.3 billion. We expect to expand our sales in these and other emerging markets in the future. In addition, we may carry out acquisitions or joint ventures in jurisdictions in which we currently do not operate, relating to any of our businesses or to new businesses in which we believe we may have sustainable competitive advantages. The results of our operations and our prospects in other countries in which we establish operations will depend, in part, on the general level of political stability and economic activity and policies in those countries. Future developments in the political systems or economies of these countries or the implementation of future governmental policies in those countries, including the imposition of withholding and other taxes, restrictions on the payment of dividends or repatriation of capital, the imposition of import duties or other restrictions, the imposition of new environmental regulations or price controls or changes in relevant laws or regulations, could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations in those countries.

 

 8 

 

 

Our inventory levels may vary for economic or operational reasons.

 

In general, economic conditions or operational factors can affect our inventory levels. Higher inventories carry a financial risk due to increased need for cash to fund working capital and could imply increased risk of loss of product. At the same time, lower levels of inventory can hinder the distribution network and process, thus impacting sales volumes. There can be no assurance that inventory levels will remain stable. These factors could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

 

Our measures to minimize our exposure to bad debt may not be effective and a significant increase in our accounts receivable coupled with the financial condition of customers may result in losses that could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

 

Potentially negative effects of global economic conditions on the financial condition of our customers may include the extension of the payment terms of our accounts receivable and may increase our exposure to bad debt. While we have implemented certain safeguards, such as using credit insurance, letters of credit and prepayment for a portion of sales, to minimize the risk, we cannot assure you that such safeguards will be effective and a significant increase in our accounts receivable coupled with the financial condition of customers may result in losses that could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

 

New production of iodine or lithium from current or new competitors in the markets in which we operate could adversely affect prices.

 

In recent years, new and existing competitors have increased the supply of iodine and lithium, which has affected prices for both products. Further production increases could negatively impact prices. There is limited information on the status of new iodine or lithium production capacity expansion projects being developed by current and potential competitors and, as such, we cannot make accurate projections regarding the capacities of possible new entrants into the market and the dates on which they could become operational. If these potential projects are completed in the short term, they could adversely affect market prices and our market share, which, in turn, could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

 

We have a capital expenditure program that is subject to significant risks and uncertainties.

 

Our business is capital intensive. Specifically, the exploration and exploitation of reserves, mining and processing costs, the maintenance of machinery and equipment and compliance with applicable laws and regulations require substantial capital expenditures. We must continue to invest capital to maintain or to increase our exploitation levels and the amount of finished products we produce.

 

In addition, we require environmental permits for our new projects. Obtaining permits in certain cases may cause significant delays in the execution and implementation of new projects and, consequently, may require us to reassess the related risks and economic incentives. We cannot assure you that we will be able to maintain our production levels or generate sufficient cash flow, or that we will have access to sufficient investments, loans or other financing alternatives, to continue our activities at or above present levels, or that we will be able to implement our projects or receive the necessary permits required for them in time. Any or all of these factors may have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

 

 9 

 

 

High raw materials and energy prices could increase our production costs and cost of sales, and energy may become unavailable at any price.

 

We rely on certain raw materials and various energy sources (diesel, electricity, liquefied natural gas, fuel oil and others) to manufacture our products. Purchases of energy and raw materials we do not produce constitute an important part of our cost of sales, approximately 14% in 2018. In addition, we may not be able to obtain energy at any price if supplies are curtailed or otherwise become unavailable. To the extent we are unable to pass on increases in the prices of energy and raw materials to our customers or we are unable to obtain energy, our business, financial condition and results of operations could be materially adversely affected.

 

Our reserve estimates are internally prepared and not subject to review by external geologists or an external auditing firm and could be subject to significant changes, which may have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

 

Our caliche ore mining reserve estimates and our Salar de Atacama brine mining reserve estimates are prepared by our own geologists and hydrogeologists and are not subject to review by external geologists or an external auditing firm. Estimation methods involve numerous uncertainties as to the quantity and quality of the reserves, and reserve estimates could change upwards or downwards. A downward change in the quantity and/or quality of our reserves could affect future volumes and costs of production and therefore have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

 

Quality standards in markets in which we sell our products could become stricter over time.

 

In the markets in which we do business, customers may impose quality standards on our products and/or governments may enact stricter regulations for the distribution and/or use of our products. As a result, if we cannot meet such new standards or regulations, we may not be able to sell our products. In addition, our cost of production may increase in order to meet any such newly imposed or enacted standards or regulations. Failure to sell our products in one or more markets or to important customers could materially adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.

 

Chemical and physical properties of our products could adversely affect their commercialization.

 

Since our products are derived from natural resources, they contain inorganic impurities that may not meet certain customer or government standards. As a result, we may not be able to sell our products if we cannot meet such requirements. In addition, our cost of production may increase in order to meet such standards. Failure to meet such standards could materially adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations if we are unable to sell our products in one or more markets or to important customers in such markets.

 

Our business is subject to many operating and other risks for which we may not be fully covered under our insurance policies.

 

Our facilities and business operations in Chile and abroad are insured against losses, damage or other risks by insurance policies that are standard for the industry and that would reasonably be expected to be sufficient by prudent and experienced persons engaged in businesses similar to ours.

 

We may be subject to certain events that may not be covered under our insurance policies, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations. Additionally, as a result of major earthquakes and unexpected rains and flooding in Chile, as well as other natural disasters worldwide, conditions in the insurance market have changed and may continue to change in the future, and as a result, we may face higher premiums and reduced coverage, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

 

 10 

 

 

Changes in technology or other developments could result in preferences for substitute products.

 

Our products, particularly iodine, lithium and their derivatives, are preferred raw materials for certain industrial applications, such as rechargeable batteries and liquid-crystal displays (LCDs). Changes in technology, the development of substitute products or other developments could adversely affect demand for these and other products which we produce. In addition, other alternatives to our products may become more economically attractive as global commodity prices shift. Any of these events could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

 

We are exposed to labor strikes and labor liabilities that could impact our production levels and costs.

 

Over 93% of our employees are employed in Chile, of which approximately 65% were represented by 22 labor unions as of December 31, 2018. As in past years, we renegotiated collective bargaining agreements with 14 unions, achieving the anticipated renegotiation of 17 collective bargaining agreements by December 31, 2018, one year before the expiration of the agreements. The 17 collective bargaining agreements were renegotiated for the next three years as of that date. We are exposed to labor strikes and illegal work stoppages that could impact our production levels. If a strike or illegal work stoppage occurs and continues for a sustained period of time, we could be faced with increased costs and even disruption in our product flow that could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

 

Chilean Law No. 20,123, known as the Subcontracting Law, provides that when a serious workplace accident occurs, the company in charge of the workplace must halt work at the site where the accident took place until authorities from either the National Geology and Mining Service (Servicio Nacional de Geología y Minería or “Sernageomin”), the Labor Board (Dirección del Trabajo or “Labor Board”), or the National Health Service (Servicio Nacional de Salud), inspect the site and prescribe the measures such company must take to minimize the risk of similar accidents taking place in the future. Work may not be resumed until the applicable company has taken the prescribed measures, and the period of time before work may be resumed may last for a number of hours, days, or longer. The effects of this law could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

 

On September 8, 2016, Chilean Law No. 20,940 was published and modified the Labor Code by introducing, among other things, changes to the formation of trade unions, the election of inter-company union delegates, the presence of women on union boards, anti-union practices and related sanctions, and collective negotiations. Due to these changes to the labor regulations, we may face an increase in our expenses that may have a significant adverse effect on our business, financial condition, and results of operations.

 

Lawsuits and arbitrations could adversely impact us.

 

We are party to a range of lawsuits and arbitrations involving different matters as described in Note 22.1 of our Consolidated Financial Statements and “Item 8.A. Legal Proceedings.” Although we intend to defend our positions vigorously, our defense of these actions may not be successful and responding to such lawsuits and arbitrations diverts our management’s attention from day-to-day operations. Adverse judgments or settlements in these lawsuits may have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations. In addition, our strategy of being a world leader includes entering into commercial and production alliances, joint ventures and acquisitions to improve our global competitive position. As these operations increase in complexity and are carried out in different jurisdictions, we may be subject to legal proceedings that, if settled against us, could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

 

 11 

 

 

We have operations in multiple jurisdictions with differing regulatory, tax and other regimes.

 

We operate in multiple jurisdictions with complex regulatory environments that are subject to different interpretations by companies and respective governmental authorities. These jurisdictions may have different tax codes, environmental regulations, labor codes and legal framework, which adds complexity to our compliance with these regulations. Any failure to comply with such regulations could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

 

Environmental laws and regulations could expose us to higher costs, liabilities, claims and failure to meet current and future production targets.

 

Our operations in Chile are subject to national and local regulations relating to environmental protection. In accordance with such regulations, we are required to conduct environmental impact studies or statements before we conduct any new projects or activities or significant modifications of existing projects that could impact the environment or the health of people in the surrounding areas. We are also required to obtain an environmental license for certain projects and activities. The Environmental Evaluation Service (Servicio de Evaluación Ambiental) evaluates environmental impact studies submitted for its approval. The public, government agencies or local authorities may review and challenge projects that may adversely affect the environment, either before these projects are executed or once they are operating, if they fail to comply with applicable regulations. In order to ensure compliance with environmental regulations, Chilean authorities may impose fines up to approximately US$9 million per infraction, revoke environmental permits or temporarily or permanently close facilities, among other enforcement measures.

 

Chilean environmental regulations have become increasingly stringent in recent years, both with respect to the approval of new projects and in connection with the implementation and development of projects already approved, and we believe that this trend is likely to continue. Given public interest in environmental enforcement matters, these regulations or their application may also be subject to political considerations that are beyond our control.

 

We regularly monitor the impact of our operations on the environment and on the health of people in the surrounding areas and have, from time to time, made modifications to our facilities to minimize any adverse impact. Future developments in the creation or implementation of environmental requirements or their interpretation could result in substantially increased capital, operation or compliance costs or otherwise adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.

 

The success of our current investments at the Salar de Atacama and Nueva Victoria is dependent on the behavior of the ecosystem variables being monitored over time. If the behavior of these variables in future years does not meet environmental requirements, our operation may be subject to important restrictions by the authorities on the maximum allowable amounts of brine and water extraction. For example, on December 13, 2017, the First Environmental Court of Antofagasta ordered the temporary and partial closure of certain water extraction wells located in the Salar de Llamara. These wells allow the Company to extract approximately 124 liters per second of water, almost 15% of the water used in the Company´s operations in the First Region of Chile for iodine and nitrate production. In October 2018, the First Environmental Court of Antofagasta, accepted the Company’s claim, and dismissed the restrictions without prejudice. It is possible that third parties could seek to reinstate these restrictions in the future.

 

Our future development depends on our ability to sustain future production levels, which requires additional investments and the submission of the corresponding environmental impact studies or statements. If we fail to obtain approval or required environmental licenses, our ability to maintain production at specified levels will be seriously impaired, thus having a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

 

 12 

 

 

In addition, our worldwide operations are subject to international and other local environmental regulations. Since environmental laws and regulations in the different jurisdictions in which we operate may change, we cannot guarantee that future environmental laws, or changes to existing environmental laws, will not materially adversely impact our business, financial condition and results of operations.

 

Our water supply could be affected by geological changes or climate change.

 

Our access to water may be impacted by changes in geology, climate change or other natural factors, such as wells drying up or reductions in the amount of water available in the wells or rivers from which we obtain water, that we cannot control. Any such change may have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

 

Any loss of key personnel may materially and adversely affect our business.

 

Our success depends in large part on the skills, experience and efforts of our senior management team and other key personnel. The loss of the services of key members of our senior management or employees with critical skills could have a negative effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations. If we are not able to attract or retain highly skilled, talented and qualified senior managers or other key personnel, our ability to fully implement our business objectives may be materially and adversely affected.

 

A significant percentage of our shares are held by two principal shareholder groups who may have interests that are different from that of other shareholders and of each other. Any change in such principal shareholder groups may result in a change of control of the Company or of its Board of Directors or its management, which may have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

 

As of December 5, 2018, two principal shareholder groups held in the aggregate 55.77% of the total outstanding shares of SQM, including a majority of our Series A common shares, and have the power to elect seven of our eight directors. The interests of the two principal shareholder groups may in some cases differ from those of other shareholders and of each other.

 

One principal shareholder group is the Pampa Group, as defined in “Item 7.A. Major Shareholders”, which currently owns 32% of the total outstanding shares of SQM. Until November 30, 2 018, the CMF considered the Pampa Group the controller of SQM. On this date, the CMF determined that in accordance with the distribution of the shares of SQM, “the Pampa Group does not exert decisive power over the management of the Company, and is therefore not considered a controlling shareholder”. The CMF could change its decision in the future if circumstances change. See “Item 7.A. Major Shareholders”.

 

Nutrien (formerly PCS before the merger with Agrium Inc. on January 1, 2018) was one of the principal shareholders of the Company. On June 1, 2018, Nutrien sold its Series B shares of SQM, representing 7.66% of the total shares of SQM, held through Inversiones El Boldo Limitada, Inversiones PCS Chile Limitada and Inversiones RAC Chile, in a bookbuild auction process (subasta de libro de ordenes) on the Santiago Stock Exchange..On December 5, 2018, Inversiones TLC SpA, a subsidiary of Tianqi Lithium Corporation (“Tianqi”), acquired the Series A shares of SQM held by Nutrien through Inversiones El Boldo Limitada, Inversiones PCS Chile Limitada and Inversiones RAC Chile, representing 23.77% of the total shares of SQM. Tianqi currently owns 23.77% of the total outstanding shares of SQM.

 

The divestiture by the Pampa Group or Tianqi, or potential changes in the circumstances that have led to the determination of the CMF related to the controller status of the shareholders of the Company, or a combination thereof, may have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

 

 13 

 

 

Tianqi is a significant shareholder and a competitor of the Company, which can increase the risks of competition.

 

Tianqi is a competitor in the lithium business, and as a result of the number of shares that its owns of the Company, it has the right to choose up to three Board members. Under Chilean law, the Company is restricted in its ability to decline to provide information about the Company, which may include competitively sensitive information, to a director of the Company. On August 27, 2018, Tianqi and the Chilean antitrust regulator (the Chilean National Economic Prosecutor’s Office, or FNE for its initials in Spanish), entered into an extrajudicial settlement agreement, under which certain restrictive measures in order to (i) maintain the competitive conditions of the lithium market, (ii) mitigate the risks described in the agreement and (iii) limit Tianqi’s access to certain information of the Company and its subsidiaries, which are defined as “sensitive information” under the agreement, were implemented.

 

During the approval process of the extrajudicial agreement before the FNE, the Company expressed its concerns regarding the measures contained in the extrajudicial agreement since (i) it could not effectively resolve the risks that Tianqi and the FNE have sought to mitigate, (ii) they are not correctly oriented to avoid the access to the Company’s “sensitive information” that, in the possession of a competitor, could harm the Company and the proper functioning of the market and (iii) it could contradict the Corporation Law in Chile.

 

The presence of a shareholder which is at the same time a competitor of the Company and the right of this competitor to choose Board members could generate risks to free competition and/or increase the risks of an investigation of free competition against the Company, whether in Chile or in other countries, all of which could have an adverse material effect in our business.

 

Our information technology systems may be vulnerable to disruption which could place our systems at risk from data loss, operational failure, or compromise of confidential information.

 

We rely on various computer and information technology systems, and on third party developers and contractors, in connection with our operations, including two networks that link our principal subsidiaries to our operating and administrative facilities in Chile and other parts of the world and ERP software systems, which are used mainly for accounting, monitoring of supplies and inventories, billing, quality control, research activities, and production process and maintenance control. In addition, we use Cloud technologies to support new business processes related to the Internet of Things (IoT) and Advanced Analytics, which allow us to collect information enabling us to advance the predictive short-term and medium-term analysis of our production process and its possible automation in the long term. Our information technology systems are susceptible to disruption, damage or failure from a variety of sources, including errors by employees or contractors, computer viruses, cyber-attacks, misappropriation of data by outside parties, and various other threats. We have taken certain measures to identify and mitigate these risks, including conducting a cybersecurity review and initiating process automation and digitalization projects at various sites with the object of reducing operational risk and improving security and operational efficiency, which also includes modernization of existing information technology infrastructure and communications systems. However, we cannot guarantee that due to the increasing sophistication of cyber-attacks our systems will not be compromised and because we do not maintain specialized cybersecurity insurance, our insurance coverage for protection against cybersecurity risk may not be sufficient. Cybersecurity breaches could result in losses of assets or production, operational delays, equipment failure, inaccurate recordkeeping, or disclosure of confidential information, any of which could result in business interruption, reputational damage, lost revenue, litigation, penalties or additional expenses and could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

 

 14 

 

 

Risks Relating to Financial Markets

 

Currency fluctuations may have a negative effect on our financial performance.

 

We transact a significant portion of our business in U.S. dollars, and the U.S. dollar is the currency of the primary economic environment in which we operate. In addition, the U.S. dollar is our functional currency for financial statement reporting purposes. A significant portion of our costs, however, is related to the Chilean peso. Therefore, an increase or decrease in the exchange rate between the Chilean peso and the U.S. dollar would affect our costs of production. The Chilean peso has been subject to large devaluations and revaluations in the past and may be subject to significant fluctuations in the future. As of December 31, 2018, the Chilean peso exchange rate was Ch$694.77 per U.S. dollar, while as of December 31, 2017, the Chilean peso exchange rate was Ch$614.75 per U.S. dollar. The Chilean peso therefore depreciated against the U.S. dollar by 13.0% in 2018. As of April 1, 2019, the Observed Exchange Rate was Ch$678.53 per U.S. dollar.

 

As an international company operating in several other countries, we also transact business and have assets and liabilities in other non-U.S. dollar currencies, such as, among others, the Euro, the South African rand, the Mexican peso, the Chinese yuan, the Thai baht and the Brazilian real. As a result, fluctuations in the exchange rates of such foreign currencies to the U.S. dollar may have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

 

Interest rate fluctuations may have a material impact on our financial performance

 

As of December 31, 2018, we had US$70 million of outstanding short and long-term debt bearing interest based on LIBOR. A relative increase in the rate could materially impact our business, financial condition and results of operations.

 

We may be subject to risks associated with the discontinuation, reform or replacement of benchmark indices.

 

Interest rate, foreign exchange rate and other types of indices which are deemed to be “benchmarks” are the subject of increased regulatory scrutiny and may be discontinued, reformed or replaced. For example, in 2017, the U.K. Financial Conduct Authority announced that it will no longer persuade or compel banks to submit rates for the calculation of the London interbank offered rate (“LIBOR”) benchmark after 2021. This announcement indicates that the continuation of LIBOR on the current basis cannot and will not be guaranteed after 2021, and it appears likely that LIBOR will be discontinued or modified by 2021. This and other reforms may cause benchmarks to be different than they have been in the past, or to disappear entirely, or have other consequences which cannot be fully anticipated which introduces a number of risks for our business. These risks include (i) legal risks arising from potential changes required to document new and existing transactions; (ii) financial risks arising from any changes in the valuation of financial instruments linked to benchmark rates; (iii) pricing risks arising from how changes to benchmark indices could impact pricing mechanisms on some instruments; (iv) operational risks arising from the potential requirement to adapt IT systems, trade reporting infrastructure and operational processes;] and (v) conduct risks arising from the potential impact of communication with customers and engagement during the transition period. The replacement benchmarks, and the timing of and mechanisms for implementation have not yet been confirmed by central banks. Although as of December 31, 2018 we had approximately US$70 million short- and long-term debt that use a LIBOR benchmark, it is not currently possible to determine whether, or to what extent, any such changes would affect us. However, the discontinuation or reformation of existing benchmark rates or the implementation of alternative benchmark rates may have a material adverse effect on our business, results of operations, financial condition and prospects.

 

 15 

 

 

Risks Relating to Chile

 

As we are a company based in Chile, we are exposed to Chilean political risks.

 

Our business, results of operations, financial condition and prospects could be affected by changes in policies of the Chilean government, other political developments in or affecting Chile, legal changes in the standards or administrative practices of Chilean authorities or the interpretation of such standards and practices, over which we have no control.

 

Changes in regulations regarding, or any revocation or suspension of our concessions could negatively affect our business.

 

Any changes to regulations to which we are subject or adverse changes to our concession rights, or a revocation or suspension of our concessions, could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

 

Changes in mining or port concessions could affect our operating costs.

 

We conduct our mining operations, including brine extraction, under exploitation and exploration concessions granted in accordance with provisions of the Chilean constitution and related laws and statutes. Our exploitation concessions essentially grant a perpetual right (with the exception of the rights granted to SQM Salar with respect to the Salar de Atacama concessions under the Lease Agreement described above, which expires in 2030) to conduct mining operations in the areas covered by the concessions, provided that we pay annual concession fees. Our exploration concessions permit us to explore for mineral resources on the land covered thereby for a specified period of time and to subsequently request a corresponding exploitation concession.

 

We also operate port facilities at Tocopilla, Chile, for the shipment of products and the delivery of raw materials pursuant to maritime concessions, which have been granted under applicable Chilean laws and are normally renewable on application, provided that such facilities are used as authorized and annual concession fees are paid.

 

Any significant adverse changes to any of these concessions could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

 

Changes in water rights laws and other regulations could affect our operating costs.

 

We hold water use rights that are key to our operations. These rights were obtained from the Chilean Water Authority (Dirección General de Aguas) for supply of water from rivers and wells near our production facilities, which we believe are sufficient to meet current operating requirements. However, the Chilean Water Rights Code (Código de Aguas or the “Water Code”) is subject to changes, which could have a material adverse impact on our business, financial condition and results of operations. For example, a series of bills are currently being discussed at the Chilean National Congress that seek to desalinate seawater for use in mining production processes, amend the Mining Code for water use in mining operations, amend the Political Constitution on water and introduce changes to the regulatory framework governing the terms of inspection and sanction of water. As a result, the amount of water that we can actually use under our existing rights may be reduced or the cost of such use could increase. These and potential future changes to the Water Code or other relevant regulations could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

 

The Chilean government could levy additional taxes on corporations operating in Chile.

 

In Chile, there is a royalty tax that is applied to mining activities developed in the country.

 

 16 

 

 

On September 29, 2014, Law No. 20,780 was published (as amended by Law No. 20,899, the “Tax Reform”), introducing significant changes to the Chilean taxation system and strengthening the powers of the SII to control and prevent tax avoidance. Subsequently, on February 8, 2016, Law No. 20,899 that simplifies the income tax system and modifies other legal tax provisions was published. As a result of these reforms, open stock corporations like SQM are subject to the partially integrated shareholder tax regime (sistema parcialmente integrado). The corporate tax rate applicable to us increased to 25.5% in 2017 and increased to the maximum rate of 27% in 2018.

 

Under the partially integrated shareholder taxation regime, shareholders bear the tax on dividends upon payment, but they will only be permitted to credit against such shareholder taxes a portion of the Chilean corporate tax paid by us on our earnings, unless the shareholder is resident in a country with a tax treaty in force with Chile. In that case, 100% of the Chilean corporate tax paid by us may be credited against the final taxes at the shareholder level.

 

As a result, foreign shareholders resident in a non-treaty jurisdiction will be subject to a higher effective tax rate than residents of treaty jurisdictions. There is a temporary rule in effect from January 1, 2017 through December 31, 2019 that treaty jurisdictions for this purpose will include jurisdictions with tax treaties signed with Chile prior to January 1, 2017, whether or not such treaties are in force. This is currently the status of the treaty signed between Chile and United States. After December 31, 2019, if no treaty is in effect, shareholders in those jurisdictions will be subject to a higher effective tax rate.

 

The Tax Reform tax increase prompted a US$52.3 million increase in our deferred tax liabilities as of December 31, 2014. In accordance with IAS 12, the effects generated by the change in the income tax rate approved by the Tax Reform on income and deferred taxes were applied to the income statement. For purposes of the Company’s statutory consolidated financial statements filed with the CMF, in accordance with the instructions issued by the CMF in its circular 856 of October 17, 2014, the effects generated by the change in the income tax rate were accounted for as retained earnings. The amount charged to equity as of December 31, 2014 was US$52.3 million, thereby giving rise to a difference of US$52.3 million in profit for the year and income tax expense as presented in the Company’s 2014 audited consolidated financial statements in its annual report on Form 20-F compared with profit and income tax expense as presented in the Company’s 2014 statutory consolidated financial statements filed with the CMF.

 

In addition, in August 2018, a tax reform bill was presented in the Chilean congress, which proposes to reverse the current coexistence of two alternative tax regimes established in the Tax Reform by going back to a fully integrated system with a 100% credit of the corporate tax against individual or foreign entity taxes. Additionally, this tax reform bill seeks to modernize and provide more certainty with respect to the current tax system. For example, the bill proposes to modernize the current ledgers system and to include tax deductions for certain ordinary course business disbursements that are a part of, but not directly associated with, an entity’s primary business activities. As currently proposed, we do not expect any material adverse effect on our business from this reform bill. However, we cannot offer any assurance that there will not be additional changes made to the tax bill that would negatively affect our business, results of operations or financial condition.

 

In addition, the Tax Reform may have other material adverse effects on our business, financial condition and results of operations. Likewise, we cannot assure you that the manner in which the Royalty Law (as defined below) or the corporate tax rate are interpreted and applied will not change in the future. The Chilean government may decide to levy additional taxes on mining companies or other corporations in Chile. Such changes could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

 

Ratification of the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169 concerning indigenous and tribal peoples might affect our development plans.

 

Chile, a member of the International Labor Organization (“ILO”), has ratified the ILO’s Convention 169 (the “Indigenous Rights Convention”) concerning indigenous and tribal people. The Indigenous Rights Convention established several rights for indigenous people and communities. Among other rights, the Indigenous Rights Convention states that (i) indigenous groups should be notified and consulted prior to the development of any project on land deemed indigenous, although veto rights are not mentioned, and (ii) indigenous groups have, to the extent possible, a stake in benefits resulting from the exploitation of natural resources in indigenous land. The extent of these benefits has not been defined by the Chilean government. The Chilean government has addressed item (i) above through Supreme Decree No. 66, issued by the Social Development Ministry. This decree requires government entities to consult indigenous groups that may be directly affected by the adoption of legislative or administrative measures, and it also defines criteria for the projects or activities that must be reviewed through the environmental evaluation system that also require such consultation. To the extent that the new rights outlined in the Indigenous Rights Convention become laws or regulations in Chile, judicial interpretations of the convention of those laws or regulations could affect the development of our investment projects in lands that have been defined as indigenous, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations. The Chilean Supreme Court has consistently held that consultation processes must be carried out in the manner prescribed by Indigenous Rights Convention.

 

 17 

 

  

The consultation process may cause delays in obtaining regulatory approvals, including environmental permits, as well as public opposition by local and/or international political, environmental and ethnic groups, particularly in environmentally sensitive areas or in areas inhabited by indigenous populations. Furthermore, the omission of the consultation process when required by law may result in the revocation or annulment of regulatory approvals, including environmental permits already granted.

 

Consequently, operating projects may be affected since the omission of the consultation process, when required by law, could lead to public law annulment actions pursuing the annulment of the environmental permits granted.

 

However, this risk frequently arises during the environmental assessment phase when the environmental permits are to be obtained. In such scenario, affected parties may take several legal actions to declare null or void the environmental permits that omitted the consultation process, and in some cases courts have overturned environmental approvals in which consultation was not made as prescribed in the Indigenous Rights Convention.

 

We are subject to Chilean and international anti-corruption, anti-bribery, anti-money laundering and international trade laws. Failure to comply with these laws could adversely impact our business and operations.

 

We are required to be in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations in Chile and internationally with respect to anti-corruption, anti-money laundering, receipt of stolen property, sanctions and other regulatory matters, including the FCPA. Although we and our subsidiaries maintain policies and processes intended to comply with these laws, we cannot ensure that these compliance policies and processes will prevent intentional, reckless or negligent acts committed by our officers or employees.

 

If we or our subsidiaries fail to comply with any applicable anti-corruption, anti-bribery, receipt of stolen property or anti-money laundering laws, we and our officers and employees may be subject to criminal, administrative or civil penalties and other remedial measures, which could have material adverse effects on our and our subsidiaries’ business, financial condition and results of operations. Any investigation of potential violations of anti-corruption, anti-bribery or anti-money laundering laws by governmental authorities in Chile or other jurisdictions could result in an inability to prepare our consolidated financial statements in a timely manner. This could adversely impact our reputation, ability to access the financial markets and ability to obtain contracts, assignments, permits and other government authorizations necessary to participate in our and our subsidiaries’ industry, which, in turn, could have adverse effects on our and our subsidiaries’ business, results of operations and financial condition.

 

Chile has different corporate disclosure and accounting standards than those you may be familiar with in the United States.

 

Accounting, financial reporting and securities disclosure requirements in Chile differ in certain significant respects from those required in the United States. Accordingly, the information about us available to you will not be the same as the information available to holders of notes issued by a U.S. company. In addition, although Chilean law imposes restrictions on insider trading and price manipulation, applicable Chilean laws are different from those in the United States, and the Chilean securities markets are not as highly regulated and supervised as the U.S. securities markets.

 

 18 

 

 

Chile is located in a seismically active region.

 

Chile is prone to earthquakes because it is located along major fault lines. The most recent major earthquakes in Chile, which occurred in April 2017 in the Valparaiso region and in December 2016 in Chiloe Island, had a magnitude of 6.9 and 7.6, respectively, on the Richter scale. There were also earthquakes in 2015, 2014 and 2010 that caused substantial damage to some areas of the country. Chile has also experienced volcanic activity. A major earthquake or a volcanic eruption could have significant negative consequences for our operations and for the general infrastructure, such as roads, rail, and access to goods, in Chile. Although we maintain industry standard insurance policies that include earthquake coverage, we cannot assure you that a future seismic or volcanic event will not have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

 

Risks Relating to our Shares and to our ADSs

 

The price of our ADSs and the U.S. dollar value of any dividends will be affected by fluctuations in the U.S. dollar/Chilean peso exchange rate.

 

Chilean trading in the shares underlying our ADSs is conducted in Chilean pesos. The depositary will receive cash distributions that we make with respect to the shares in Chilean pesos. The depositary will convert such Chilean pesos to U.S. dollars at the then prevailing exchange rate to make dividend and other distribution payments in respect of ADSs. If the value of the Chilean peso falls relative to the U.S. dollar, the value of the ADSs and any distributions to be received from the depositary will decrease.

 

Developments in other emerging markets could materially affect the value of our ADSs and our shares.

 

The Chilean financial and securities markets are, to varying degrees, influenced by economic and market conditions in other emerging market countries or regions of the world. Although economic conditions are different in each country or region, investor reaction to developments in one country or region can have significant effects on the securities of issuers in other countries and regions, including Chile and Latin America. Events in other parts of the world may have a material effect on Chilean financial and securities markets and on the value of our ADSs and our shares.

 

The volatility and low liquidity of the Chilean securities markets could affect the ability of our shareholders to sell our ADSs.

 

The Chilean securities markets are substantially smaller, less liquid and more volatile than the major securities markets in the United States. The volatility and low liquidity of the Chilean markets could increase the price volatility of our ADSs and may impair the ability of a holder to sell our ADSs into the Chilean market in the amount and at the price and time the holder wishes to do so.

 

Our share or ADS price may react negatively to future acquisitions and investments.

 

As world leaders in our core businesses, part of our strategy is to look for opportunities that will allow us to consolidate and strengthen our competitive position in jurisdictions in which we currently do not operate. Pursuant to this strategy, we may carry out acquisitions or joint ventures relating to any of our businesses or to new businesses in which we believe we may have sustainable competitive advantages. Depending on our capital structure at the time of such acquisitions or joint ventures, we may need to raise significant debt and/or equity which will affect our financial condition and future cash flows. Any change in our financial condition could affect our results of operations, negatively impacting our share or ADS price.

 

 19 

 

 

ADS holders may be unable to enforce rights under U.S. securities laws.

 

Because we are a Chilean company subject to Chilean law, the rights of our shareholders may differ from the rights of shareholders in companies incorporated in the United States, and ADS holders may not be able to enforce or may have difficulty enforcing rights currently in effect under U.S. federal or state securities laws.

 

Our Company is an open stock corporation incorporated under the laws of the Republic of Chile. Most of our directors and officers reside outside the United States, principally in Chile. All or a substantial portion of the assets of these persons are located outside the United States. As a result, if any of our shareholders, including holders of our ADSs, were to bring a lawsuit against our officers or directors in the United States, it may be difficult for them to effect service of legal process within the United States upon these persons. Likewise, it may be difficult for them to enforce judgments obtained in United States courts based upon the civil liability provisions of the federal securities laws in the United States against them in the United States.

 

In addition, there is no treaty between the United States and Chile providing for the reciprocal enforcement of foreign judgments. However, Chilean courts have enforced judgments rendered in the United States, provided that the Chilean court finds that the United States court respected basic principles of due process and public policy. Nevertheless, there is doubt as to whether an action could be brought successfully in Chile in the first instance on the basis of liability based solely upon the civil liability provisions of the United States federal securities laws.

 

As preemptive rights may be unavailable for our ADS holders, they have the risk of their holdings being diluted if we issue new stock.

 

Chilean laws require companies to offer their shareholders preemptive rights whenever issuing new shares of capital stock so shareholders can maintain their existing ownership percentage in a company. If we increase our capital by issuing new shares, a holder may subscribe for up to the number of shares that would prevent dilution of the holder’s ownership interest.

 

If we issue preemptive rights, United States holders of ADSs would not be able to exercise their rights unless a registration statement under the Securities Act were effective with respect to such rights and the shares issuable upon exercise of such rights or an exemption from registration were available. We cannot assure holders of ADSs that we will file a registration statement or that an exemption from registration will be available. We may, in our absolute discretion, decide not to prepare and file such a registration statement. If our holders were unable to exercise their preemptive rights because we did not file a registration statement, the depositary bank would attempt to sell their rights and distribute the net proceeds from the sale to them, after deducting the depositary’s fees and expenses. If the depositary could not sell the rights, they would expire and holders of ADSs would not realize any value from them. In either case, ADS holders’ equity interests in us would be diluted in proportion to the increase in our capital stock.

 

If we were classified as a Passive Foreign Investment Company by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, there could be adverse consequences for U.S. investors.

 

We believe that we were not classified as a Passive Foreign Investment Company (“PFIC”) for 2018. Characterization as a PFIC could result in adverse U.S. tax consequences to you if you are a U.S. investor in our shares or ADSs. For example, if we (or any of our subsidiaries) are a PFIC, our U.S. investors may become subject to increased tax liabilities under U.S. tax laws and regulations and will become subject to burdensome reporting requirements. The determination of whether or not we (or any of our subsidiaries or portfolio companies) are a PFIC is made on an annual basis and will depend on the composition of our (or their) income and assets from time to time. See “Item 10.E. Taxation—Material United States Tax Considerations.”

 

 20 

 

 

Changes in Chilean tax regulations could have adverse consequences for U.S. investors.

 

Currently cash dividends paid by us to foreign shareholders are subject to a 35% Chilean withholding tax. When the Company pays a corporate income tax on the income from which the dividend is paid, known as a “First Category Tax”, a credit for the full amount of the First Category Tax effectively reduces the rate of Withholding Tax. Changes in Chilean tax regulations could have adverse consequences for U.S. investors. See “Item 3.D. Risk Factors—Risks Relating to Chile—The Chilean Government Could Levy Additional Taxes on Corporations Operating in Chile” and “Item 10.E. Taxation—Material Chilean Tax Considerations.”

 

ITEM 4.INFORMATION ON THE COMPANY

 

4.A.   History and Development of the Company

 

Historical Background

 

Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile S.A. is an open stock corporation organized under the laws of the Republic of Chile. We were constituted by public deed issued on June 17, 1968 by the Notary Public of Santiago, Mr. Sergio Rodríguez Garcés. Our existence was approved by Decree No. 1,164 of June 22, 1968 of the Ministry of Finance, and we were registered on June 29, 1968 in the Registry of Commerce of Santiago, on page 4,537 No. 1,992. Our headquarters is located at El Trovador 4285, Fl. 6, Las Condes, Santiago, Chile. Our telephone number is +56 2 2425-2000. We are legally referred to by our full name Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile S.A. as well as commercially by the abbreviated name “SQM.”

 

Commercial exploitation of the caliche ore deposits in northern Chile began in the 1830s, when sodium nitrate was extracted from the ore for use in the manufacturing of explosives and fertilizers. By the end of the nineteenth century, nitrate production had become the leading industry in Chile, and the country was the world’s leading supplier of nitrates. The accelerated commercial development of synthetic nitrates in the 1920s and the global economic depression in the 1930s caused a serious contraction of the Chilean nitrate business, which did not recover significantly until shortly before the Second World War. After the war, the widespread commercial production of synthetic nitrates resulted in a further contraction of the natural nitrate industry in Chile, which continued to operate at depressed levels into the 1960s.

 

We were formed in 1968 through a joint venture between Compañía Salitrera Anglo Lautaro S.A. (“Anglo Lautaro”) and Corfo, a Chilean government entity. Three years after our formation, in 1971, Anglo Lautaro sold all of its shares to Corfo, and we were wholly owned by the Chilean government until 1983. In 1983, Corfo began a process of privatization by selling our shares to the public and subsequently listing such shares on the Santiago Stock Exchange. By 1988, all of our shares were publicly owned. Our ADSs have traded on the NYSE under the ticker symbol “SQM” since 1993. Each ADS represents one Series B common share. We accessed international capital markets for the issuance of additional ADSs in 1995 and 1999.

 

Since our inception, we have produced nitrates and iodine, which are obtained from the caliche ore deposits in northern Chile. In 1985, we began to use heap leaching processes to extract nitrates and iodine, and in 1986 we started to produce potassium nitrate at our Coya Sur facility. Between 1994 and 1999, we invested approximately US$300 million in the development of the Salar de Atacama project in northern Chile, which has enabled us to produce potassium chloride, lithium carbonate, lithium hydroxide, potassium sulfate and boric acid.

 

From 2000 through 2004, we principally consolidated the investments carried out in the preceding five years. We focused on reducing costs and improving efficiencies throughout the organization. In addition, in 2001, we signed a commercial distribution agreement with the Norwegian company Yara International ASA, in order to take advantage of cost synergies in the Specialty Plant Nutrition business line.

 

 21 

 

 

Starting in 2005, we began strengthening our leadership position in our core businesses through a combination of capital expenditures and advantageous acquisitions and divestitures. Our acquisitions have included the Kemira Emirates Fertiliser Company (“Kefco”) in Dubai in 2005 and the iodine business of Royal DSM N.V. (“DSM”) in 2006. We also entered into a number of joint ventures, including a joint venture with Migao Corporation (“Migao”), signed in 2008, for the production of potassium nitrate, and SQM VITAS, our joint venture with the French Roullier Group. Pursuant to the latter joint venture, in 2010, we launched a new line of soluble phosphate products, and in 2012 we built new plants for the production of water-soluble fertilizers in Brazil (Candeias), Peru and South Africa (Durban). We also sold: (i) Fertilizantes Olmeca, our former Mexican subsidiary, in 2006, (ii) our stake in Impronta S.R.L., our former Italian subsidiary, in 2007 and (iii) our former butyllithium plant located in Houston, Texas, in 2008. These sales allowed us to concentrate our efforts on our core products.

 

The capital expenditure program has allowed us to add new products to our product lines and increase the production capacity of our existing products. In 2005, we started production of lithium hydroxide at a plant in the Salar del Carmen, near the city of Antofagasta in the north of Chile. In 2007, we completed the construction of a new prilling and granulating plant for nitrates in Coya Sur. In 2011, we completed expansions of our lithium carbonate capacity, achieving 48,000 metric tons of capacity per year. Since 2010, we have continued to expand our production capacity of potassium products in our operations in the Salar de Atacama. In 2011, we completed the construction of a new potassium nitrate facility in Coya Sur, increasing our overall production capacity of potassium nitrate by 300,000 metric tons per year. In 2013, we completed expansions in the production capacity of our iodine plants in Nueva Victoria. Our capital expenditure program also includes exploration for metallic minerals. Our exploration efforts have led to discoveries that in some cases may result in sales of the discovery and the generation of royalty income in the future. Within this context, in 2013 we sold our royalty rights to the Antucoya mining project to Antofagasta Minerals.

 

In 2014, we invested in the development of new extraction sectors and production increases in both nitrates and iodine at Nueva Victoria, reaching an approximate production capacity (including the Iris facility) of 8,500 metric tons per year of iodine at the facility.

 

In 2015, we focused on increasing the efficiency of our operations. Within this context, we announced a plan to restructure our iodine and nitrate operations. In an effort to take advantage of our highly efficient production facilities at our Nueva Victoria site, we decided to suspend the mining and nitrate operations and reduce iodine production at our Pedro de Valdivia site. During 2017, we increased our iodine production capacity at Nueva Victoria to approximately 10,000 metric tons per year. We continued expanding in 2018, and today, including Pedro de Valdivia and Nueva Victoria, our current effective iodine capacity is approximately 14,000 metric tons per year.

 

In 2016, we entered into a 50/50 joint venture with Lithium Americas to develop the Minera Exar lithium project in Caucharí-Olaroz in the Jujuy province of Argentina. We also made a capital contribution of US$20 million to Elemental Minerals Limited (“Elemental Minerals”), an Australian based company whose main assets are various potassium deposits in the Republic of Congo. We invested approximately US$20 million in exchange for 18% of the company, and a right of first refusal for approximately 20% of the total potash production of Elemental Minerals. Following this transaction at the end of 2016, Elemental Minerals changed its name to Kore Potash Limited. The State General Reserve Fund of Oman contributed US$20 million. These investments are not included in the capital expenditure program amounts discussed in the section below. These investments were carried out with internal financing. In 2018, SQM Potasio sold to Ganfeng Lithium Netherlands Co., BV (Ganfeng) its entire shareholding and irrevocable contributions in the Minera Exar project joint venture (“Exar”). Exar has paid SQM Potasio all outstanding loans it received from the company; and Exar has paid SQM for the services rendered to Exar during the project's development stage. SQM received cash of US$87.5 million for its joint venture interest in Exar, and Gangfeng is responsible for a US$50 million deferred payment to SQM if certain sales goals are met by the project.

 

 22 

 

 

In 2017, we continued to expand our operations outside Chile and, together with our subsidiary SQM Australia Pty, we entered into an agreement to acquire 50% of the assets of the Mount Holland lithium project in Western Australia. We entered into a 50/50 unincorporated joint operation with Kidman Resources Limited (“Kidman”), the Mt Holland Lithium Project, to design, construct and operate a mine, concentrator and refinery to produce approximately 45,000 metric tons of lithium hydroxide per year. Kidman retained the exclusive right to exploit gold within the project area. SQM Australia Pty committed to pay a price of US$70 million for the 50% of the Mt Holland assets, which was split into an initial payment of US$15 million and a deferred payment of US$ 55 million, both payments subject to certain conditions precedent. SQM Australia paid an additional (i) US$10 million as part of the initial payment, and (ii) US$30 million once the deferred payment took place. All payments subject to conditions under the purchase agreement with Kidman were executed by December 2018.

 

On December 13, 2018, the Minister for Mines and Petroleum in Western Australia granted Kidman the exemption from relevant expenditure requirements in relation to mining tenements of the Mount Holland project that were subject to exemption objections.

 

Capital Expenditure Program

 

We regularly review different opportunities to improve our production methods, reduce costs, increase production capacity of existing products and develop new products and markets. Additionally, significant capital expenditures are required every year in order to sustain our production capacity. We are focused on developing new products in response to identified customer demand, as well as new products that can be derived as part of our existing production or other products that could fit our long-term development strategy. Our capital expenditures in Chile have been mainly related to the organic growth and sustainability of our business, including the construction of new facilities and the renovation of plants and equipment. From 2016, we began to invest in lithium projects outside Chile, starting with the Minera Exar project in Argentina and continuing with Mount Holland project in Australia in 2017. In 2018, we sold our stake in Minera Exar and continued the development of the Mount Holland project. We also expanded our lithium carbonate capacity in Chile, reaching capacity 70,000 metric tons per year.

 

Our capital expenditures for the years ended December 31, 2018, 2017 and 2016 were as follows:

 

(in millions of US$)  2018   2017   2016 
Capital expenditures   244.7    142.1    131.3 

 

During 2018, we had total capital expenditure of US$244.7 million, primarily related to:

 

·Capacity expansion projects related to increasing lithium carbonate production to 70,000 metric tons per year and lithium hydroxide production to 13,500 metric tons per year in Chile;

·Investments to increase iodine capacity to 14,000 metric tons per year in the Nueva Victoria mine;
·Capacity expansion project related to potassium nitrate production plants III and IV in Coya Sur; and
·General maintenance of all production units and the Port of Tocopilla in order to ensure the fulfillment of production and sales targets.

 

 23 

 

  

During 2017, we had total capital expenditures of US$142.1 million, primarily related to:

 

·Capacity expansion projects related to lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide production in Chile;
·Investments in mining workshop and operations centers to relocate operations from the Nueva Victoria mine to mining sector Tente en el Aire;
·Capacity expansion project related to potassium nitrate production; and
·General maintenance of all production units and the Port of Tocopilla in order to ensure the fulfillment of production and sales targets.

 

During 2016, we had total capital expenditures of US$131.3 million, primarily related to:

 

·Completion of the project related to the expansion of ponds at Nueva Victoria to increase the production of iodine and nitrates;
·Capacity expansion projects related to our potassium nitrate production;
·Capacity expansion project related to our lithium hydroxide production;
·Improvements in the open storage areas at the Port of Tocopilla; and
·General maintenance of all production units in order to ensure the fulfillment of production targets and the safety of all of our employees.

 

The Board of Directors has approved a capital expenditure framework for 2019 of approximately US$360 million focused on the maintenance of our production facilities in order to strengthen our ability to meet our production goals and to increase our production capacity, primarily related to lithium carbonate capacity expansion and nitrates capacity in Chile and development of lithium project in Australia. We expect our installed capacity of lithium carbonate in Chile to reach approximately 120,000 metric tons by the end of 2020, an increase of 50,000 metric tons compared to our current capacity of 70,000 metric tons. From that point, we will continue to work to reach an installed capacity of 180,000 metric tons in Chile in the future. The capital expenditure associated with this expansion is expected to be in the range of approximately US$4,000 per ton. We expect to complete the feasibility study related to the Mount Holland lithium project in Australia in the second half of 2019, at which time we believe we will have a better estimate associated with the capital expenditure and costs of the project.

 

We do not expect that our 2019 capital investment program will require external financing. However, we always have the option to access capital markets in order to optimize our financial position.

 

4.B.   Business Overview

 

The Company

 

We believe that we are the world’s largest producer of potassium nitrate and iodine and one of the world´s largest lithium producers. We also produce specialty plant nutrients, iodine derivatives, lithium derivatives, potassium chloride, potassium sulfate and certain industrial chemicals (including industrial nitrates and solar salts). Our products are sold in over 110 countries through our worldwide distribution network, with 92% of our sales in 2018 derived from countries outside Chile.

 

Our products are mainly derived from mineral deposits found in northern Chile. We mine and process caliche ore and brine deposits. The caliche ore in northern Chile contains the only known nitrate and iodine deposits in the world and is the world’s largest commercially exploited source of natural nitrates. The brine deposits of the Salar de Atacama, a salt-encrusted depression in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, contain high concentrations of lithium and potassium as well as significant concentrations of sulfate and boron.

 

From our caliche ore deposits, we produce a wide range of nitrate-based products used for specialty plant nutrients and industrial applications, as well as iodine and iodine derivatives. At the Salar de Atacama, we extract brines rich in potassium, lithium, sulfate and boron in order to produce potassium chloride, potassium sulfate, lithium solutions and bischofite (magnesium chloride). We produce lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide at our plant near the city of Antofagasta, Chile, from the solutions brought from the Salar de Atacama. We market all of these products through an established worldwide distribution network.

 

 24 

 

 

Our products are divided into six categories: specialty plant nutrients; iodine and its derivatives; lithium and its derivatives; potassium chloride and potassium sulfate; industrial chemicals and other commodity fertilizers. Specialty plant nutrients are premium fertilizers that enable farmers to improve yields and the quality of certain crops. Iodine and its derivatives are mainly used in the X-ray contrast media and biocides industries and in the production of polarizing film, which is an important component in LCD screens. Lithium and its derivatives are mainly used in batteries, greases and frits for production of ceramics. Potassium chloride is a commodity fertilizer that is produced and sold by us worldwide. Potassium sulfate is a specialty fertilizer used primarily in crops such as vegetables, fruits and industrial crops. Industrial chemicals have a wide range of applications in certain chemical processes such as the manufacturing of glass, explosives and ceramics, and, more recently, industrial nitrates are being used in concentrated solar power plants as a means for energy storage. In addition, we complement our portfolio of plant nutrients through the buying and selling of other commodity fertilizers for use mainly in Chile.

 

For the year ended December 31, 2018, we had revenues of US$2,265.8 million, gross profit of US$782.3 million and profit attributable to controlling interests of US$439.8 million. Our worldwide market capitalization as of December 31, 2018 was approximately US$10.1 billion.

 

Specialty Plant Nutrition: We produce four main types of specialty plant nutrients: potassium nitrate, sodium nitrate, sodium potassium nitrate and specialty blends. We also sell other specialty fertilizers including third party products. All of these specialty plant nutrients are used in either solid or liquid form mainly on high value crops such as vegetables, fruits and flowers. Our nutrients are widely used in crops that employ modern agricultural techniques such as hydroponics, green housing, fertigation (where fertilizer is dissolved in water prior to irrigation) and foliar application. According to the type of use or application, our products are primarily marketed under the following brands: UltrasolR (fertigation), QropR (open field application), SpeedfolR (foliar application) and AllganicR (organic farming). Specialty plant nutrients have certain advantages over commodity fertilizers, such as rapid and effective absorption (without requiring nitrification), superior water solubility, increased soil pH (which reduces soil acidity) and low chloride content. One of the most important products in this business line is potassium nitrate, which is sold in crystalline or prill form, allowing for multiple application methods. Crystalline potassium nitrate products are ideal for application by fertigation and foliar sprays, and potassium nitrate prills are suitable for soil applications.

 

The new needs of more sophisticated customers demand that the industry provide integrated solutions rather than individual products. Our products, including customized specialty blends that meet specific needs along with the agronomic service provided, allow to create plant nutrition solutions that add value to crops through higher yields and better quality production. Because our products are derived from natural nitrate compounds or natural potassium brines, they have certain advantages over synthetically produced fertilizers, including the presence of certain beneficial trace elements, which makes them more attractive to customers who prefer products of natural origin. As a result, specialty plant nutrients are sold at a premium price compared to commodity fertilizers.

 

Iodine and its Derivatives: We believe that we are the world’s leading producer of iodine and iodine derivatives, which are used in a wide range of medical, pharmaceutical, agricultural and industrial applications, including x-ray contrast media, polarizing films for LCD and LED, antiseptics, biocides and disinfectants, in the synthesis of pharmaceuticals, electronics, pigments and dye components.

 

Lithium and its Derivatives: We are a leading producer of lithium carbonate, which is used in a variety of applications, including electrochemical materials for batteries, frits for the ceramic and enamel industries, heat-resistant glass (ceramic glass), air conditioning chemicals, continuous casting powder for steel extrusion, pharmaceuticals and lithium derivatives. We are also a leading supplier of lithium hydroxide, which is primarily used as an input for the lubricating greases industry and for certain cathodes for batteries.

 

 25 

 

 

Potassium: We produce potassium chloride and potassium sulfate from brines extracted from the Salar de Atacama. Potassium chloride is a commodity fertilizer used to fertilize a variety of crops including corn, rice, sugar, soybean and wheat. Potassium sulfate is a specialty fertilizer used mainly in crops such as vegetables, fruits and industrial crops.

 

Industrial Chemicals: We produce three industrial chemicals: sodium nitrate, potassium nitrate and potassium chloride. Sodium nitrate is used primarily in the production of glass, explosives, and metal treatment. Potassium nitrate is used in the manufacturing of specialty glass, and it is also an important raw material for the production of frits for the ceramics and enamel industries. Solar salts, a combination of potassium nitrate and sodium nitrate, are used as a thermal storage medium in concentrated solar power plants. Potassium chloride is a basic chemical used to produce potassium hydroxide, and it is also used as an additive in oil drilling as well as in food processing, among other uses. We market our industrial chemicals using the following brands: QSodiumNitrate™, QPotassiumNitrate, and QPotassiumChloride.

 

Other Products and Services: We also sell other fertilizers and blends, some of which we do not produce. We are the largest company that produces and distributes the three main potassium sources: potassium nitrate, potassium sulfate and potassium chloride.

 

The following table shows the percentage breakdown of our revenues for 2018, 2017 and 2016 according to our product lines:

 

   2018   2017   2016 
Specialty Plant Nutrition   35%   32%   32%
Iodine and Derivatives   14%   12%   12%
Lithium and Derivatives   32%   30%   27%
Potassium   12%   18%   21%
Industrial Chemicals   5%   6%   5%
Other   2%   2%   3%
Total   100%   100%   100%

 

Business Strategy

 

Our business strategy is to be a global company with people committed to excellence, dedicated to the extraction of minerals and selectively integrated in the production and sale of products for the industries essential for human development (e.g., food, health, technology). This strategy was built on the following five principles:

 

·ensure availability of key resources required to support current goals and medium and long-term growth of the business;
·consolidate a culture of lean operations (M1 excellence) through the entire organization, including operations, sales and support areas;
·significantly increase nitrate sales in all its applications and ensure consistency with iodine commercial strategy;
·maximize the margins of each business line through appropriate pricing strategy;
·successfully develop and implement all lithium expansion projects of the Company, acquire more lithium and potassium assets to generate a competitive portfolio.

 

 26 

 

 

These principles are based on the following key concepts:

 

·strengthen the organizational structure to supports the development of the Company's strategic plan, focusing on the development of critical capabilities and the application of the corporate values of Excellence, Integrity and Safety;
·develop a robust risk control and mitigation process to actively manage business risk;
·improve our stakeholder management to establish links with the community and communicate to Chile and worldwide our contribution to industries essential for human development.

 

We have identified market demand in each of our major product lines, both within our existing customer base and in new markets, for existing products and for additional products that can be produced from our natural resources. To take advantage of these opportunities, we have developed specific strategies for each of our product lines.

 

Specialty Plant Nutrition

Our strategy in our specialty plant nutrition business is to: (i) leverage the advantages of our specialty products over commodity-type fertilizers; (ii) selectively expand our business by increasing our sales of higher margin specialty plant nutrients based on potassium and natural nitrates, particularly soluble potassium nitrate and specialty blends; (iii) pursue investment opportunities in complementary businesses to enhance our product portfolio, increase production, reduce costs, and add value to the marketing of our products; (iv) develop new specialty nutrient blends produced in our mixing plants that are strategically located in or near our principal markets in order to meet specific customer needs; (v) focus primarily on the markets where we can sell our plant nutrients in soluble and foliar applications in order to establish a leadership position; (vi) further develop our global distribution and marketing system directly and through strategic alliances with other producers and global or local distributors; (vii) reduce our production costs through improved processes and higher labor productivity so as to compete more effectively and (viii) supply a product with consistent quality according to the specific requirements of our customers.

 

Iodine and its Derivatives

Our strategy in our iodine business is to: (i) reach and maintain a sufficient market share of the iodine market in order to optimize the use of our available production capacity; (ii) encourage demand growth and promote new iodine uses; (iii) participate in iodine recycling projects through the Ajay-SQM Group (“ASG”); (iv) reduce our production costs through improved processes and higher productivity in order to compete more effectively and (v) supply a product with consistent quality according to the requirements of our customers.

 

Lithium and its Derivatives

Our strategy in our lithium business is to: (i) strategically allocate our sales of lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide; (ii) encourage demand growth and promote new lithium uses; (iii) selectively pursue opportunities in the lithium derivatives business by creating new lithium compounds; (iv) reduce our production costs through improved processes and higher productivity in order to compete more effectively; (v) supply a product with consistent quality according to the requirements of our customers and (vi) diversify our operations geographically and jurisdictionally.

 

Potassium

Our strategy in our potassium business is to: (i) offer a portfolio of potassium products, including potassium sulfate, potassium chloride and other fertilizers, to our traditional markets; (ii) have flexibility to offer crystalized (standard) or granular (compacted) form products according to market requirements; (iii) focus on markets where we have logistical advantages and synergies with our specialty plant nutrition business and (iv) supply a product with consistent quality according to the specific requirements of our customers.

 

Industrial Chemicals

Our strategy in our industrial chemical business is to: (i) maintain our leadership position in the industrial nitrates market as well as increase our supply of potassium chloride in markets where we have natural advantages; (ii) encourage demand growth in different applications; (iii) become a long-term, reliable supplier for the thermal storage industry, maintaining close relationships with R&D programs; (iv) reduce our production costs through improved processes and higher productivity in order to compete more effectively and (v) supply a product with consistent quality according to the requirements of our customers.

 

 27 

 

 

New Business Ventures

We constantly evaluate opportunities that are consistent with our existing and new businesses. We seek to acquire interests in projects both inside and outside of Chile where we believe we have sustainable competitive advantages, and we hope to continue doing so in the future.

 

In addition, we are actively conducting exploration for metallic minerals in the mining properties we own. If such minerals are found, we may decide to exploit, sell or enter into an association to extract these resources. Our exploration efforts are currently focused on the layer of bedrock that lies beneath the caliche ore that we use as the primary raw material in the production of iodine and nitrates. This bedrock has significant potential for metallic mineralization, particularly copper and gold. A significant portion of our mining properties are located in the Antofagasta region of Chile, where many large copper producers operate.

 

We have an in-house geological exploration team that explores the area directly, identifying drilling targets and assessing new prospects. In 2018, the team identified eight new targets and confirmed mineralization in four of the targets, using its own truck-mounted drill rigs. The number of perforated meters reached 32,862 meters, and were made with four machines of which three were internal and the other external. We also have a metal business development team that works to engage partners interested in investing in metal exploration within our mining properties. As of December 31, 2018, we had six option agreements in place with five companies, including small junior mining companies, private equity firms and large mining companies. We have entered into an exploration and purchase option agreement with a private Chilean company for an area of interest. We are participating in the formation of two joint ventures as a result of exercising an option agreement a junior company.

 

Main Business Lines

 

Specialty Plant Nutrition

 

In 2018, specialty plant nutrients revenues increased to US$781.8 million, representing 34.5% of our total revenues for that year. We believe that we are the world’s largest producer of potassium nitrate. We estimate that our sales accounted for approximately 56% of global potassium nitrate sales for all applications by volume in 2018, an increase from 53% in 2017. During 2018, the potassium nitrate market increased by approximately 7%. These estimates do not include potassium nitrate produced and sold locally in China, only Chinese net imports and exports.

 

In addition to potassium nitrate, we produce the following specialty plant nutrients: sodium nitrate, sodium potassium nitrate and specialty blends (containing various combinations of nitrogen, phosphate and potassium and generally known as “NPK blends”).

 

Our specialty plant nutrients have specific characteristics that increase productivity and enhance quality when used on certain crops and soils. Our specialty plant nutrients have significant advantages for certain applications over commodity fertilizers based on nitrogen and potassium, such as urea and potassium chloride.

 

Our specialty plant nutrients advantages are:

 

·fully water soluble, allowing their more efficient use in hydroponics, fertigation, foliar applications and other advanced agricultural techniques thus improving the water use efficiently of crops to help conserve water;

 

 28 

 

 

·chloride-free, which prevents chloride toxicity in certain crops associated with high levels of chlorine in plant nutrients;
·provide nitrogen in nitric form, thereby allowing crops to absorb nutrients faster than they absorb urea or ammonium-based fertilizers;
·do not release hydrogen after application, thereby avoiding increased soil acidity;
·possess trace elements, which promote disease resistance in plants; and
·more attractive to customers who prefer products of natural origin.

 

Specialty Plant Nutrition: Market

 

The target market for our specialty plant nutrients includes producers of high-value crops such as vegetables, fruits, industrial crops, flowers, cotton and others. Furthermore, we sell specialty plant nutrients to producers of chloride-sensitive crops. Since 1990, the international market for specialty plant nutrients has grown at a faster rate than the international market for commodity-type fertilizers. This is mostly due to: (i) the application of new agricultural technologies such as fertigation and hydroponics, and the increasing use of greenhouses; (ii) the increase in the cost of land and the scarcity of water, which has forced farmers to improve their yields and reduce water use; and (iii) the increase in demand for higher quality crops, such as fruits and vegetables.

 

Over the last ten years, the compound annual growth rate for vegetable production per capita was 3% while the compound annual growth rate for the world population was closer to 1%.

 

Worldwide scarcity of water and arable land drives the development of new agricultural techniques to maximize the use of these resources. Irrigation has grown at an average annual rate of 1% during the last 20 years (a pace similar to population growth). However, micro irrigation has grown at 10% per year over the same period. Micro irrigation systems, which include drip irrigation and micro-sprinklers, are the most efficient forms of technical irrigation. These applications require fully water-soluble plant nutrients. Our nitrate-based specialty plant nutrients are fully soluble in water and provide nitrogen in nitric form, which helps crops absorb these nutrients faster than they absorb urea- or ammonium-based fertilizers, facilitating a more efficient application of nutrients to the plant and thereby increasing the crop’s yield and improving its quality.

 

The ratio of micro irrigation to total irrigated hectares in Asia is approximately 3%, the lowest ratio of any region in the world. This represents a high potential for micro irrigation, which is reflected in the high growth rates in Asia in recent years.

 

Potassium nitrate in China is an important market, although currently its demand is largely fulfilled by domestic producers. Demand totals approximately 400,000 to 420,000 metric tons, of which approximately 130,000 is related to the tobacco industry and approximately 120,000 is related to the horticulture business. Of the total, between 20,000 and 30,000 metric tons are imports.

 

Specialty Plant Nutrition: Our Products

 

Potassium nitrate, sodium potassium nitrate and specialty blends are higher margin products derived from, or consisting of, sodium nitrate, and they are all produced in crystallized or prilled form. Specialty blends are produced using our own specialty plant nutrients and other components at blending plants operated by us or our affiliates and related companies in Chile, the United States, Mexico, the United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Turkey, China, India, Thailand, Brazil, Spain, the Netherlands and Peru.

 

 29 

 

 

The following table shows our sales volumes of and revenues from specialty plant nutrients for 2018, 2017 and 2016:

 

   2018   2017   2016 
Sales volumes (Th. MT)               
Sodium nitrate   25.0    26.7    24.4 
Potassium nitrate and sodium potassium nitrate   673.4    601.4    475.8 
Specialty blends (1)   242.5    209.0    213.5 
Other specialty plant nutrients (2)   141.6    129.1    127.2 
                
Total revenues (in US$ millions)   781.8    697.3    623.9 

 

(1)Includes Yara’s products sold pursuant to our commercial agreement.
(2)Includes trading of other specialty fertilizers.

 

In 2018, our specialty plant nutrients revenues increased to US$781.8 million, representing 35% of our total revenues for that year and a 12.1% increase from US$697.3 million in specialty plant nutrients revenues in 2017. Prices increased approximately 0.07% in 2018.

 

Depending on the systems used to apply specialty nutrients, fertilizers can be classified as specialty field fertilizers or water-soluble fertilizers.

 

Specialty field fertilizers are applied directly to the soil, manually or in a mechanized fashion. Their high solubility levels, lack of chloride and absence of acidic reactions make them particularly advantageous for tobacco, potatoes, coffee, cotton and a wide range of fruits and vegetables.

 

Water-soluble fertilizers are specialty nutrients that are delivered to the crops using modern irrigation systems. As these systems feature refined technology, the products used in them must be highly soluble, rich in nutrients, free of impurities and insoluble substances, and with a low salinity index. The leading nutrient in this segment is potassium nitrate, whose optimal balance of nitric nitrogen and chloride-free potassium (the two macronutrients most needed by plants) make it an indispensable source of nutrition for crops that use modern irrigation systems.

 

Potassium nitrate is widely known to be a vital component in foliar feeding applications, where usage is recommended in order to stave off nutritional deficiencies before the first symptoms appear, correct any deficiencies that arise and prevent physiological stress. This nutrient also helps promote a suitable balance between fruit production and/or growth, and plant development, particularly in crops with physiological disorders.

 

Foliar feeding with potassium nitrate can have beneficial effects:

 

·when soil chemistry limits nutrient solubility and availability (pH, organic matter, type and percentage of clay);
·when nutrient absorption through the roots is limited as a result of conditions that hamper root growth (temperature, moisture, oxygen and loss of soil structure);
·when the plant’s local internal demand may surpass real internal nutrient redistribution capacity, leaving the demand unsatisfied;
·when nutrient mobility is limited, when plants flower before the leaf growth phase, imposing limiting factors on xylem nutrient transport; and
·to achieve rapid recovery from leaf stress caused by climatic conditions, soil conditions and irrigation management.

 

Another benefit of our potassium nitrate is that, according to a 2014 study by the consulting firm Arthur D. Little Benelux, our production process generates up to 40% less greenhouse gases compared to other major potassium nitrate producers in the world.

 

 30 

 

 

SQM has consolidated a product portfolio of over 200 specialty fertilizer blends, including top brands such as Ultrasol®, for fertigation; Qrop®, for application to the soil; Speedfol®, for foliar feeding and Allganic® for organic crops.

 

QropTMKS was added to our portfolio of specialty field fertilizers in 2015. This product was developed by our research and development team and is an improvement to existing products. It is more physically stable and is not required to be transported as hazardous cargo, which means it can be sold in other markets.

 

During 2017, we worked on the restructuring of the Qrop products portfolio: chloride-free line for direct application to the soil with a variety of specialized formulas and unique mixtures, which make these products highly accurate and quickly available for the plant.

 

In 2018, we launched new products to the market, such as the Ultrasol® K line in the United States. Ultrasol® K will address the need for potassium-free chloride and a nitrate safe for handling in the liquid fertilizer market, opening new opportunities for SQM in in the cultivation of almonds and strawberries, in which water quality and efficiency are very important.

 

Specialty Plant Nutrition: Marketing and Customers

 

In 2018, we sold our specialty plant nutrients in approximately 100 countries and to more than 760 customers. One customer represented more than 10% of our specialty plant nutrition revenues during 2018, representing approximately 23% of our total specialty plant nutrition revenues, and our ten largest customers accounted in the aggregate for approximately 49% of revenues during that period. No supplier accounted for more than 10% of the costs of sales for this business line.

 

The table below shows the geographical breakdown of our revenues:

 

Revenues breakdown  2018   2017   2016 
North America    31%   33%   33%
Europe    25%   25%   18%
Central and South America (excluding Chile)    10%   10%   11%
Asia and Others    34%   31%   37%

  

We sell our specialty plant nutrition products outside Chile mainly through our own worldwide network of representative offices and through our distribution affiliates.

 

We maintain inventory of our specialty plant nutrients in our commercial offices in the main markets of the Americas, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa in order to facilitate prompt deliveries to customers. In addition, we sell specialty plant nutrients directly to some of our large customers. Sales are made pursuant to spot purchase orders and short-term contracts.

 

As part of our marketing strategy, we provide technical and agronomical assistance and support to our clients. We have specific knowledge resulting from extensive research and numerous studies conducted by our agronomical teams in close contact with producers throughout the world. The solid agronomical knowledge is key for the development of specific formulas and hydroponic and fertirrigation nutritional plans, which allows us to provide expert advice for producing crops that meet high quality standards for the most efficient markets and in the most environmentally challenging conditions.

 

By working closely with our customers, we are able to identify their needs for new products and a possible existence of higher-value-added markets. Our specialty plant nutrients are used on a wide variety of crops, particularly value-added crops, where the use of our products enables our customers to increase yields and achieve a premium price for their own products.

 

 31 

 

 

Our customers are located in both the northern and southern hemispheres. Consequently, we do not believe there are any seasonal or cyclical factors that can materially affect the sales of our specialty plant nutrients.

 

Specialty Plant Nutrition: Joint Ventures and Agreements

 

Consistent with our business strategy, we regularly evaluate opportunities to expand in our current core businesses, including our specialty plant nutrition business, or within new businesses in which we believe we may have sustainable competitive advantages. We evaluate potential acquisitions, joint ventures and alliances with companies both within and outside of Chile, including in other emerging markets.

 

In May 2008, we signed a joint venture agreement with Migao for the production and distribution of specialty plant nutrients in China. Through the joint venture, Sichuan SQM-Migao Chemical Fertilizers Co., Ltd., we constructed a potassium nitrate plant with a production capacity of 40,000 metric tons per year. The plant began operating in January 2011.

 

In May 2009, our subsidiary Soquimich European Holdings entered into an agreement with Coromandel Fertilizers Ltd. to create a joint venture, Coromandel SQM Private Limited, for the production and distribution of water soluble fertilizers in India. The agreement established a 50⁄50 joint venture. As part of the agreement, a new 15,000 metric ton facility was constructed in the city of Kakinada to produce water soluble NPK grade fertilizers. This new facility began operating in January 2012.

 

In December 2009, we signed an agreement with the French Roullier Group to form the joint venture SQM Vitas FZCO. This agreement joins two of the largest companies in the businesses of specialty plant nutrition, specialty animal nutrition and professional hygiene. Peru, Brazil and Dubai are the main focus markets of this joint venture. As part of the agreement, our phosphate plant located in Dubai became part of this joint venture.

 

Between 2010 and 2012, we continued to expand our production capacity of potassium products in our operations in the Salar de Atacama. In 2011, we completed the construction of a new potassium nitrate facility in Coya Sur, increasing our overall production capacity of potassium nitrate by 300,000 metric tons.

 

In 2012, SQM Vitas FZCO. started the construction of new plants in Brazil (Candeias), Peru and South Africa (Durban) for the production of water soluble fertilizers containing different relative amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, and at times, smaller amounts of other chemicals. The Candeias Industrial Complex plant in Brazil began operating in March 2012 and has a production capacity of 25,000 metric tons per year.

 

In 2013, the operations of SQM Vitas Spain began in Spain with a water soluble NPK fertilizer plant that has a production capacity of 15,000 metric tons per year. In 2016, this operation became fully controlled by SQM.

 

In 2015, an asset transfer agreement, that was signed in December 2014 between Plantacote B.V. and Plantacote N.V., entered into effect. As a result of this agreement, the business and Plantacote® brand were transferred to the new company Plantacote N.V., but with no changes to the business or the Controlled Release Fertilizer project. SQM continues to hold a 50% ownership stake in the company.

 

In 2015, SQM Vitas South Africa, was acquired by Roulliers and the production facilities in Durban were transferred to SQM Africa Pty Ltd. 

 

In 2016, we began operating soluble specialty plant nutrient production facilities through our joint ventures in Peru. SQM Vítas Perú S.A.C. and the Netherlands, Plantacote N.V. P.E. Netherlands. In addition, a new logistics terminal was opened in the port of Terneuzen in the Netherlands.

 

 32 

 

 

In 2017, three new offices started their operations in Imbituba, Rio Grande and Sao Paulo, Brazil, SQM Vitas Brazil Agroindustria, importação e exporação ltda.

 

In May 2018, our we began operating a new joint venture, Pavoni & C. Spa with Pavoni, one of the largest specialty fertilizer companies in Italy. The main objective of this business is to improve the nutritional efficiency of crops, the existing fertigation, the quality of fertilizers and their applications, as well as extend the use of fertigation (from microirrigation).

 

In 2018, our new office and storage facility in Pamira, managed by SQM Colombia SAS near the Port of Buenaventura in Colombia became operational. The new office was set up to meet the growing needs of customers in the Colombian market, especially those who grow roses and ornamental plants, coffee, bananas and fruit through a complete portfolio of soluble fertilizers and Qrop mixes.

 

In 2018, we sold our interest in the Charlee SQM Thailand Co. Ltd. joint venture.

 

In 2018, the production activities of the SQM Vitas FZCO ceased due to changes in the expiry of the lease with the port authorities.

 

Specialty Plant Nutrition: Fertilizer Sales in Chile

 

We market specialty plant nutrients in Chile through our subsidiary Soquimich Comercial S.A. (“SQMC”).

 

SQMC is one of the main players in the Chilean market, offering a wide range of products developed specifically for the crops grown in the country which require specialty plant nutrients.

 

SQMC sells local products as well as products imported from different countries around the world.

 

All contracts and agreements between SQMC and its foreign suppliers of fertilizers contain standard and customary commercial terms and conditions. SQMC has been able to obtain adequate supplies of these products with good pricing conditions.

 

SQMC’s total sales reached US$147 million and US$133 million in 2018 and 2017, respectively. During 2018, no client represented more than 10% of the sales of the Company. According to the customs information related to fertilizers, the market participation of fertilizers imported directly by SQMC during 2018 was approximately 13%.

 

Specialty Plant Nutrition: Competition

 

The principal means of competition in the sale of potassium nitrate are product quality, customer service, location, logistics, agronomic expertise and price.

 

We believe that we are the world’s largest producer of sodium nitrate and potassium nitrate for agricultural use. Our sodium nitrate products compete indirectly with specialty and commodity-type substitutes, which may be used by some customers instead of sodium nitrate depending on the type of soil and crop to which the product will be applied. Such substitute products include calcium nitrate, ammonium nitrate and calcium ammonium nitrate.

 

In the potassium nitrate market our largest competitor is Haifa Chemicals Ltd. (“Haifa”), in Israel, which is a subsidiary of Trans Resources International Inc. We estimate that sales of potassium nitrate by Haifa accounted for approximately 13% of total world sales during 2018 (excluding sales by Chinese producers to the domestic Chinese market). Haifa had production issues during 2017 and is currently operating at its 50% capacity (one plant). Our sales accounted for approximately 56% of global potassium nitrate sales by volume for the period.

 

 33 

 

 

ACF, another Chilean producer, mainly oriented to iodine production, has produced potassium nitrate from caliche ore and potassium chloride since 2005. Kemapco, a Jordanian producer owned by Arab Potash, produces potassium nitrate in a plant located close to the Port of Aqaba, Jordan. In addition, there are several potassium nitrate producers in China, the largest of which are Yuantong and Migao. Most of the Chinese production is consumed by the Chinese domestic market.

 

In Chile, our products mainly compete with imported fertilizer blends that use calcium ammonium nitrate or potassium magnesium sulfate. Our specialty plant nutrients also compete indirectly with lower-priced synthetic commodity-type fertilizers such as ammonia and urea, which are produced by many producers in a highly price-competitive market. Our products compete on the basis of advantages that make them more suitable for certain applications as described above.

 

Iodine and its Derivatives

 

We believe that we are the world’s largest producer of iodine. In 2018, our revenues from iodine and iodine derivatives amounted to US$325.0 million, representing 14.3% of our total revenues in that year. We estimate that our sales accounted for approximately 36% of world iodine sales by volume in 2018.

 

Iodine: Market

 

Iodine and iodine derivatives are used in a wide range of medical, agricultural and industrial applications as well as in human and animal nutrition products. Iodine and iodine derivatives are used as raw materials or catalysts in the formulation of products such as X-ray contrast media, biocides, antiseptics and disinfectants, pharmaceutical intermediates, polarizing films for LCD and LED screens, chemicals, organic compounds and pigments. Iodine is also added in the form of potassium iodate or potassium iodide to edible salt to prevent iodine deficiency disorders.

 

X-ray contrast media is the leading application of iodine, accounting for approximately 23% of demand. Iodine’s high atomic number and density make it ideally suited for this application, as its presence in the body can help to increase contrast between tissues, organs, and blood vessels with similar X-ray densities. Other applications include pharmaceuticals, which we believe account for 13% of demand; LCD and LED screens, 12%; iodophors and povidone-iodine, 9%; animal nutrition, 8%; fluoride derivatives, 7%; biocides, 6%; nylon, 4%; human nutrition, 3% and other applications, 15%.

 

During 2018, iodine demand grew at a similar rate as in 2017, reaching 36,300 metric tons. Although more traditional uses grew at the same rate as during the previous year, new applications such as carbon energy plants emission control industries and demand growth related to the LED and LCD market resulted higher demand for iodine and derivatives.

 

Iodine: Our Products

 

We produce iodine in our Nueva Victoria plant, near Iquique, and our Pedro de Valdivia plant, close to María Elena. We have a total effective production capacity of approximately 14,000 metric tons per year of iodine, including the Iris plant, which is located close to the Nueva Victoria plant.

 

Through ASG, we produce organic and inorganic iodine derivatives. ASG was established in the mid-1990s and has production plants in the United States, Chile and France. ASG is the world’s leading inorganic and organic iodine derivatives producer.

 

Consistent with our business strategy, we are constantly working on the development of new applications for our iodine-based products, pursuing a continuing expansion of our businesses and maintaining our market leadership.

 

 34 

 

 

We manufacture our iodine and iodine derivatives in accordance with international quality standards and have qualified our iodine facilities and production processes under the ISO-9001:2008 program, providing third party certification of the quality management system and international quality control standards that we have implemented.

 

The following table shows our total sales volumes and revenues from iodine and iodine derivatives for 2018, 2017 and 2016:

 

   2018   2017   2016 
Sales volumes (Th. MT)               
Iodine and derivatives   13.3    12.7    10.2 
                
Total revenues (in US$ millions)   325.0    252.1    231.1 

 

Our revenues increased to US$325.0 million in 2018 from US$252.1 million in 2017. This increase was primarily attributable to the increase in iodine sales volume and higher prices during 2018. Average iodine prices were more than 22.6% higher in 2018 than in 2017. Our sales volumes increased 5.1% in 2018, outpacing global iodine demand growth.

 

Iodine: Marketing and Customers

 

In 2018, we sold our iodine products in approximately 52 countries to approximately 283 customers, and most of our sales were exports. Four customers each accounted for more than 10% of our iodine revenues in 2017. These four customers accounted for approximately 53% of revenues, and our ten largest customers accounted in the aggregate for approximately 77% of revenues. No supplier accounted for more than 10% of the cost of sales of this business line.

 

The following table shows the geographical breakdown of our revenues:

 

Revenues breakdown  2018   2017   2016 
North America    26%   25%   25%
Europe    34%   31%   36%
Central and South America (excluding Chile)    2%   0%   0%
Asia and Others    38%   43%   38%

 

We sell iodine through our own worldwide network of representative offices and through our sales, support and distribution affiliates. We maintain inventories of iodine at our facilities throughout the world to facilitate prompt delivery to customers. Iodine sales are made pursuant to spot purchase orders or within the framework of supply agreements. Supply agreements generally specify annual minimum and maximum purchase commitments, and prices are adjusted periodically, according to prevailing market prices.

 

Iodine: Competition

 

The world’s main iodine producers are based in Chile, Japan and the United States. Iodine is also produced in Russia, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Indonesia and China.

 

Iodine is produced in Chile using a unique mineral known as caliche ore, whereas in Japan, the United States, Russia, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Indonesia, producers extract iodine from underground brines that are mainly obtained together with the extraction of natural gas and petroleum. In China, iodine is extracted from seaweed.

 

 35 

 

 

Five Chilean companies accounted for approximately 59% of total global sales of iodine in 2018, including SQM, with approximately 36%, and four other producers, accounting for the remaining 23%. The other Chilean producers are: Atacama Chemical S.A. (Cosayach), controlled by the Chilean holding Inverraz S.A.; ACF Minera S.A. owned by the Chilean family Urruticoechea; Algorta Norte S.A., a joint venture between ACF Minera S.A. and Toyota Tsusho; and Atacama Minerals, recently acquired by Chinese company Tewoo.

 

We estimate that eight Japanese iodine producers accounted for approximately 29% of global iodine sales in 2018, including recycled iodine.

 

We estimate that iodine producers in the United States (one of which is owned by Toyota Tsusho and another is owned by Ise Chemicals Ltd., both of which are Japanese companies) accounted for nearly 5% of world iodine sales in 2018.

 

Iodine recycling is a growing trend worldwide. Several producers have recycling facilities where they recover iodine and iodine derivatives from iodine waste streams.

 

We estimate the 17% of the iodine supply come from iodine recycling. Through ASG or alone, we are also actively participating in the iodine recycling business using iodinated side-streams from a variety of chemical processes in Europe and the United States.

 

The prices of iodine and iodine derivative products are determined by market conditions. World iodine prices vary depending upon, among other things, the relationship between supply and demand at any given time. Iodine supply varies primarily as a result of the production levels of the iodine producers (including us) and their respective business strategies. Our annual average iodine sales prices increased to approximately US$24 per kilogram in 2018, higher than the prices observed in 2017.

 

Demand for iodine varies depending upon overall levels of economic activity and the level of demand in the medical, pharmaceutical, industrial and other sectors that are the main users of iodine and iodine-derivative products. Certain substitutes for iodine are available for certain applications, such as antiseptics and disinfectants, which could represent a cost-effective alternative to iodine depending on prevailing prices.

 

The main factors of competition in the sale of iodine and iodine derivative products are reliability, price, quality, customer service and the price and availability of substitutes. We believe we have competitive advantages compared to other producers due to the size and quality of our mining reserves and the available production capacity. We believe our iodine is competitive with that produced by other manufacturers in certain advanced industrial processes. We also believe we benefit competitively from the long-term relationships we have established with our largest customers.

 

Lithium and its Derivatives

 

In 2018, our revenues from lithium sales amounted to US$734.8 million, representing 32.4% of our total revenues. We believe we are one of the world’s largest producers of lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide, and we estimate that our sales volumes accounted for approximately 17% of the global lithium chemicals sales volumes.

 

Lithium: Market

 

The lithium market can be divided into (i) lithium minerals for direct use (in which market SQM does not participate directly), (ii) basic lithium chemicals, which include lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide (as well as lithium chloride, from which lithium carbonate may be made), and (iii) inorganic and organic lithium derivatives, which include numerous compounds produced from basic lithium chemicals (in which market SQM does not participate directly).

 

 36 

 

 

Lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide are principally used to produce the cathodes for rechargeable batteries, taking advantage of lithium’s extreme electrochemical potential and low density. Batteries are the leading application for lithium, accounting for approximately 65% of total lithium demand, including batteries for electric vehicles, which accounted for approximately 36% of total lithium demand.

 

There are many other applications both for basic lithium chemicals and lithium derivatives, such as lubricating greases (approximately 7% of total lithium demand), heat-resistant glass (ceramic glass) (approximately 5% of total lithium demand), chips for the ceramics and glaze industry (approximately 3% of total lithium demand), chemicals for air conditioning (approximately 2% of total lithium demand), and many others, including air treatment systems, pharmaceutical synthesis and metal alloys.

 

Lithium’s main properties, which facilitate its use in this range of applications, are that it:

 

·is the lightest solid metal and element at room temperature;
·is low density;
·has a low coefficient of thermal expansion;
·has high electrochemical potential; and
·has a high specific heat capacity.

 

During 2018, lithium chemicals demand increased by approximately 27%, reaching approximately 269,000 metric tons. We expect applications related to energy storage to continue driving demand in the coming years.

 

Lithium: Our Products

 

We produce lithium carbonate at our Salar del Carmen facilities, near Antofagasta, Chile, from highly concentrated lithium chloride produced in the Salar de Atacama, as a by-product of the potassium chloride production. The annual production capacity of our lithium carbonate plant at the Salar del Carmen is 70,000 metric tons per year. In the future, we plan to increase our production capacity to 180,000 metric tons per year. We believe that the technologies we use, together with the high concentrations of lithium and the characteristics of the Salar de Atacama, such as high evaporation rate and concentration of other minerals, allow us to be one of the lowest cost producers worldwide.

 

We also produce lithium hydroxide at the same plant at the Salar del Carmen, next to the lithium carbonate operation. The lithium hydroxide facility has a production capacity of 13,500 metric tons per year and is one of the largest plants in the world.

 

The following table shows our total sales volumes and revenues from lithium carbonate and its derivatives for 2018, 2017 and 2016:

 

   2018   2017   2016 
Sales volumes (Th. MT)               
Lithium and derivatives   45.1    49.7    49.7 
                
Total revenues (in US$ millions)   734.8    644.6    514.6 

 

Our revenues in 2018 were US$734.8 million, a 14.0% increase from US$644.6 million in 2017, due to significantly higher prices during the year. The average price for 2018 was approximately 25.6% higher than the average price in 2017.

 

 37 

 

 

Lithium: Marketing and Customers

 

In 2018, we sold our lithium products in approximately 42 countries to approximately 160 customers, and most of our sales were to customers outside of Chile. Two customers each accounted for more than 10% of our lithium revenues in 2018, accounting for approximately 30% of our lithium revenues. Our ten largest customers accounted in the aggregate for approximately 74% of revenues. No supplier accounted for more than 10% of the cost of sales of this business line.

 

The following table shows the geographical breakdown of our revenues:

 

Revenues breakdown  2018   2017   2016 
North America    9%   7%   8%
Europe    14%   14%   19%
Central and South America (excluding Chile)    1%   1%   1%
Asia and Others    76%   79%   73%

  

We sell lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide through our own worldwide network of representative offices and through our sales, support and distribution affiliates. We maintain inventories of these products at our facilities throughout the world to facilitate prompt delivery to customers. Sales of lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide are made pursuant to spot purchase orders or within the framework of supply agreements. Supply agreements generally specify annual minimum and maximum purchase commitments, and prices are adjusted periodically, according to prevailing market prices.

 

Lithium: Competition

 

Lithium is produced mainly from two sources: (i) concentrated brines and (ii) minerals. During 2018, the main lithium brines producers were Chile, Argentina and China, while the main lithium mineral producers were Australia and China. With total sales of approximately 45,100 metric tons of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE), SQM’s market share of lithium chemicals was approximately 17% in 2018. One of our main competitors is Albemarle Corporation (“Albemarle”), which produces lithium carbonate and lithium chloride in Chile and the United States, along with lithium derivatives in the United States, Germany, Taiwan and China, with a market share of approximately 28%. Albemarle also owns 49% of Talison Lithium Pty Ltd. (“Talison”), an Australian company, that is the largest producer of concentrated lithium minerals in the world, based in Western Australia. The remaining 51% of Talison is owned by Sichuan Tianqi Lithium Industries (“Tianqi”), a Chinese company producing basic lithium chemicals in China from concentrated lithium minerals. Talison sells a part of its concentrated lithium mineral production to the direct use market, but most of its production, representing approximately 26% of total lithium chemical demand, is converted into basic lithium chemicals in China by Tianqi and Albemarle.

 

Another important competitor is FMC Corporation (“FMC”), with an estimated market share of approximately 7%. FMC has production facilities in Argentina through Minera del Altiplano S.A., where it produces lithium chloride and lithium carbonate. In addition, FMC produces lithium derivatives in the United States and in the United Kingdom. Orocobre Ltd. is also based in Argentina and produces lithium carbonate, reaching a market share of approximately 4%.

 

Australia is an important source of concentrated lithium minerals. In 2018, two producers doubled their production of concentrated mineral, which is then converted into lithium chemicals in China. One of these producers is a joint venture between Ganfeng Lithium Co. (“Ganfeng”) and Mineral Resources Ltd in the Mt. Marion project. Galaxy Resources Ltd. is another important producer with operations in Mt. Cattlin. Additionally, three new players began shipping concentrated lithium minerals in 2018, Pilbara Minerals and Altura Mining, both producing from the Pilgangoora deposit, and Alliance Mineral Assets Ltd., producing from the Bald Hill deposit. In addition, there were at least ten other companies producing lithium in China from brines or minerals in 2018.    

 

 38 

 

 

We believe that lithium production will increase in the near future, balancing the explosive growth in demand. A number of new projects to develop lithium deposits has been announced recently. Some of these projects are already in the advanced stages of development and others could materialize in the medium term.

 

Potassium

 

In 2018, our potassium chloride and potassium sulfate revenues amounted to US$267.5 million, representing 11.8% of our total revenues and a 29.5% decrease compared to 2017, as a result of reduced sales volumes. We estimate that we accounted for less than 2% of global sales of potassium chloride in 2018.

 

We produce potassium chloride by extracting brines from the Salar de Atacama that are rich in potassium chloride and other salts.

 

Potassium is one of the three macronutrients that a plant needs to develop. Although potassium does not form part of a plant’s structure, it is essential to the development of its basic functions. Potassium chloride is the most commonly used potassium-based fertilizer. It is used to fertilize crops that can tolerate relatively high levels of chloride, and to fertilize crops that are grown under conditions with sufficient rainfall or irrigation practices that prevent chloride from accumulating to excess levels in the rooting systems of the plant.

 

Some benefits that may be obtained through the use of potassium are:

·increased yield and quality;
·increased production of proteins;
·increased photosynthesis;
·intensified transport and storage of assimilates;
·prolonged and more intense assimilation period;
·improved water efficiency;
·regulated opening and closure of stomata; and
·synthesis of lycopene.

 

Potassium chloride is also an important component for our specialty plant nutrition product line, where it is used as a raw material to produce potassium nitrate.

 

Since 2009, our effective end product capacity has increased to over 2 million metric tons per year, granting us improved flexibility and market coverage.

 

Potassium: Market

 

During the last decade, growth in demand for potassium chloride, and for fertilizers in general, has been driven by several key factors, such as a growing world population, higher demand for protein-based diets and less arable land. All of these factors contribute to fertilizer demand growth as a result of efforts to maximize crop yields and use resources more efficiently. For the last ten years, the compound annual growth for the global potassium chloride market was approximately 1-2%. We estimate that demand totaled approximately 66 million metric tons in 2018, an increase from 64 million metric tons in 2017.

 

According to studies prepared by the International Fertilizer Industry Association, cereals account for approximately 45% of world potassium consumption, including corn (14%), rice (13%) and wheat (3%). Oilseeds, predominantly soybeans and palm oil, represent approximately 16% of total potassium demand. Fruits and vegetables account for approximately 22% of world potassium demand, and sugar crops account for close to 7%.

 

 39 

 

 

Potassium: Our Products

 

Potassium chloride differs from our specialty plant nutrition products because it is a commodity fertilizer and contains chloride. We offer potassium chloride in two grades: standard and compacted. Potassium sulfate is considered a specialty fertilizer and we offer this product in soluble grades.

 

The following table shows our sales volumes of and revenues from potassium chloride and potassium sulfate for 2018, 2017 and 2016:

 

   2018   2017   2016 
Sales volumes (Th. MT)               
Potassium chloride and potassium sulfate   831.8    1,344.3    1,534.7 
                
Total revenues (in US$ millions)   267.5    379.3    403.3 

 

Our revenues in 2018 were US$267.5 million, a 29.5% decrease from US$379.3 million in 2017, due to significantly lower sales volumes during the year. Our sales volumes in 2018 were approximately 38.1% lower than sales volumes reported last year as we focused on maximizing our yields of lithium in the Salar de Atacama.

 

Potassium: Marketing and Customers

 

In 2018, we sold potassium chloride and potassium sulfate to approximately 475 customers in over 58 countries. There were no individual customers that each accounted for more than 10% of our revenues of potassium chloride and potassium sulfate in 2018. We estimate that our ten largest customers accounted in the aggregate for approximately 47% of such revenues. One supplier accounted for more than 10% of the cost of sales of this business line, accounting for approximately 20% of the cost of sales for the business line.

 

The following table shows the geographical breakdown of our revenues:

 

Revenues breakdown  2018   2017   2016 
North America    19%   18%   20%
Europe    17%   19%   20%
Central and South America (excluding Chile)    30%   38%   38%
Asia and Others    34%   25%   22%

  

Potassium: Competition

 

We estimate that we accounted for less than 3% of global sales of potassium chloride in 2018. Our main competitors are Nutrien (formerly PCS), Uralkali, Belaruskali and Mosaic. We estimate that in 2018, PCS accounted for approximately 20% of global sales, Uralkali accounted for approximately 18% of global sales, Belaruskali accounted for approximately 18% of global sales and Mosaic accounted for approximately 15% of global sales. 

 

In the potassium sulfate market, we have several competitors, of which the most important are K+S KALI GmbH (Germany), Tessenderlo Chemie (Belgium) and Great Salt Lake Minerals Corp. (United States). We estimate that these three producers account for approximately 30% of its worldwide production of potassium sulfate. SQM is no longer in the potassium sulfate market with own production.

 

 40 

 

 

Industrial Chemicals

 

In 2018, our revenues from industrial chemicals were US$108.3 million, representing approximately 4.8% of our total revenues for that year. We estimate that our market share in the industrial potassium nitrate market was approximately 34% for 2018.

 

In addition to producing sodium and potassium nitrate for agricultural applications, we produce different grades of these products for industrial applications. The different grades differ mainly in their chemical purity. We enjoy certain operational flexibility producing industrial nitrates, because they are produced from the same process as their equivalent agricultural grades, needing only an additional step of purification. We may, with certain constraints, shift production from one grade to the other depending on market conditions. This flexibility allows us to maximize yields and to reduce commercial risk.

 

In addition to producing industrial nitrates, we produce, market and sell industrial-grade potassium chloride.

 

Industrial Chemicals: Market

 

Industrial sodium and potassium nitrates are used in a wide range of industrial applications, including the production of glass, ceramics, explosives, charcoal briquettes, metal treatments together with various chemical processes.

 

In addition, this product line has also experienced growth from the use of industrial nitrates as thermal storage in concentrated solar power plants (commonly known as “CSP”). Solar salts for this specific application contain a blend of 60% sodium nitrate and 40% potassium nitrate by weight ratio used as a storage and heat transfer medium. Unlike traditional photovoltaic plants, these new plants use a “thermal battery” that contains molten sodium nitrate and potassium nitrate, which store the heat collected during the day. The salts are heated up during the day, while the plants are operating under direct sunlight, and at night they release the solar energy that they have captured, allowing the plants to operate even during hours of darkness. Depending on the power plant technology, solar salts are also used as a heat transfer fluid in the plant system and thereby make CSP plants even more efficient, increasing their output and reducing the Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE).

 

Experts believe that CSPs play a critical role in electricity grid stabilization and manageability due to their inherent large scale storage capability. Nevertheless, such large installations are capital intensive and are strongly influenced by the generation mix in each country. Therefore, fluctuations in solar salts demand are unavoidable in terms of quantity and timing. In 2017, we supplied CSP projects in South Africa, Morocco, Kuwait and Israel totaling over 88,000 metric tons. In 2018, we further supplied CSP plants reaching 47,000 metric tons.

 

We are also experiencing a growing interest in using solar salts in thermal storage solutions not related to CSP technology. Due to their proven performance, solar salts are being tested in industrial heat processes and heat waste solutions. These new applications may open new opportunities to the solar salts uses in the near future.

 

Industrial-grade potassium chloride is used as an additive in oil drilling as well as in food processing, among other applications.

 

 41 

 

 

Industrial Chemicals: Our Products

 

The following table shows our sales volumes of industrial chemicals and total revenues for 2018, 2017 and 2016:

 

   2018   2017   2016 
Sales volumes (Th. MT)               
Industrial chemicals   135.9    167.6    128.9 
                
Total revenues (in US$ millions)   108.3    135.6    104.1 

 

Revenues for industrial chemicals decreased from US$135.6 million in 2017 to US$108.3 million in 2018, as a result of lower sales volumes of solar salts in this business line. Sales volumes in 2018 decreased 18.9% compared to sales volumes reported last year.

 

Industrial Chemicals: Marketing and Customers

 

We sold our industrial nitrate products in approximately 54 countries in 2018 to approximately 293 customers. One customer accounted for more than 10% of our revenues of industrial chemicals in 2018, accounting for approximately 28%, and our ten largest customers accounted in the aggregate for approximately 56% of such revenues. No supplier accounted for more than 10% of the cost of sales of this business line.

 

The following table shows the geographical breakdown of our revenues for 2018, 2017 and 2016:

 

Revenues breakdown  2018   2017   2016 
North America    25%   19%   24%
Europe    16%   21%   14%
Central and South America (excluding Chile)    11%   7%   9%
Asia and Others    48%   53%   54%

 

We sell our industrial chemical products mainly through our own worldwide network of representative offices and through our sales and distribution affiliates. We maintain inventories of our different grades of sodium nitrate and potassium nitrate products at our facilities in Europe, North America, South Africa, Asia and South America to achieve prompt deliveries to customers. Our Research and Development department, together with our foreign affiliates, provides technical support to our customers and continuously works with them to develop new products or applications for our products.

 

Industrial Chemicals: Competition

 

We believe we are one of the leading producers of sodium nitrate and potassium nitrate for industrial uses. In the case of industrial sodium nitrate, we estimate that our sales represented close to 41% of world demand in 2018 (excluding internal demand for China and India, for which we believe reliable estimates are not available). Our competitors are mainly based in Europe and Asia, producing sodium nitrate as a by-product of other production processes. In refined grade sodium nitrate, BASF AG (“BASF”), a German corporation and several producers in China and Eastern Europe are highly competitive in the European and Asian markets. Our industrial sodium nitrate products also compete indirectly with substitute chemicals, including sodium carbonate, sodium sulfate, calcium nitrate and ammonium nitrate, which may be used in certain applications instead of sodium nitrate and are available from a large number of producers worldwide.

 

Our main competitor in the industrial potassium nitrate business is Haifa, which we estimate had a market share of 19%. We estimate that our market share was approximately 34% for 2018.

 

Producers compete in the market for industrial sodium and potassium nitrate based on reliability, product quality, price and customer service. We believe that we are a low-cost producer of both products and are able to produce high quality products.

 

 42 

 

 

In the industrial potassium chloride market, we are a relatively small producer, mainly supplying regional needs.

 

In the solar salts business, we believe we have been the market leader since we started selling to commercial projects in 2007. Our competitors include Haifa, which is a potassium nitrate supplier, and BASF, which is a sodium nitrate supplier.

 

Other Products

 

A large part of our other revenue is related to fertilizer trading, usually commodities. These fertilizers are traded in large volumes worldwide. We have developed a trade, supply and inventory management business that allows us to respond quickly and effectively to the changing fertilizer market in which we operate and profit on these trades.

 

Production Process

 

Our integrated production process can be classified according to our natural resources:

 

·caliche ore deposits, which contain nitrates, iodine and potassium; and
·brines from the Salar de Atacama, which contain potassium, lithium, sulfate, boron and magnesium.

 

Caliche Ore Deposits

 

Caliche ore deposits are located in northern Chile. During 2018, our mining operations concentrated in the first Region where we mainly worked in the mining sector Tente en el Aire and in the mining sector Nueva Victoria Oeste. Mining operations at the Pampa Blanca site, the El Toco mine (which is part of the María Elena site) and the Pedro de Valdivia site were suspended in March 2010, November 2013 and November 2015, respectively, in an effort to optimize our production facilities with lower production costs.

 

Caliche ore is found under a layer of barren overburden in seams with variable thickness from twenty centimeters to four meters, and with the overburden varying in thickness between half a meter and two meters.

 

Before proper mining begins, the exploration stage is carried out, including complete geological reconnaissance, sampling and drilling caliche ore to determine the quality and characteristics of each deposit. Drill-hole samples are properly identified and tested at our chemical laboratories. With the exploration information on a closed grid pattern of drill holes, the ore evaluation stage provides information for mine planning purposes. Mine planning is done on a long-term basis (ten years), medium-term basis (three years) and short-term basis (one year). Once all of this information has been compiled, detailed planning for the exploitation of the mine takes place.

 

The mining process generally begins with bulldozers first breaking and then removing the overburden in the mining area. This process is followed by an inspection and review of the drill holes before production drilling and blasting occurs to break the caliche seams. Front-end loaders load the ore onto off-road trucks, which take it to the leaching heaps to be processed.

 

During 2018, SQM continued running various tests with a continuous mining equipment replacing the drilling and blasting process and obtaining a smaller ore size (under 6 inches) that allows a better metallurgical recovery. The tests will continue into 2019.

 

 43 

 

 

The run of mine ore is loaded in heaps and leached with water to produce concentrated solutions containing iodine, nitrate and potassium. These solutions are then sent to plants where iodine is extracted through both solvent-extraction and blow out processes. The remaining solutions are subsequently sent to solar evaporation ponds where the solutions are evaporated and salts rich in nitrate and potassium are produced. These concentrated salts are then sent to Coya Sur where they are used to produce potassium nitrate.

 

During 2018, the Pedro de Valdivia site generated solutions produced by leaching the mine tailings. These solutions are treated at the iodide plant at Pedro de Valdivia. After iodide is obtained, the remaining solutions, which are rich in nitrate and potassium, are sent to the solar evaporation ponds at Coya Sur in order to be used in the production of potassium nitrate.

 

Caliche Ore-Derived Products

 

Caliche ore-derived products are: sodium nitrate, potassium nitrate, sodium potassium nitrate and iodine.

 

Sodium Nitrate

 

During 2018, sodium nitrate for both agricultural and industrial applications was produced by inventory generated at the Pedro de Valdivia facility and subsequently processed at the Coya Sur plants. The production at the Pedro de Valdivia facility, until November 2015, generated approximately 700,000 tons of inventory. As of December 2018, we had approximately 160,000 tons of crystallized sodium nitrate in inventory, which will provide us with enough sodium nitrate to produce finished nitrates for approximately one year. For subsequent production, we are developing the project of adapting the available crystallization plants at Coya Sur to be able to produce sodium nitrate using nitrate salts from our Nueva Victoria facility, which should be completed in 2019.

 

Crystallized sodium nitrate is an intermediate product that is subsequently processed further at the Coya Sur production plants to produce sodium nitrate, potassium nitrate and sodium potassium nitrate in different chemical and physical forms, including crystallized and prilled products. Finally, the products are transported by truck to our port facilities in Tocopilla for shipping to customers and distributors worldwide.

 

Potassium Nitrate

 

Potassium nitrate is produced at our Coya Sur facility using a production process developed in-house. The brines generated by the leaching process at Pedro de Valdivia are pumped to Coya Sur’s solar evaporation ponds for a nitrate concentration process. After the nitrate concentration process, the brine is pumped to a conversion plant where potassium salts from the Salar de Atacama and nitrate and potassium salts produced at Nueva Victoria or Coya Sur, are added. A chemical reaction begins, transforming sodium nitrate into potassium nitrate and discarding formed sodium chloride. This brine is pumped to a crystallization plant, which crystallizes the potassium nitrate by cooling it at atmospheric pressure, and separating it from the liquid by centrifuge.

 

Our current potassium nitrate production capacity at Coya Sur is approximately 1,300,000 metric tons per year. Since the end of 2013, we have been working with external advisors to implement the “lean” method of manufacturing in our potassium nitrate plants. We achieved complete implementation of this method of manufacturing during 2015. The improvements we have achieved have enabled us to reduce costs, improve energy consumption, increase the production of potassium nitrate and decrease our accident rates. This method is based on increasing the involvement of our workers in decision-making, and strengthening the leadership of our production supervisors. The goal is to identify opportunities to improve the production process and reduce waste on an ongoing basis.

 

During 2018, new operational improvements have been achieved by significantly integrating the production process of the Coya Sur facilities, allowing new increases in production capacity without major investments and improving the use of raw materials from the Salar de Atacama and Nueva Victoria.

 

 44 

 

 

Sodium Potassium Nitrate

 

Sodium potassium nitrate is a mixture of approximately two parts sodium nitrate per one part potassium nitrate. We produce sodium potassium nitrate at our Coya Sur prilling facilities using standard, non-patented production methods we have developed. Crystallized sodium nitrate is supplied together with the crystallized potassium nitrate to the prilling plant where it is mixed producing sodium potassium nitrate, which is then melted and prilled. The prilled sodium potassium nitrate is transported to Tocopilla for bulk shipment to customers.

 

The production process for sodium potassium nitrate is basically the same as that for sodium nitrate and potassium nitrate. With certain production restraints and following market conditions, we may supply sodium nitrate, potassium nitrate or sodium potassium nitrate, either in prilled or crystallized form.

 

The sodium nitrate and potassium nitrate produced at Coya Sur are transported to Tocopilla for shipping and delivery to customers and distributors. All potassium nitrate produced in crystallized or prilled form at Coya Sur has been certified by TÜV-Rheiland under the quality standard ISO 9001:2008.

 

Iodine and Iodine Derivatives

 

During 2018, we produced iodine at our facilities at Nueva Victoria (including the Iris facility) and Pedro de Valdivia. Iodine is extracted from solutions produced by leaching caliche ore.

 

As in the case of nitrates, the process of extracting iodine from the caliche ore is well established, but variations in the iodine and other chemical contents of the treated ore and other operating parameters require a high level of know-how to manage the process effectively and efficiently.

 

The solutions resulting from the leaching of caliche carry iodine in iodate form. Part of the iodate solution is reduced to iodide using sulfur dioxide, which is produced by combusting (burning) sulfur. The resulting iodide is combined with the rest of the untreated iodate solution to release elemental iodine in low concentrations. The iodine is then extracted from the aqueous solutions and concentrated in iodide form using a solvent extraction and stripping plant in the Pedro de Valdivia and Nueva Victoria facilities and using a blow out plant in Iris. The concentrated iodide is oxidized to metallic iodine, which is then refined through a smelting process and prilled. We have obtained patents in the United States and Chile (Chilean patent number 47,080) for our iodine prilling process.

 

Prilled iodine is tested for quality control purposes, using international standard procedures that we have implemented. It is then packed in 20 to 50 kilogram drums or 350 to 700 kilogram maxibags and transported by truck to Antofagasta, Mejillones, or Iquique for export. Our iodine and iodine derivatives production facilities have qualified under the ISO-9001:2008 program, providing third-party certification—by TÜV-Rheiland—of the quality management system. The last recertification process was approved in February 2011. Iodine from the Iris plant was certified under ISO-9001:2008 in April 2012.

 

Our total iodine production in 2018 was 11,255 metric tons: 8,842 metric tons from Nueva Victoria, 1,368 metric tons from Iris, and 1,046 metric tons from Pedro de Valdivia. Nueva Victoria is also equipped to toll iodine from iodide delivered from our other facilities. We have the flexibility to adjust our production according to market conditions. Following the production facility restructuring at Pedro de Valdivia and Nueva Victoria, along with the ramp-up of our new iodide plant in Nueva Victoria, our total current effective production capacity at our iodine production plants is approximately 14,000 metric tons per year

 

We use a portion of the iodine we produce to manufacture inorganic iodine derivatives, which are intermediate products used for manufacturing agricultural and nutritional applications, at facilities located near Santiago, Chile. We also produce inorganic and organic iodine derivative products together with Ajay, which purchases iodine from us. In the past, we have primarily sold our iodine derivative products in South America, Africa and Asia, while Ajay and its affiliates have primarily sold their iodine derivative products in North America and Europe.

 

 45 

 

 

In September 2010, CONAMA, currently known as the Environmental Evaluation Service, approved the environmental study of our Pampa Hermosa project in the Tarapacá Region of Chile. This environmental permit allows for an increase in the production capacity of our Nueva Victoria operations to 11,000 metric tons of iodine per year and to produce up to 1.2 million metric tons of crystallized nitrates, mine up to 37 million metric tons of caliche per year and use new water rights of up to 666.2 liters per second. In Iris, we are approved for 2,000 metric tons of iodine production per year, with an annual extraction of caliche ore up to 6.48 million metric tons per year. In recent years, we have made investments in order to increase the water capacity in the Nueva Victoria operations from two water sources approved by the environmental study of Pampa Hermosa, expand the capacity of solar evaporation ponds, and implement new areas of mining and collection of solutions. Our current production capacity at Nueva Victoria is approximately 12,500 metric tons per year of iodine (including the Iris operations) and 900,000 metric tons per year of nitrates. Additional expansions may be implemented from time to time in the future, depending on market conditions.

 

Salar de Atacama Brine Deposits

 

The Salar de Atacama, located approximately 250 kilometers east of Antofagasta, is a salt-encrusted depression in the Atacama Desert, within which lies an underground deposit of brines contained in porous sodium chloride rock fed by an underground inflow from the Andes mountains. Brines are pumped from depths of 1.5 to 60 meters below surface, through a field of wells that are located in the Salar de Atacama, distributed in areas authorized for exploitation, and which contain relatively high concentrations of potassium, lithium, sulfates, boron and other minerals.

 

The brines are estimated to cover a surface of approximately 2,800 square kilometers and contain commercially exploitable deposits of potassium, lithium, sulfates and boron. Concentrations vary at different locations throughout the Salar de Atacama. Our mining exploitation rights to the Salar de Atacama are pursuant to the Lease Agreement, which expires in 2030. The Lease Agreement, as amended in January 2019 by the Corfo Arbitration Agreement, permits the CCHEN to establish a total accumulated production and sales limit of up to 349,553 metric tons of lithium metallic equivalent (1,860,670 tons of lithium carbonate equivalent), which is in addition to the approximately 64,816 metric tons of lithium metallic equivalent (345,015 tons of lithium carbonate equivalent) remaining from the originally authorized amount. See “Item 3.D. Risk Factors” and “Item 8.A.7 Legal Proceedings.”

 

For the year ended December 31, 2018, revenues related to products originating from the Salar de Atacama represented 44% of our consolidated revenues, consisting of revenues from our potassium business line and our lithium and derivatives business line for the period. All of our products originating from the Salar de Atacama are derived from our extraction operations under the Lease Agreement. As of December 31, 2018, only 12 years remain on the term of the Lease Agreement.

 

Products Derived from the Salar de Atacama Brines

 

The products derived from the Salar de Atacama brines are: potassium chloride, potassium sulfate, potassium salts, lithium carbonate, lithium hydroxide, lithium chloride, boric acid and bischofite (magnesium chloride).

 

Potassium Chloride

 

We use potassium chloride in the production of potassium nitrate. Production of our own supplies of potassium chloride provides us with substantial raw material cost savings. We also sell potassium chloride to third parties, primarily as a commodity fertilizer.

 

 46 

 

 

In order to produce potassium chloride, brines from the Salar de Atacama are pumped to solar evaporation ponds. Evaporation of the water contained in the brine, results in a crystallized mixture of salts with various content levels of potassium, sodium and magnesium. In the first stage of the precipitation, sodium chloride salts are removed; these salts are not used in the production process of other products. After further evaporation, the sodium and potassium salts are harvested and sent for treatment at one of the wet potassium chloride plants where potassium chloride is separated by a grinding, flotation, and filtering process. In the final evaporation stage, salts containing magnesium are harvested and eventually can be treated at one of the cold leach plants where magnesium is removed. Potassium chloride is transported approximately 300 kilometers to our Coya Sur facilities via a dedicated truck transport system, where it is used in the production of potassium nitrate. We sell potassium chloride produced at the Salar de Atacama in excess of our needs to third parties. All of our potassium-related plants in the Salar de Atacama currently have a nominal production capacity in excess of up to 2.6 million metric tons per year. Actual production capacity depends on volume, metallurgical recovery rates and quality of the mining resources pumped from the Salar de Atacama. 

 

The by-products of the potassium chloride production process are (i) solutions remaining after removal of the potassium chloride, which are used to produce lithium carbonate as described below, with the excess amount not required for lithium carbonate production being reinjected into the Salar de Atacama; (ii) sodium chloride, which is similar to the surface material of the Salar de Atacama and is deposited at sites near the production facility and (iii) other salts containing magnesium chloride.

 

Lithium Carbonate and Lithium Chloride

 

After the production of potassium chloride, a portion of the solutions remaining is sent to additional solar concentration ponds adjacent to the potassium concentration ponds. At this stage, the solution is concentrated and purified by precipitation to remove impurities it may still contain, including calcium, sulfate, potassium, sodium and magnesium. Next is the process of concentration and purification of the remaining concentrated solution of lithium chloride, which is transported by truck to the Salar del Carmen production facility located near Antofagasta, approximately 230 kilometers from the Salar de Atacama. At this plant, the solution is further purified and treated with sodium carbonate to produce lithium carbonate, which is dried and then, if necessary, compacted and finally packaged for shipment. The production capacity of our lithium carbonate facility at the end of 2018, following an expansion project was 70,000 metric tons per year. We are now beginning the preparation for the further expansion to 180,000 metric tons per year in the future.

 

Future production will depend on the actual volumes and quality of the lithium solutions sent by the Salar de Atacama operations, as well as prevailing market conditions. Our future production will also be subject to the extraction limit described in the Lease Agreement mentioned above. See “—Salar de Atacama Brine Deposits” and “Item 8.A.7 Legal Proceedings.”

 

Our lithium carbonate production quality assurance program has been certified by TÜV-Rheiland under ISO 9001 since 2005 and specifically under ISO 9001:2015 since September 2018.

 

Lithium Hydroxide

 

Lithium carbonate is sold to customers, and we also use it as a raw material for our lithium hydroxide production, which started operations at the end of 2005. We currently have two lithium hydroxide plants, one of which entered into operations at the end of 2018, and have a total production capacity of 13,500 metric tons per year. These plants are located in the Salar del Carmen, adjacent to our lithium carbonate operations. In the production process, lithium carbonate is reacted with a lime solution to produce lithium hydroxide brine and calcium carbonate salt, which is filtered and piled in reservoirs. The lithium hydroxide solution is evaporated in a multiple effect evaporator and crystallized to produce the lithium hydroxide, which is filtered, dried and packaged for shipment to customers.

 

 47 

 

 

Our lithium hydroxide production quality assurance program has been certified by TÜV-Rheiland under ISO 9001 since 2007 and specifically under ISO 9001:2015 since September 2018.

 

Potassium Sulfate and Boric Acid

 

Approximately 12 kilometers northeast of the potassium chloride facilities at the Salar de Atacama, we use the brines from the Salar de Atacama to produce potassium sulfate, potassium chloride (as a by-product of the potassium sulfate process) and, depending on market conditions, boric acid. The plant is located in an area of the Salar de Atacama where high sulfate and potassium concentrations are found in the brines to produce potassium sulfate. The brine is pumped to solar evaporation ponds, where sodium chloride salts are precipitated, harvested and put into piles. After further evaporation, the sulfate and potassium salts precipitate in different concentrations and are harvested and sent for processing to the potassium sulfate plant. Potassium sulfate is produced using flotation, concentration and reaction processes, after which it is crystallized, filtered, dried, classified and packaged for shipment.

 

Production capacity for the potassium sulfate plant is approximately 340,000 metric tons per year, of which approximately 95,000 metric tons correspond to potassium chloride obtained as a byproduct of the potassium sulfate process. This capacity is part of the total nominal plant capacity of 2.6 million metric tons per year. In our dual plant complex, we may switch, to some extent, between potassium chloride and potassium sulfate production. Part of the pond system in this area is also used to process potassium chloride brines extracted from the low sulfate concentration areas found in the Salar de Atacama. Depending on the conditions for the optimization of the deposit operation and/or market conditions, potassium sulfate production can be modified to produce potassium chloride.

 

The principal by-products of the production of potassium sulfate are: (i) non-commercial sodium chloride, which is deposited at sites near the production facility and (ii) remaining solutions, which are re-injected into the Salar de Atacama or returned to the evaporation ponds. The principal by-products of the boric acid production process are remaining solutions that are treated with sodium carbonate to neutralize acidity and then are reinjected into the Salar de Atacama.

 

Raw Materials

 

The main raw material that we require in the production of nitrate and iodine is caliche ore, which is obtained from our surface mines. The main raw material in the production of potassium chloride, lithium carbonate and potassium sulfate is the brine extracted from our operations at the Salar de Atacama.

 

Other important raw materials are sodium carbonate (used for lithium carbonate production and for the neutralization of iodine solutions), sulfuric acid, kerosene, anti-caking and anti-dust agents, ammonium nitrate (used for the preparation of explosives in the mining operations), woven bags for packaging our final products, electricity acquired from electric utilities companies, and liquefied natural gas and fuel oil for heat generation. Our raw material costs (excluding caliche ore and salar brines and including energy) represented approximately 14% of our cost of sales in 2018.

 

We have been connected to the northern power grid in Chile, which currently supplies electricity to most cities and industrial facilities in northern Chile, since April 2000. We have several electricity supply agreements signed with major producers in Chile, which are within the contract terms. Our electricity needs are primarily covered by the Electrical Energy Supply Agreement that we entered into with AES Gener S.A. on December 31, 2012. Pursuant to the terms of the Electrical Energy Supply Agreement, we are required to purchase an amount of electricity that exceeds the amount that we estimate we will need for our operations. The excess amount is sold at marginal cost, which could result in a material loss for us.

 

For the supply of liquefied natural gas, in 2013 and 2014 we had a contract with Solgas. For 2015, 2016 2017 and 2018, we executed supply contracts with Enel Chile S.A. as with Solgas, primarily to serve our operations at the Salar del Carmen and Coya Sur.

 

 48 

 

 

We obtain ammonium nitrate, sulfuric acid, kerosene and soda ash from several large suppliers, mainly in Chile and the United States, under long-term contracts or general agreements, some of which contain provisions for annual revisions of prices, quantities and deliveries. Diesel fuel is obtained under contracts that provide fuel at international market prices.

 

We believe that all of our contracts and agreements with third-party suppliers with respect to our main raw materials contain standard and customary commercial terms and conditions.

 

Water Supply

 

We hold water rights for the supply of surface and subterranean water near our production facilities. The main sources of water for our nitrate and iodine facilities at Pedro de Valdivia, María Elena and Coya Sur are the Loa and San Salvador rivers, which run near our production facilities. Water for our Nueva Victoria and Salar de Atacama facilities is obtained from wells near the production facilities. In addition, we buy water from third parties for our production processes at the Salar del Carmen lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide plants, and we also purchase potable water from local utility companies. We have not experienced significant difficulties obtaining the necessary water to conduct our operations.

 

Government Regulations

 

Regulations in Chile Generally

 

We are subject to the full range of government regulations and supervision generally applicable to companies engaged in business in Chile, including labor laws, social security laws, public health laws, consumer protection laws, tax laws, environmental laws, free competition laws, and securities laws. These include regulations to ensure sanitary and safety conditions in manufacturing plants.

 

We conduct our mining operations pursuant to judicial exploration concessions and exploitation concessions granted pursuant to applicable Chilean law. Exploitation concessions essentially grant a perpetual right (with the exception of the Salar de Atacama rights, which have been leased to us until 2030) to conduct mining operations in the areas covered by such concessions, provided that annual concession fees are paid. Exploration concessions permit us to explore for mineral resources on the land covered thereby for a specified period of time, and to subsequently request a corresponding exploitation concession.

 

Under Law No. 16,319 that created the CCHEN, we have an obligation to the CCHEN regarding the exploitation and sale of lithium from the Salar de Atacama, which prohibits the use of lithium for nuclear fusion. In addition, CCHEN has imposed quotas that limit the total tonnage of lithium authorized to be sold.

 

We also hold water use rights granted by the respective administrative authorities and which enable us to have a supply of water from rivers or wells near our production facilities sufficient to meet our current operating requirements. See “Item 3.D. Risk Factors—Risks Relating to Chile—Changes in water rights laws and other regulations could affect our operating costs.” The Water Code and related regulations are subject to change, which could have a material adverse impact on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

 

We operate port facilities at Tocopilla, Chile for the shipment of products and the delivery of raw materials in conformity with maritime concessions, which have been granted by the respective administrative authority. These concessions are normally renewable on application, provided that such facilities are used as authorized and annual concession fees are paid.

 

 49 

 

 

In 2005, Law No. 20,026, known as the Law to Establish a Specific Tax on Mining Activity” (Ley que Establece un Impuesto Específico a la Actividad Minera or the “Royalty Law”), established a royalty tax to be applied to mining activities developed in Chile. In 2010, modifications were made to the law and taxes were increased.

 

In 2012, new modifications to the tax laws were enacted to set the corporate tax rate at 20% for companies like SQM.

 

On September 29, 2014, Law No. 20,780 was published (the “Tax Reform”), introducing significant changes to the Chilean taxation system and strengthening the powers of the SII to control and prevent tax avoidance. Subsequently, on February 8, 2016, Law No. 20,899 that simplifies the income tax system and modifies other legal tax provisions was published. As a result of these reforms, open stock corporations, like SQM, are subject to the partially integrated shareholder tax regime (sistema parcialmente integrado). The corporate tax rate applicable to us increased gradually from 20% to 25.5% in 2017, and to the maximum rate of 27% in 2018.

 

The Tax Reform tax increase prompted a US$52.3 million increase in our deferred tax liabilities as of December 31, 2014. In accordance with IAS 12, the effects generated by the change in the income tax rate approved by the Tax Reform on income and deferred taxes were applied to the income statement. For purposes of the Company’s statutory consolidated financial statements filed with the CMF, in accordance with the instructions issued by the CMF in its circular 856 of October 17, 2014, the effects generated by the change in the income tax rate were accounted for as retained earnings. The amount charged to equity as of December 31, 2014 was US$52.3 million, thereby giving rise to a difference of US$52.3 million in profit for the year and income tax expense as presented in the Company’s 2014 audited consolidated financial statements in its annual report on Form 20-F compared with profit and income tax expense as presented in the Company’s 2014 statutory consolidated financial statements filed with the CMF.

 

The Chilean government may again decide to levy additional taxes on mining companies or other corporations in Chile, and such taxes could have a material adverse impact on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

 

We are also subject to the Chilean Labor Code and the Subcontracting Law, which are overseen by the Labor Authority (Dirección del Trabajo), the National Geology and Mining Service (Servicio Nacional de Geología y Minería or “Sernageomin”), and the National Health Service. Recent changes to these laws and their application may have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations. See “Item 3.D. Risk Factors—Risks Relating to Our Business—We are exposed to labor strikes and labor liabilities that could impact our production levels and costs.”

 

In addition, we are subject to Law No. 20,393, which establishes criminal liability for legal entities, for the crimes of (a) asset laundering, (b) financing terrorism and (c) bribery. Potential sanctions for violations under this law could include (i) fines, (ii) loss of certain governmental benefits during a given period, (iii) a temporary or permanent bar against the corporation executing contracts with governmental entities, and (iv) dissolution of corporation.

 

Finally, we are governed by the Securities Law and Law No. 18,046 on Corporations (Ley de Sociedades Anónimas or the “Chilean Corporations Act”), which regulates corporate governance. Specifically, the Chilean Corporations Act regulates, among other things, independent director requirements, disclosure obligations to the general public and to the CMF, as well as regulations relating to the use of inside information, the independence of external auditors, and procedures for the analysis of transactions with related parties. See “Item 6.C. Board Practices” and “Item 7.B. Related Party Transactions.”

 

There are currently no material legal or administrative proceedings pending against us except as discussed under “Item 8.A.7 Legal Proceedings”, in Note 22.1 to our Consolidated Financial Statements and below under “Safety, Health and Environmental Regulations in Chile.”

 

 50 

 

 

Safety, Health and Environmental Regulations in Chile

 

Our operations in Chile are subject to both national and local regulations related to safety, health and environmental protection. In Chile, the main regulations on these matters that are applicable to us are the Mine Health and Safety Act of 1989 (Reglamento de Seguridad Minera or the “Mine Health and Safety Act”), the Health Code (Código Sanitario), the Health and Basic Conditions Act of 1999 (Reglamento sobre Condiciones Sanitarias y Ambientales Básicas en los Lugares de Trabajo or the “Health and Basic Conditions Act”), the Subcontracting Law and the Environmental Law of 1994, amended in 2010 (Ley sobre Bases Generales del Medio Ambiente or the “Environmental Law”).

 

Health and safety at work are fundamental aspects in the management of mining operations, which is why we have made constant efforts to maintain good health and safety conditions for the people working at our mining sites and facilities. In addition to the role played by us in this important matter, the Chilean government has a regulatory role, enacting and enforcing regulations in order to protect and ensure the health and safety of workers. The Chilean government, acting through the Ministry of Health and the Sernageomin, performs health and safety inspections at the mining sites and oversees mining projects, among other tasks, and it has exclusive powers to enforce standards related to environmental conditions and the health and safety of the people performing activities related to mining.

 

The Mine Health and Safety Act protects workers and nearby communities against health and safety hazards, and it provides for enforcement of the law where compliance has not been achieved. Our Internal Mining Standards (Reglamentos Internos Mineros) establish our obligation to maintain a workplace where safety and health risks are managed appropriately. We are subject to the general provisions of the Health and Basic Conditions Act, our own internal standards and the provisions of the Mine Health and Safety Act. In the event of non-compliance, the Ministry of Health and particularly the Sernageomin are entitled to use their enforcement powers to ensure compliance with the law.

 

In November 2011, the Ministry of Mining enacted Law No. 20,551 that Regulates the Closure of Mining Sites and Facilities (Ley que Regula el Cierre de Faenas e Instalaciones Mineras). This statute entered in force in November 2012 and required all mining sites to present or update their closure plans as of November 2014. SQM has fulfilled this requirement for all of its mining sites and facilities. The main requirements of the law are related to disclosures to the Sernageomin regarding decommissioning plans for each mining site and its facilities, along with the estimated cost to implement such plans. The mining site closure plans are approved by Sernageomin and the corresponding financial assurances are subject to approval by the CMF. In both cases, SQM has received the requisite approvals.

 

The new and modified Chilean Environmental Law defines the Ministry of the Environment as the governmental agency responsible for coordinating and supervising environmental issues. The Environmental Assessment Service is responsible for reviewing environmental assessments of new projects or significant modifications of existing ones, and the decision to grant or reject environmental permits rests with the Environmental Assessment Commission. On the other hand, the Superintendence for the Environment is responsible for supervising environmental performance during the construction, operation and closure of the projects that have been evaluated for environmental permits, and it is also responsible for enforcing compliance with prevention and atmospheric decontamination plans. The Environmental Law also promotes citizen participation in project evaluation and implementation, providing more opportunities for observations or objections to be made during the environmental evaluation process. Annually, the Superintendence for the Environment audits a sample of approved projects to verify compliance with the environmental permits, and it may pursue fines or sanctions if applicable, which can be challenged in the Environmental Court.

 

 51 

 

 

We continuously monitor the impact of our operations on the environment and on the health of our employees and other persons who may be affected by such operations. We have made modifications to our facilities in an effort to eliminate any adverse impacts. Also, over time, new environmental standards and regulations have been enacted, which have required minor adjustments or modifications of our operations. We anticipate that additional laws and regulations will be enacted over time with respect to environmental matters. There can be no assurance that future legislative or regulatory developments will not impose new restrictions on our operations. We are committed to continuously improving our environmental performance through our Environmental Management System (“EMS”), voluntary evaluations, such as Ecovadis, and international certifications, such as the Responsible Conduct certification from the Chilean Industrial Chemicals Association, which applies to our operations at Nueva Victoria, and the Protect&Sustain certification from the International Fertilizer Association, which applies to our operations at Coya Sur, the Salar de Atacama, Tocopilla, Antofagasta and Santiago.

 

We have submitted and will continue to submit several environmental impact assessment studies related to our projects to the governmental authorities. We require the authorization of these submissions in order to maintain and to increase our production capacity.

 

International Regulations

 

We are subject to complex regulatory requirements in the various jurisdictions in which we operate, including the following:

 

At the end of 2018, the European Parliament, the Council of Member States of the European Union and the European Commission agreed to a new regulation for fertilizers. The new European regulation reduces the maximum content limit of perchlorates in inorganic fertilizer with macronutrients, such as the potassium nitrate sold by us, to 0.005%. In addition to this limit, the regulation incorporates maximum levels of other pollutants, such as heavy metals, and establishes a new procedure – called a conformity assessment – to be undertaken prior to the commercialization of fertilizers in Europe. The fertilizers that we sell contain less than 0.005% of perchlorate; however, the Food Chain Security unit of the General Health and Consumer Affairs Council initiated a revision of the perchlorate limits in food that have been in force and effect since June 2015, following the European Food Safety Authority’s (“EFSA”) evaluation of human exposure to perchlorate in food and in drinkable water. We expect a new definition of the new limits of perchlorates in food in the near term.

 

Under the requirements of Regulation (EC) No. 1907/2006, the records of potassium nitrate and sodium nitrate were updated according to the latest format IUCLID. In turn, during the year 2018, ten new registrations were made corresponding to the substances sold by our new subsidiary SQM International. The strategy for the implementation of the requirements of the Article 45 of Regulation (EC) No. 1272/2008 was defined, under which the Toxicological Information Centers must be informed about the composition of hazardous mixtures prior to their commercialization. For this implementation, an internal numerical code was developed for the identification of all the fertilizer mixtures sold by SQM Europe and SQM Iberian.

 

In August 2017, United States Environmental Protection Agency (“US-EPA”) published the Inventory Notification (Active-Inactive) Requirements regulation under the Toxic Substances Control Act which established that as of February 7, 2018, SQM North America Corp. must provide information with respect to all chemical substances imported into the United States during 2006-2016. In January 2018, this notification was made, and all substances sold are listed as active, which has been reported to customers who have requested it. In the United States, SQM North America re-certified before the Organic Materials Review Institute all products sold by it in this market.

 

In South Korea, SQM registered sodium nitrate under the K-REACH standard, using an Exclusive Representative to facilitate the regulatory compliance of our customers in this market. At the end of December 2018, an amendment to the K-REACH regulation was passed, pursuant to which all chemical substances are subject to registration. SQM is evaluating the regulatory change, which applies to four SQM products currently sold in South Korea, establishing the necessary alliances to facilitate compliance with this new requirement, which considers as a first stage a pre-notification in June 2019.

 

 52 

 

 

On August 8, 2018, Normative Instruction No. 39 became effective in Brazil, establishing definitions, requirements, specifications, guarantees, product registrations, authorizations, packaging, fertilizer product labels, mineral fertilizer tolerances, among others, repealing Normative Instruction No. 46 of 2016 and defining new requirements for exports to Brazil.

 

During 2018, the Ecuadorian Agricultural Quality Assurance Agency (AGROCALIDAD) made two modifications (resolutions 031 of March 2018 and 0218 of December 2018) to the general regulations for the registration and control of fertilizers. As a result of both modifications, SQM Ecuador had to adapt its fertilizer registration and labeling processes.

 

The opening of SQM Colombia during 2018 opened a new challenge for the processing of new fertilizer registrations. Currently, eight products are registered and work is being done on the definition of all the new products to be registered.

 

On October 9, 2018, NOM-018-STPS-2015 on the Harmonized System for the identification and communication of hazards and risks by hazardous chemical substances in the workplace came into effect in Mexico. SQM Mexico has implemented this regulation in all its productive tasks, in the Safety Data Sheets and in the labeling of applicable products.

 

Research and Development, Patents and Licenses

 

See “Item 5.C. Research and Development, Patents and Licenses.”

 

4.C.   Organizational Structure

 

All of our principal operating subsidiaries are essentially wholly-owned, except for SQMC, which is approximately 61% owned by us and whose shares are listed and traded on the Santiago Stock Exchange, and Ajay SQM Chile S.A., which is 51% owned by us. The following is a summary of our main subsidiaries as of December 31, 2018. For a list of all our consolidated subsidiaries, see Note 2.5 to our Consolidated Financial Statements.

 

 53 

 

 

Principal subsidiaries  Activity  Country of
Incorporation
  SQM Beneficial
Ownership Interest
(Direct/Indirect)
 
SQM Nitrates S.A.  Extracts and sells caliche ore to subsidiaries and affiliates of SQM  Chile   100%
SQM Industrial S.A.  Produces and markets SQM’s products directly and through other subsidiaries and affiliates of SQM  Chile   100%
SQM Salar S.A.  Exploits the Salar de Atacama to produce and market SQM’s products directly and through other subsidiaries and affiliates of SQM  Chile   100%
SQM Potasios S.A.  Produces and markets SQM’s products directly and through other subsidiaries and affiliates of SQM  Chile   100%
Servicios Integrates de Transitos y Transferencias S.A. (SIT)  Owns and operates a rail transport system and also owns and operates the Tocopilla port facilities  Chile   100%
Soquimich Comercial S.A.  Markets SQM’s specialty plant nutrition products domestically and imports fertilizers for resale in Chile  Chile   61%
Ajay-SQM Chile S.A.  Produces and markets SQM’s iodine and iodine derivatives  Chile   51%
Sales and distribution subsidiaries in the United States, Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, China, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, South Africa, Spain, and other locations.  Market SQM’s products throughout the world  Various     

 

4.D.   Property, Plant and Equipment

 

We carry out our operations through the use of mining rights, production facilities and transportation and storage facilities. Discussion of our mining rights is organized below according to the geographic location of our mining operations. Our caliche ore mining interests are located throughout the valley of the Tarapacá and Antofagasta regions of northern Chile (in a part of the country known as “el Norte Grande”). From caliche ore, we produce products based on nitrates and iodine, and caliche also contains concentrations of potassium. Our mining interests in the brine deposits of the Salar de Atacama are found within the Atacama Desert, in the eastern region of el Norte Grande. From these brines we produce products based on potassium, sulfate, lithium and boron.

 

 54 

 

 

The map below shows the location of our principal mining operations and the exploitation and exploration mining concessions that have been granted to us, as well as the mining properties that we lease from Corfo:

 

 

 55 

 

 

Mining Concessions

 

Mining Concessions for the Exploration and Exploitation of Caliche Ore Mining Resources

 

We hold our mining rights pursuant to mining concessions for exploration and exploitation of mining resources that have been granted pursuant to applicable law in Chile:

 

(1)“Mining Exploitation Concessions”: entitle us to use the land in order to exploit the mineral resources contained therein on a perpetual basis, subject to annual payments to the Chilean government; and

 

(2)“Mining Exploration Concessions”: entitle us to use the land in order to explore for and verify the existence of mineral resources for a period of two years, at the expiration of which the concession may be extended one time only for two additional years, if the area covered by the concession is reduced by half. We may alternatively request an exploitation concession in respect of the area covered by the original exploration concession, which must be made within the timeframe established by the original exploration concession.

 

A Mining Exploration Concession is generally obtained for purposes of evaluating the mineral resources in a defined area. If the holder of the Mining Exploration Concession determines that the area does not contain commercially exploitable mineral resources, the Mining Exploration Concession is usually allowed to lapse. An application also can be made for a Mining Exploitation Concession without first having obtained a Mining Exploration Concession for the area involved.

 

As of December 31, 2018, the surface area covered by Mining Exploitation Concessions that have been granted in relation to the caliche resources of our mining sites is approximately 573,599 hectares. In addition, as of December 31, 2018, the surface area covered by Mining Exploration Concessions in relation to the caliche resources of our mining sites is approximately 1,700 hectares. We have not requested additional mining rights.

 

Mining Concessions for the Exploitation of Brines at the Salar de Atacama

 

As of December 31, 2018, our subsidiary SQM Salar held exclusive rights to exploit the mineral resources in an area covering approximately 140,000 hectares of land in the Salar de Atacama in northern Chile, of which SQM Salar is only entitled to exploit the mineral resources in 81,920 hectares. These rights are owned by Corfo and leased to SQM Salar pursuant to the Lease Agreement. Corfo cannot unilaterally amend the Lease Agreement, and the rights to exploit the resources cannot be transferred. The Lease Agreement establishes that SQM Salar is responsible for making quarterly lease payments to Corfo according to specified percentages of the value of production of minerals extracted from the Salar de Atacama brines, maintaining Corfo’s rights over the Mining Exploitation Concessions and making annual payments to the Chilean government for such concession rights. The Lease Agreement was entered into in 1993 and expires on December 31, 2030.

 

Under the terms of the Project Agreement, Corfo has agreed that it will not permit any other person to explore, exploit or mine any mineral resources in the approximately 140,000 hectares area of the Salar de Atacama mentioned above. The Project Agreement expires on December 31, 2030.

 

SQM Salar holds an additional 236,842 hectares of constituted Mining Exploitation Concessions in areas near the Salar de Atacama, which correspond to mining reserves that have not been exploited. SQM Salar also holds Mining Exploitation Concessions that are in the process of being granted covering 3,900 hectares in areas near the Salar de Atacama.

 

 56 

 

 

In addition, as of December 31, 2018, SQM Salar held Mining Exploration Concessions covering approximately 22,100 hectares and had applied for additional Mining Exploration Concessions of approximately 2,600 hectares. Exploration rights are valid for a period of two years, after which we can (i) request a Mining Exploitation Concession for the land, (ii) request an extension of the Mining Exploration Concession for an additional two years (the extension only applies to a reduced surface area equal to 50% of the initial area) or (iii) allow the concession to expire.

 

According to the terms of the Lease Agreement, with respect to lithium production, the CCHEN established a total accumulated extraction limit set as amended by the Corfo Arbitration Agreement in January 2018, up to 349,553 metric tons of lithium metallic equivalent (1,860,670 tons of lithium carbonate equivalent), which is in addition to the approximately 64,816 metric tons of lithium metallic equivalent (345,015 tons of lithium carbonate equivalent) remaining from the originally authorized amount in the aggregate for all periods while the Lease Agreement is in force. As of December 31, 2018, only 12 years remain on the term of the Lease Agreement. See “Item 3.D. Risk Factors” and “Item 8.A.7 Legal Proceedings.”

 

Concessions Generally

 

As of December 31, 2018, approximately 97% of SQM’s mining interests were held pursuant to Mining Exploitation Concessions and 3% pursuant to Mining Exploration Concessions. Of the Mining Exploitation Concessions, approximately 97% already have been granted pursuant to applicable Chilean law, and approximately 3% are in the process of being granted. Of the Mining Exploration Concessions, approximately 87% already have been granted pursuant to applicable Chilean law, and approximately 13% are in the process of being granted.

 

In 2018, we made payments of US$8.2 million to the Chilean government for Mining Exploration and Exploitation Concessions, including the concessions we lease from Corfo. These payments do not include the payments we made directly to Corfo pursuant to the Lease Agreement, according to the percentages of the sales price of products produced using brines from the Salar de Atacama.

 

The following table shows the Mining Exploitation and Exploration Concessions held by SQM, including the mining properties we lease from Corfo, as of December 31, 2018:

 

   Exploitation
Concessions
   Exploration
Concessions
   Total 
Region of Chile  Total
Number
   Hectares   Total
Number
   Hectares   Total
Number
   Hectares 
Region I   2,803    525,946    47    16,200    2,850    542,146 
Region II   8,807    2,320,527    125    53,100    8,932    2,373,627 
Region III and others   441    99,885    40    11,400    481    111,285 
Total   12,051    2,946,358    212    80,700    12,363    3,027,058 

 

The majority of the Mining Exploitation Concessions held by SQM were requested primarily for non-metallic mining purposes. However, a small percentage of our Mining Exploration Concessions were requested for metallic mining purposes. The annual payment to the Chilean government for this group of concessions is higher.

 

Geological studies over mining properties that were requested primarily for non-metallic mining purposes may show that the concession area is of interest for metallic mining purposes, in which case we must inform the Sernageomin, indicating that the type of substance contained by such Mining Concessions has changed, for purposes of the annual payment for these rights.

 

 57 

 

 

Caliche: Facilities and Reserves

 

Caliche: Facilities

 

During 2018, caliche ore mining operations were focused in the first region of Chile, and our Nueva Victoria mine was exploited at two sites: Tente en el Aire and Oeste. In November 2015, the mining and nitrate operations at Pedro de Valdivia were suspended, and iodine production was reduced at the Pedro de Valdivia site, in order to take advantage of the highly efficient production facilities at Nueva Victoria. Operations at the Pampa Blanca site were suspended in 2010, and heap leaching operations at the María Elena site were suspended in October 2013, although iodine processing continued until 2017.

 

Nueva Victoria

The Nueva Victoria mine and facilities are located 140 kilometers southeast of Iquique and are accessible by highway. Since 2007, the Nueva Victoria mine includes the mining properties Soronal, Mapocho and Iris. At this site, we use caliche to produce salts rich in nitrates and iodine, through heap leaching and the use of solar evaporation ponds. The main production facilities at this site include the operation centers for the heap leaching process, the iodide and iodine plants at Nueva Victoria and Iris and the evaporation ponds at the Sur Viejo sector of the site. The areas currently being mined are located approximately 4 kilometers northeast of Nueva Victoria. Solar energy and electricity are the primary sources of power for this operation.

 

Pampa Blanca

The mining facilities at Pampa Blanca, which is located 100 kilometers northeast of Antofagasta, have been suspended since March 2010. At this site, we used caliche to produce nitrates and iodine through heap leaching and the use of solar evaporation ponds. The main production facilities at this site included the operation centers for the heap leaching system and the iodide plant. Electricity was the primary source of power for this operation.

 

Pedro de Valdivia

The Pedro de Valdivia mine and facilities are located 170 kilometers northeast of Antofagasta and are accessible by highway. At this site, we used caliche to produce nitrates and iodine through vat leaching and solar evaporation ponds. The main production facilities at this site include the crushing, vat leaching, fines processing, nitrate crystallization plant, and iodide and iodine plants. In November 2015, the mining and nitrate operations at Pedro de Valdivia were suspended, and iodine production was reduced. Electricity, natural gas and fuel oil are the primary sources of power for this operation.

 

María Elena

The María Elena mine and facilities, named El Toco, are located 220 kilometers northeast of Antofagasta and are accessible by highway. Until February 2010, caliche was used at this facility to produce nitrates and iodine through vat leaching. Subsequently, these facilities were equipped to produce nitrates and iodine through the use of heap leaching and solar evaporation ponds. Heap leaching operations at this site were suspended in October 2013. During 2017, we continued to produce solutions rich in iodine and nitrates by leaching the mine tailings. which were treated at the iodide plant at María Elena, and subsequently the prilled iodine is produced at Pedro de Valdivia. This process was discontinued at the end of 2017.

 

Caliche: Reserves

 

Our in-house staff of geologists and mining engineers prepares our estimates of caliche ore reserves. The Proven and Probable Reserve figures presented below are estimates, and may be subject to modifications due to natural factors that affect the distribution of mineral grades, which would, in turn, modify the recovery of nitrate and iodine. Therefore, no assurance can be given that the indicated levels of recovery of nitrates and iodine will be realized.

 

 58 

 

 

We estimate ore reserves based on evaluations, performed by engineers and geologists, of assay values derived from sampling of drill-holes and other openings. Drill-holes have been made at different space intervals in order to recognize mining resources. Normally, we start with 400x400 meters and then we reduce spacing to 200x200 meters, 100x100 meters and 50x50 meters. The geological occurrence of caliche ore is unique and different from other metallic and non-metallic minerals. Caliche ore is found in large horizontal layers at depths ranging from one to four meters and has an overburden between zero and two meters. This horizontal layering is a natural geological condition and allows the Company to estimate the continuity of the caliche bed based on surface geological reconnaissance and analysis of samples and trenches. Mineral resources can be calculated using the information from the drill-hole sampling.

 

A Mineral Resource is a concentration or occurrence of natural, solid, inorganic or fossilized organic material in or on the Earth’s crust in such form or quantity and of such grade or quality that it has reasonable prospects for economic extraction. The location, quantity, grade, geological characteristics and continuity of a mineral resource are known, estimated or interpreted from specific geological, metallurgical and technological evidence.

 

A Measured Resource is the part of a Mineral Resource for which tonnage, densities, shape, physical characteristics, grade and mineral content can be estimated with a high level of confidence. The estimate is based on detailed exploration, sampling and testing information gathered through appropriate sampling techniques from locations such as outcrops, trenches, and exploratory drill holes.

 

An Indicated Mineral Resource is the part of a Mineral Resource for which tonnage, densities, shape, physical characteristics, grade and mineral content can be estimated with a reasonable level of confidence. The estimate is based on detailed exploration, sampling and testing information gathered through appropriate sampling techniques from locations such as outcrops, trenches and exploratory drill holes.

 

According to our experience in caliche ore, the grid pattern drill-holes with spacing equal to or less than 100 meters produce data on the caliche resources that is sufficiently defined to consider them Measured Resources and then, adjusting for technical, economic and legal aspects, as Proven Reserves. These reserves are obtained using the Kriging Method and the application of operating parameters to obtain economically profitable reserves.

 

Similarly, the information obtained from detailed geologic work and samples taken from grid pattern drill-holes with spacing equal to or less than 200 meters can be used to determine Indicated Resources. By adjusting such Indicated Resources to account for technical, economic and legal factors, it is possible to calculate Probable Reserves. Probable Reserves are calculated by using a polygon-based methodology and have an uncertainty or margin of error greater than that of Proven Reserves. However, the degree of certainty of Probable Reserves is high enough to assume continuity between points of observation.

 

Proven Reserves are the economically mineable part of a Measured Resource. The calculation of the reserves includes the application of mining parameters including maximum overburden, minimum thickness of caliche ore, stripping ratio, cutoff grade and application of dilution factors to the grade values. Appropriate assessments, including pre-feasibility studies or feasibility studies, have been carried out and include consideration of metallurgical, economic, marketing, legal, environmental, social and governmental factors. These assessments demonstrate at the time of reporting that extraction is reasonably justified.

 

Probable Reserves are the economically mineable part of an Indicated Resource and in some cases a Measured Resource. The calculation of the reserves includes the application of mining parameters including maximum overburden, minimum thickness of caliche ore, stripping ratio, cutoff grade and application of dilution factors to the grade values. Appropriate assessments, including pre-feasibility studies, have been carried out or are in process and include consideration of metallurgical, economic, marketing, legal, environmental, social and governmental factors. These assessments demonstrate at the time of reporting that extraction is reasonably justified.

 

 59 

 

 

The estimates of Proven Reserves of caliche ore at each of our mines as of December 31, 2018 are set forth below. The Company holds 100% of the concession rights for each of these mines.

 

Mine  Proven Reserves (1)
(millions of metric
tons)
   Nitrate Average
Grade
(percentage by
weight)
   Iodine Average
Grade
(parts per million)
   Cutoff Grade
Average for Mine (2)
Pedro de Valdivia   109.0    7.1%   377   Nitrate 6.0 %
María Elena   83.3    7.2%   436   Iodine 300 ppm
Pampa Blanca   54.7    5.7%   538   Iodine 300 ppm
Nueva Victoria   280.6    6.4%   423   Iodine 300 ppm

 

In addition, the estimates of our Probable Reserves of caliche ore at each of our principal mines as of December 31, 2018, are as follows:

 

Mine  Probable
Reserves (3)
(millions of
metric tons)
   Nitrate Average Grade
(percentage by weight)
   Iodine Average
Grade
(parts per million)
   Cutoff Grade (2)
Pedro de Valdivia   334.7    7.3%   421   Nitrate 6.0 %
María Elena   148.8    7.2%   381   Iodine 300 ppm
Pampa Blanca   464.6    5.7%   540   Iodine 300 ppm
Nueva Victoria   1,020.7    5.3%   421   Iodine 300 ppm

 

(1)The Proven Reserves set forth in the table above are shown before losses related to exploitation and mineral treatment. Proven Reserves are affected by mining exploitation methods, which result in differences between the estimated reserves that are available for exploitation in the mining plan and the recoverable material that is finally transferred to the leaching vats or heaps. The average mining exploitation factor for each of our different mines ranges between 80% and 90%, whereas the average global metallurgical recoveries of processes for nitrate and iodine contained in the recovered material vary between 60% and 70%.

 

(2)The cutoff grades for the Proven and Probable Reserves vary according to the objectives of each mine. These amounts correspond to the averages of the different areas.

 

(3)Probable Reserves can be expressed as Proven Reserves using a conversion factor, only for purposes of obtaining a projection to be used for long-term planning purposes. On average, this conversion factor is higher than 60%, depending on geological conditions and caliche ore continuity, which vary from mine to mine (Pedro de Valdivia 60%, María Elena 50%, Pampa Blanca 70% and Nueva Victoria 60%).

 

The complete technical supporting documentation for the information set forth in the table above is contained in the report “Methodology, Procedure, and Classification of SQM’s Nitrate and Iodine Resources and Reserves for the Year 2018,” was prepared for each mine by the geologist Vladimir Tejerina and other engineering professionals employed by SQM and validated by Mr. Sergio Alarcón and Mr. Orlando Rojas.

 

Mr. Sergio Alarcón is a geologist with more than 30 years of experience in the field. He is currently employed by SQM as a Senior Geologist in the Mining Production area. Mr. Alarcón is a Competent Person (Persona Competente), as that term is defined under Chilean Law No. 20,235, known as the Law that Regulates the Position of Competent Person and Creates the Qualifying Committee for Competencies in Mining Resources and Reserves (Ley que Regula la Figura de las Personas Competentes y Crea la Comisión Calificadora de Competencias de Recursos y Reservas Mineras or “Competent Person Law”). He is registered under No. 164 in the Public Registry of Competent Persons in Mining Resources and Reserves in accordance with the Competent Person Law and related regulations. He has worked as a geologist with both metallic and non-metallic deposits, with vast experience in the latter.

 

 60 

 

 

Mr. Orlando Rojas is a civil mining engineer and independent consultant. He is Partner and Chief Executive Officer of the company EMI-Ingenieros y Consultores S.A., whose offices are located at Los Domínicos No 7772, Las Condes, Santiago, Chile. He is a member of the Institute of Mining Engineers and is registered under No. 118 in the Public Registry of Competent Persons in Mining Resources and Reserves in accordance with the Competent Person Law and related regulations. He has worked as a mining engineer for 40 years since graduating from university, including more than 34 years working on estimates for reserves and resources.

 

Copies of the certificates of qualified competency issued by the Chilean Mining Commission are attached hereto as Exhibits 99.1 and 99.2.

 

The proven and probable reserves shown above are the result of the evaluation of approximately 23.38% of the total caliche-related mining property of our Company. However, we have explored more intensely the areas in which we believe there is a higher potential of finding high-grade caliche ore minerals. The remaining 77.62% of this area has not been explored or has had limited reconnaissance, which is not sufficient to determine the potential and hypothetical resources. In 2018, we did not carry out basic reconnaissance of new mining properties. With respect to detailed explorations, in 2018, we carried out recategorizations of indicated resources in Tente en el Aire sectors, totaling 1,658 hectares, which is still in process. Our 2019 exploration program includes the exploration of the Tente en el Aire section, which totals 658 hectares, and the basic study of 4,110 hectares of the Hermosa Norte sector. The reserves shown in these tables are calculated based on properties that are not involved in any legal disputes between SQM and other parties.

 

Caliche ore is the key raw material used in the production of iodine, specialty plant nutrients and industrial chemicals. The following gross margins for the business lines specified were calculated on the same basis as cut off grades used to estimate our reserves. We expect costs to remain relatively stable in the near future.

 

   2018  2017  2016
   Gross
Margin
   Price  Gross
Margin
   Price  Gross
Margin
   Price
Iodine and Derivatives   33%  US$24/kg   21%  US$20/kg   17%  US$28/kg
Specialty Plant Nutrition   22%  US$722/ton   20%  US$722/ton   23%  US$784/ton
Industrial Chemicals   33%  US$797/ton   32%  US$809/ton   35%  US$770/ton

 

We maintain an ongoing program of exploration and resource evaluation on the land surrounding our production mines, and other sites for which we have the appropriate concessions.

 

Brines from the Salar de Atacama: Facilities and Reserves

 

Salar de Atacama: Facilites

 

Salar de Atacama

Our facilities at the Salar de Atacama are located 208 kilometers to the east of the city of Antofagasta and 188 kilometers to the southeast of the city of María Elena. At this site we use brines extracted from the salar to produce potassium chloride, potassium sulfate, boric acid, magnesium chloride salts and lithium solutions, which are subsequently sent to our lithium carbonate plant at the Salar del Carmen for processing. The main production plants at this site include the potassium chloride flotation plants (MOP-H I and II), the potassium carnallite plants (PC I and extension), the potassium sulfate flotation plant (SOP-H), the boric acid plant (ABO), the potassium chloride drying plant (Dual Plant or MOP-S), the potassium chloride compacting plant (MOP-G), the potassium sulfate drying plant (SOP-S) and the potassium sulfate compacting plant (SOP-G). Solar energy is the primary energy source used for the Salar de Atacama operations.

 

 61 

 

 

Salar de Atacama: Reserves

 

Our in-house staff of hydrogeologists and geologists prepares our estimates of the reserve base of potassium, sulfate, lithium and boron dissolved in brines at the Salar de Atacama. We have exploitation concessions covering an area of 81,920 hectares, in which we have carried out geological exploitation, brine sampling and geostatistical analysis. We estimate that our proven and probable reserves as of December 31, 2018, based on law, geological exploitation, brine sampling and geostatistical analysis up to a depth of 300 meters of our total exploitation concessions, are as follows:

 

  

Proven Reserves (1)

(millions of metric tons)

  

Probable Reserves (1)

(millions of metric tons)

  

Total Reserves

(millions of metric tons)

 
Potassium (K+) (2)   46.1    42.0    88.1 
Sulfate (SO4-2) (3)   39.0    45.2    84.2 
Lithium (Li+) (4)   4.56    3.99    8.55 
Boron (B3+) (5)   1.38    1.46    2.84 

 

(1)Metric tons of potassium, sulfate, lithium and boron considered in the proven and probable reserves are shown before losses from evaporation processes and metallurgical treatment. The recoveries of each ion depend on both brine composition and the process applied to produce the desired commercial products.

 

(2)Recoveries for potassium vary from 47% to 77%.

 

(3)Recoveries for sulfate vary from 27% to 45%.

 

(4)Recoveries for lithium vary from 28% to 50%.

 

(5)Recoveries for boron vary from 28% to 32%.

 

The information set forth in the table above was validated in March 2019 by Messrs. Álvaro Henríquez and Orlando Rojas using information that was prepared by SQM’s hydrogeologists, geologists and engineers and external advisors.

 

Mr. Henríquez is a geologist with more than 15 years of experience in the field of mining hydrogeology. He is currently employed by SQM as Superintendent of Hydrogeology, in the Salar Hydrogeology department. He is a Competent Person and is registered under No. 226 in the Public Registry of Competent Persons in Mining Resources and Reserves, in accordance with the Competent Person Law. As a hydrogeologist in Chile and abroad, he has evaluated multiple brine-based projects and has experience evaluating resources and reserves.

 

Mr. Orlando Rojas is a civil mining engineer and independent consultant. He is Partner and Chief Executive Officer of EMI-Ingenieros y Consultores S.A., whose offices are located at Los Domínicos No 7772, Las Condes, Santiago, Chile. He is a member of the Institute of Mining Engineers and is registered under No. 118 in the Public Registry of Competent Persons in Mining Resources and Reserves in accordance with the Competent Person Law and related regulations. He has worked as a mining engineer for 40 years since graduating from university, including more than 34 years working on estimates for reserves and resources.

 

Copies of the certificates of qualified competency issued by the Chilean Mining Commission for Mr. Rojas and Mr. Henríquez are attached hereto as Exhibit 99.2 and 99.3.

 

The cutoff grade for lithium extraction is set at 0.05% Li. The cost of the process is competitive in the market despite a small cost increase due to the expansions in the evaporation area (to reach the required Li concentration) and to the use of additives to maintain the quality of the brine that is used to feed the plant.

 

 62 

 

 

A cutoff grade of 1.0% K is used in the calculation, considering a low margin scenario using only MOP-S as and using diluted brine with higher levels of contaminants as the raw material and with recovery yields of approximately 47%, which is on the lower end of the range. In this scenario, considering current market conditions and market conditions from recent years, the production cost of MOP production is still competitive.

 

The proven and probable reserves are based on production experience, drilling, brine sampling and geo-statistic reservoir modeling in order to estimate brine volumes and their composition. We calculate the reserve base, which is the volume of brine effectively drainable or exploitable in each evaluation unit, by building a three-dimensional block model. The following variables are used to populate the model:

 

·Porosity: obtained from measurements of drainable porosity and effectiveness in core rocks, test pumping data, geophysical records and changes in the level of the brine. The volume of brine is estimated on the basis of the interpolation of the on-site porosity data.
·Grades: The brine concentration chemistry of the brine measured in the ponds is subjected to an exploratory data analysis and a variographic analysis, in order to determine the chemical populations in the Salar. Subsequently, the grades are interpolated using the Kriging method.

 

Based on the chemical characteristics, and the volume of brine, we determine the number of metric tons for each of the chemical ions being evaluated. Reserve classification is finally achieved by using geostatistical criteria and hydrogeological knowledge of the units that have been explored, as an indicator between proven and probable reserves.

 

Proven reserves are defined as hydrogeological units with proven historical brine yield production, and a quality and piezometric brine monitoring network to control brine evolution over time.

 

Probable reserves and inferred resources are being continually explored in order to be able to reclassify them as proven reserves and indicated or measured resources, respectively. This exploration includes systematic packer testing, chemical brine sampling and long-term pilot production pumping tests.

 

We consider chemical parameters to determine the process to be applied to the brines. These parameters are used to estimate potential restrictions on production yields, and the economic feasibility of producing such commercial products as potassium chloride, potassium sulfate, lithium carbonate and boric acid is determined on the basis of the evaluation.

 

Complementing the reserves information, SQM has an environmental impact assessment (RCA 226/06) which defines a maximum brine extraction until the end of the Lease Agreement (December 31, 2030). Considering the authorized maximum net brine production rates, we have performed hydrogeological simulations using numeric flow and transport models to estimate changes in the volume and quality of the brine during the life of the project, considering the ponds infrastructure projected and existing on January 1, 2019. According to these simulations, a total of 1.24 million metric tons of lithium and 14.9 million metric tons of potassium will be extracted from the producing wells. On the other hand, the proven and probable base reserve in situ, within the authorized area of environmental extraction (RCA 226/06), corresponds to 4.33 million metric tons of lithium and 30.4 million metric tons of potassium, enough to satisfy the demand of the project until the end of the concession.

 

Brines from the Salar de Atacama are the key raw material used in the production of potassium chloride and potassium sulfate, and lithium and its derivatives. The following gross margins for the business lines specified were calculated on the same basis as cut off grades used to estimate our reserves. We expect costs to remain relatively stable in the near future.

 

 63 

 

 

   2018  2017  2016
   Gross
Margin
   Price  Gross
Margin
   Price  Gross
Margin
   Price
Potassium Chloride and Potassium Sulfate   19%  US$322/ton   17%  US$282/ton   11%  US$263/ton
Lithium and Derivatives   57%  US$16,289/ton   71%  US$12,970/ton   66%  US$10,362/ton

 

Other Production Facilities

 

Coya Sur

The Coya Sur site is located approximately 15 kilometers south of María Elena, and production activities undertaken there are associated with the production of potassium nitrate and finished products. The main production plants at this site include four potassium nitrate plants with a total capacity of 1,300,000 metric tons per year. There are also five production lines for crystallized nitrates, with a total capacity of 1,200,000 metric tons per year, and a prilling plant with a capacity of 360,000 metric tons per year. The potassium nitrate produced at Coya Sur is an intermediate product that is used as a raw material for the production of finished products (crystallized nitrates and prilled nitrates). Therefore, the production capacities listed above are not independent of one another and cannot be added together to obtain an overall total capacity. Natural gas is the main source of energy for our Coya Sur operation.

 

Salar del Carmen

The Salar del Carmen site is located approximately 14 kilometers to the east of Antofagasta. The production plants at this facility include the lithium carbonate plant, with a production capacity of 70,000 metric tons per year, and the lithium hydroxide plant, with a production capacity of 13,500 metric tons per year. Electricity and natural gas are the main sources of energy for our Salar del Carmen operation.

 

 64 

 

 

The following table provides a summary of our production facilities as of December 31, 2018:

 

Facility  Type of Facility 

Approximate
Size

(hectares) (1)

   Nominal Production
Capacity
(thousands of metric
tons/year)
  Weighted
Average
Age
(years) (2)
   Gross Book
Value
(millions of US$)
(2)
 
Coya Sur (3) (4)  Nitrates production   1.518   Potassium nitrate: 1,300
Crystallized nitrates: 1,200
Prilled nitrates: 360
   5.0    571.7 
María Elena (5) (6)  Nitrates and iodine production   35.830   Nitrates: n/a
Iodine: 1.6
Prilled nitrates: 300
   13.8    424.0 
Nueva Victoria (5) (7)  Concentrated nitrate salts and iodine production   47.492   Iodine: 13.0   6.6    523.7 
Pampa Blanca (5) (7) (8)  Concentrated nitrate salts and iodide production   10.441   Nitrates: n/a
Iodine: n/a
   10.5    7.1 
Pedro de Valdivia (3) (9)  Nitrates and iodine production   253.880   Nitrates: n/a
Iodine: 3.2
   13.6    226.3 
Salar de Atacama (3) (10)  Potassium chloride, potassium sulfate, lithium chloride, and boric acid production   35.911   Potassium chloride: 2,680
Potassium sulfate: 245
Boric acid: 15
   10.8    1,554.1 
Salar del Carmen, Antofagasta (3)  Lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide production   126   Lithium carbonate: 70
Lithium hydroxide: 13.5
   8.7    304.3 
Tocopilla (11)  Port facilities   22   -   12.2    172.8 

 

(1)Approximate size considers both the production facilities and the mine for María Elena, Nueva Victoria, Pampa Blanca, Pedro de Valdivia and the Salar de Atacama. Mining areas are those authorized for exploitation by the environmental authority and/or Sernageomin.
(2)Weighted average age and gross book value correspond to production facilities, excluding the mine, for María Elena, Nueva Victoria, Pampa Blanca, Pedro de Valdivia and the Salar de Atacama.
(3)Includes production facilities and solar evaporation ponds.
(4)The potassium nitrate produced at Coya Sur is an intermediate product that is used as a raw material for the production of finished products (crystallized nitrates and prilled nitrates). Therefore, the production capacities listed above are not independent of one another and cannot be added together to obtain an overall total capacity.
(5)Includes production facilities, solar evaporation ponds and leaching heaps.
(6)Operations at the El Toco mine at María Elena were suspended in November 2013.
(7)The nominal production capacity for iodine considers the capacity of our plants. The effective capacity is 14,000 metric tons per year.
(8)Operations at Pampa Blanca were suspended in March 2010.
(9)In November 2015, the mining and nitrate operations at Pedro de Valdivia were suspended, and iodine production was reduced at the Pedro de Valdivia site, in order to take advantage of the highly efficient production facilities at Nueva Victoria.
(10)Potassium chloride and potassium sulfate are produced in a dual plant, and the production capacity for each of these products depends on the production mix. Therefore, the production capacities for these two products are not independent of one another and cannot be added together to obtain an overall total capacity.
(11)The Tocopilla port facilities were originally constructed in 1961 and have been refurbished and expanded since that time.

 

The railway line that runs between our Coya Sur production facilities and our Tocopilla port facilities was damaged in August 2015 as a result of storms in the north of Chile. The train is not currently operating and as a consequence, we have replaced the train with trucks to ship products from Coya Sur. Detailed engineering studies were performed to assess the damage of the railway. During the third quarter of 2016, the report was completed; it concluded that the cost and time needed to repair the railway at this time is not economical in the short and medium term. As a result of this determination, the Company wrote-off the assets related to the train. We do not believe it will materially impact future sales volumes or transportation costs.

 

 65 

 

 

We consider the condition of our principal plant and equipment to be good, with the exception of the railway line.

 

We directly or indirectly through subsidiaries own, lease or hold concessions over the facilities at which we carry out our operations. Such facilities are free of any material liens, pledges or encumbrances, and we believe they are suitable and adequate for the business we conduct in them.

 

Extraction Yields

 

The following table shows certain operating data relating to each of our mines for 2018, 2017 and 2016:

 

(in thousands, unless otherwise stated)  2018   2017   2016 
Pedro de Valdivia(1)               
Metric tons of ore mined            
Average grade nitrate (% by weight)            
Iodine (parts per million (ppm))            
Metric tons of crystallized nitrate produced            
Metric tons of iodine produced   1.0    0.9    0.6 
                
Maria Elena (2)               
Metric tons of ore mined            
Average grade nitrate (% by weight)            
Iodine (ppm)            
Metric tons of crystallized nitrate produced            
Metric tons of iodine produced           0.2 
                
Coya Sur (3)               
Metric tons of crystallized nitrate produced   699    613    573 
                
Pampa Blanca (2)               
Metric tons of ore mined            
Iodine (ppm)            
Metric tons of iodine produced            
                
Nueva Victoria               
Metric tons of ore mined   42,753    36,383    29,902 
Iodine (ppm)   461    458    454 
Metric tons of iodine produced   10.2    8.8    7.7 
                
Salar de Atacama (4)               
Metric tons of lithium carbonate produced   50.4    45    44 
Metric tons of potassium chloride and potassium sulfate and potassium salts produced   1,505    1,881    2,045 

 

 66 

 

 

(1)In November 2015, mining and nitrate operations at Pedro de Valdivia were suspended, and iodine production was reduced at the Pedro de Valdivia site, in order to take advantage of the highly efficient production facilities at Nueva Victoria.
(2)Operations at the Pampa Blanca mine were suspended in March 2010. During 2015, María Elena obtained production from caliche ore exploited in prior years.
(3)Includes production at Coya Sur from treatment of nitrates solutions from María Elena and Pedro de Valdivia, nitrate salts from pile treatment at Nueva Victoria, and net production from NPT, or technical grade potassium nitrate, plants.
(4)Lithium carbonate is extracted at the Salar de Atacama and processed at our facilities at the Salar del Carmen. Potassium salts include synthetic sylvinite produced in the plant and other harvested potassium salts (natural sylvinite, carnalites and harvests from plant ponds) that are sent to Coya Sur for the production of crystallized nitrates.

 

Transportation and Storage Facilities

 

The transportation of our products is carried out by trucks that are operated by dedicated third parties through long-term contracts. Furthermore, we own port and storage facilities for the transportation and management of finished products and consumable materials.

 

Our main centers for the production and storage of raw materials are the Nueva Victoria, Coya Sur and Salar de Atacama facilities. Other facilities include chemical plants for the finished products of lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide at the Salar del Carmen plant. The Port of Tocopilla terminal, which we own, has a surface area of approximately 22 hectares and is the principal facility for the storage and shipment of our bulk products and packaged potassium chloride (MOP) and nitrates.

 

The nitrate finished products are produced at our Coya Sur facilities and then transported via trucks to the Port of Tocopilla terminal where they are stored and shipped, either packaged (polypropylene bags, polyethylene or polypropylene FIBC big bags) or in bulk. The potassium chloride is produced at our Salar de Atacama facilities and we transport it by truck, either to the Port of Tocopilla terminal or the Coya Sur facility. The product transported to Coya Sur is an intermediate product that is used as a raw material for the production of potassium nitrate. On the other hand, the product transported to the Port of Tocopilla is a final product that will be shipped or transported to the client or affiliate. The raw material of nitrate for the production of potassium nitrate in Coya Sur is currently produced at Nueva Victoria and the remaining raw material is provided from historical stock stored in Coya Sur that was produced at the Pedro de Valdivia facility when it was operating. This raw material is obtained from the processing of caliche that is extracted from our mines.

 

The lithium chloride solution, which contains a high concentration of boron, produced at our Salar de Atacama facilities, is transported to the lithium carbon plant in the Salar del Carmen area where the finished lithium carbonate is produced. Part of the lithium carbonate is provided to the adjacent lithium hydroxide plant where the finished lithium hydroxide is produced. These two products are packed in packaging of distinct characteristics (polyethylene bags, multi-layer or polypropylene FIBC big bags), stored within the same facilities and secured in roofed storerooms. Thereafter, they are consolidated into containers that are transported by trucks to a transit warehouse or directly to port terminals for their subsequent shipment. The port terminals used are currently suited to receive container ships and are situated in Antofagasta, Mejillones and Iquique.

 

Iodine obtained from the same caliche used for the production of nitrates, is processed, packaged and stored exclusively in the Pedro de Valdivia and Nueva Victoria facilities. The packaging used for iodine are drums and polypropylene FIBC big bags with an internal polyethylene bag and oxygen barrier, which at the time of transportation are consolidated into containers and sent by truck to port terminals suited for their management, principally located in Antofagasta, Mejillones and Iquique. Thereafter, they are sent to distinct markets by container ship or by truck to Santiago where iodine derivatives are produced in the Ajay-SQM Chile plants.

 

 67 

 

 

The Port of Tocopilla terminal facilities are located approximately 186 kilometers north of Antofagasta, approximately 124 kilometers west of María Elena and Coya Sur and 372 kilometers to the west of Salar de Atacama. Our affiliate, Servicios Integrales de Tránsitos y Transferencias S.A. (SIT), operates facilities for the shipment of products and the delivery of certain raw materials based on renewable concessions granted by Chilean regulatory authorities, provided that the facilities are used in accordance with the authorization granted and we pay an annual concession fee. The Port of Tocopilla terminal facilities include a truck weighing machine that confirms product entry into the port and transfers the product to distinct storage zones, a piezometer within the shipping system to carry out bulk product loaded onto ships and a crane with a 40 ton capacity for the loading of sealed product onto ships.

 

The storage facilities consist of a system of six silos, with a total storage capacity of 55,000 metric tons, and a mixed storage area of open storehouses with a total storage capacity of approximately 250,000 metric tons. In addition, to fulfill future storage needs, we will continue to make investments in accordance with the investment plan outlined by management. The products are also put into bags at the Port of Tocopilla terminal facilities where the bagging capacity is established by two bag packaging machines, one for sacks and polypropylene FIBC big bags and one for FFS polyethylene. The products that are packaged in Tocopilla may be subsequently shipped at the same port or may also be consolidated into trucks or containers for its subsequent dispatch to clients by land or sea through containers from other ports, principally located in Antofagasta, Mejillones and Iquique.

 

For the transportation of bulk product, the transportation belt system extends across the coastline to deliver products directly to the hatches of bulk cargo ships. The nominal load capacity of this shipping system is 1,200 tons per hour. The transportation of packaged product is carried out utilizing the same bulk cargo ships using trailers without motors located in the dock and loaded by a crane with a 40 ton capacity from the Port of Tocopilla terminal. Thereafter, they are towed and unloaded using ship cranes to the respective warehouses.

 

We normally contract bulk cargo ships to transfer the product from the Port of Tocopilla terminal to our hubs around the world or to clients directly, who, in certain instances, use their own contracted vessels for delivery.

 

Tocopilla processes related to the reception, handling, storage and shipment of bulk/packaged nitrates produced at Coya Sur are certified by the third-party organization TÜV-Rheiland under the quality standard ISO 9001:2008.

 

Computer System

 

In addition to the above-listed facilities, we operate varies computer and information systems linking our principal subsidiaries to our operating and administrative facilities throughout Chile, and other parts of the world, via two networks. The computer and information system is used mainly for accounting, monitoring of supplies and inventories, billing, quality control, research activities and production process and maintenance control. The mainframe computing system is located at our offices in Santiago.

 

In addition, we have Cloud technologies, which allow us to support new business processes related to IoT (Internet of Things) and Advanced Analytics and enables the business to respond quickly and at low cost to changing conditions of the business and of the market.

 

An Advanced Analytical pilot was carried out in one of our production plants, which allowed to us to collect information to allow us to advance the predictive short-term and medium-term analysis and possible automation in the long term.

 

A cyber security review is being carried out to highlight possible risks and mitigate them. Process automation and digitalization projects were initiated at various sites, such as the Port of Tocopilla, with the objective of reducing operational risk, and improving security and operational efficiency, which also includes a modernization of current IT infrastructure and existing communications.

 

ITEM 4A. UNRESOLVED STAFF COMMENTS

 

None.

 

 68 

 

 

ITEM 5.OPERATING AND FINANCIAL REVIEW AND PROSPECTS

 

The information in this Item 5 should be read in conjunction with the Company’s Consolidated Financial Statements and the notes thereto included elsewhere in this Annual Report.

 

Since January 1, 2010, the Company’s Consolidated Financial Statements have been prepared in accordance with the International Financial Reporting Standards as published by the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB).

 

CRITICAL ACCOUNTING POLICIES AND ESTIMATES

 

Critical accounting policies are defined as those that are reflective of significant judgments and uncertainties, which would potentially result in materially different results under different assumptions and conditions.

 

We believe that our critical accounting policies applied in the preparation of our Audited Consolidated Financial Statements are limited to those described below. It should be noted that in many cases, IFRS specifically dictates the accounting treatment of a particular transaction, limiting management’s judgment in their application. There are also areas in which management’s judgment in selecting available alternatives would not produce materially different results.

 

Trade and Other Accounts Receivable

 

Trade and other accounts receivable relate to non-derivative financial assets with fixed payments that can be determined and are not quoted in any active market. These arise from sales operations involving products and/or services that we sell directly to our customers that were considered financial instruments measured at amortized cost, in accordance with the guidelines of IFRS 9.

 

These assets are initially recognized at their fair value (which is equivalent to their face value, discounting implicit interest for installment sales) and subsequently at amortized cost according to the effective interest rate method less a provision for impairment loss. When the face value of the account receivable does not significantly differ from its fair value, it is recognized at face value. We apply the IFRS 9 simplified approach to measuring expected credit losses which uses a lifetime expected loss allowance for all trade receivables.

 

Previously, under IAS 39, an allowance for impairment loss is established for trade accounts receivable when there is objective evidence that we will not be able to collect all the amounts owed to us according to the original terms of accounts receivable. The Company calculates the allowance for doubtful accounts corresponding to receivables that are not guaranteed or insured as a function of the delays that may occur in the collection of such accounts.

 

Implicit interest in installment sales is recognized as interest income when interest is accrued over the term of the sale.

 

Income tax

 

Corporate income tax for the year is determined as the sum of current taxes from the different consolidated companies.

 

Current taxes are based on the application of the various types of taxes attributable to taxable income for the year.

 

 69 

 

 

Differences between the book value of assets and liabilities and their tax basis generate the balance of deferred tax assets or liabilities, which are calculated using the tax rates expected to be applicable when the assets and liabilities are realized.

 

In conformity with current Chilean tax regulations, the provision for corporate income tax and taxes on mining activity is recognized on an accrual basis, presenting the net balances of accumulated monthly tax provisional payments for the fiscal period and associated credits. The Company operates and recognizes sales in countries other than Chile, and is subject to different tax regimes. These tax implications do not have a material impact on our effective tax rate.  

 

The balances of these accounts are presented in current income taxes recoverable or current taxes payable, as applicable.

 

Tax on companies and variations in deferred tax assets or liabilities that are not the result of business combinations are recorded in the statement of income accounts or equity accounts in the consolidated statement of financial position, considering the origin of the gains or losses which have generated them.

 

At each reporting period, the carrying amount of deferred tax assets was reviewed and reduced to the extent where there would not be sufficient taxable income to allow the recovery of all or a portion of the deferred tax assets. Likewise, as of the date of the consolidated financial statements, deferred tax assets are evaluated and recognized if it is more likely than not that future taxable income will allow for recovery of the deferred tax asset.

 

With respect to deductible temporary differences associated with investments in subsidiaries, associated companies and interest in joint ventures, deferred tax assets are recognized solely provided that it is more likely than not that the temporary differences will be reversed in the near future and that there will be taxable income with which they may be used.

 

The deferred income tax related to entries directly recognized in equity is recognized with an effect on equity and not with an effect on profit or loss.

 

Deferred tax assets and liabilities are offset if there is a legally receivable right of offsetting tax assets against tax liabilities and the deferred tax is related to the same tax entity and authority.

 

Inventories

 

The Company measures inventories at the lower of production cost and net realizable value. The cost price of finished products and work in progress includes the direct cost of materials and, when applicable, labor costs, the depreciation of goods that are involved in the production process, the indirect costs incurred in transforming raw materials into finished products, and general expenses incurred in carrying inventories to their current location and conditions. The method used to determine the cost of inventories is the weighted average monthly cost and the average cost of warehouse storage.

 

Commercial discounts, rebates obtained, and other similar entries are deducted when determining the acquisition price.

 

The net realizable value represents the estimate of the sales price, less all the estimated costs involved in making the finished product and the costs that will be incurred in the commercialization, sales, and distribution processes.

 

The Company conducts an evaluation of the net realizable value of inventories at the end of each year, recording an estimate with a charge to profit or loss when the inventory costs exceed the realizable value. This estimate is made for all the finished and intermediate products in the Company’s inventory. The valuation of obsolete, impaired or slow-moving products relates to their estimated net realizable value.

 

 70 

 

 

The provisions for uncertainties in the technical specifications for the Company’s stocks of finished goods and work in progress have been made based on a technical study which covers the different variables that affect products in stock (such as density and humidity). This study is updated periodically to include new measurement technologies and the results from previous financial periods.

 

Inventories of raw materials, supplies, materials and parts are recorded at the lower of acquisition cost or market value. The acquisition cost is calculated according to the average acquisition price method. Nonetheless, an estimate is made for each financial period of the potential lower value of that proportion of the inventory that consists of obsolete, defective or slow-moving materials. This provision reduces the value of the Company’s raw materials, supplies, materials and parts.

 

Obligations related to staff severance indemnities and pension commitments

 

Our obligations with respect to our employees are established in collective bargaining agreements and individual employment contracts. In the case of certain employees in the United States, our obligations are established through a pension plan, which was terminated in 2002.

 

These obligations are valued using an actuarial calculation that considers factors such as mortality rate, employee turnover, interest rates, retirement dates, effects related to increases in employees’ salaries, as well as the effects on variations in services derived from variations in the inflation rate.

 

Actuarial losses and gains that may be generated by variations in previously defined obligations are directly recorded in profit or loss for the year.

 

Actuarial losses and gains originating from deviations between the estimate and the actual behavior of actuarial hypotheses or in the reformulation of established actuarial hypotheses are recorded in equity.

 

The discount rate used for calculating obligations outside the United States was 4.6% and 5.1% for the periods ended as of December 31, 2018 and 2017, respectively.

 

The Company’s subsidiary SQM North America has established pension plans for its retired employees that are calculated by measuring the projected obligation using a net salary progressive rate net of adjustments for inflation, mortality and turnover assumptions, deducting the resulting amounts at present value using a 3.75% interest rate for 2018 and 4.50% for 2017. The net balance of this obligation is presented under the “Provisions for employee benefits, non-current” line item.

 

Mining development costs

 

Mine exploration costs and stripping costs to maintain production of mineral resources extracted from operating mines are considered variable production costs and are included in the cost of inventory produced during the period. Mine development costs at new mines, and major development costs at operating mines outside existing areas under extraction that are expected to benefit future production, are capitalized under “other long-term assets” and amortized using a units-of-production method over the associated proven and probable reserves. We determine our proven and probable reserves based on drilling, brine sampling and geostatistical reservoir modeling in order to estimate mineral volume and composition.

 

All other mine exploration costs, including expenses related to low grade mineral resources rendering reserves that are not economically exploitable, are charged to the statement of income in the period in which they are incurred.

 

 71 

 

 

Asset value impairment

 

We assess on an annual basis any impairment on the value of buildings, plant and equipment, intangible assets, goodwill and investments accounted for using the equity method of accounting in accordance with IAS 36 “Impairment of Assets.” Assets to which this method applies are:

 

·investments recognized using the equity method of accounting;
·property, plant and equipment;
·intangible assets; and
·goodwill.

 

Assets are reviewed for impairment as to the existence of any indication that the carrying value is lower than the recoverable amount. If such an indication exists, the asset recoverable amount is calculated in order to determine the extent of the impairment, if any. In the event that the asset does not generate any cash flows independent from other assets, we determine the recoverable amount of the cash generating unit to which this asset belongs according to the corresponding business segment (specialty plant nutrients, iodine and derivatives, lithium and derivatives, potassium, industrial chemicals and other products and services.)

 

We conduct impairment tests on intangible assets and goodwill with indefinite useful lives on an annual basis and every time there is indication of impairment. If the recoverable value of an asset is estimated at an amount lower than its carrying value, the latter decreases to its recoverable amount.

 

The results of the impairment tests the Company has performed on its primary intangible assets demonstrated that there was no need for the Company to make any accounting adjustments to such assets. These impairment tests were performed using conservative scenarios. For more information, see Note 13.1 to our Consolidated Financial Statements.

 

We have recognized impairment events derived from the following:

 

As a result of the rain storms that affected the Tocopilla Zone at the beginning of August 2015, SQM S.A. confirmed the existence of damages in several zones in the railway between the sites Coya Sur and Tocopilla. SQM has performed several internal and external studies with the purpose of determining the costs and terms necessary to repair the damages in the railway.

 

Consequently, SQM has adjusted the value of the assets associated with the railway (fixed equipment, facilities and rolling equipment), which has translated into a charge of approximately US$32 million which are reflected in the line other expenses by function in the consolidated statement of income for 2016.

 

On September 22, 2015, the Company decided to close the mining operations at the Pedro de Valdivia site and a portion of such site’s industrial operations. This decision has been made because the Company has continued to increase its production capacity of iodine and nitrate salts in its industrial mining operations at the Nueva Victoria site and has reduced its production costs to meet sales forecasts and increase its current worldwide market share in the iodine market. The Company recognized the impairment effect of US$58 million in the consolidated statement of income for 2015.

 

Financial derivatives and hedging transactions

 

Derivatives are recognized initially at fair value as of the date on which the derivatives contract is signed and, they are subsequently assessed at fair value. The method for recognizing the resulting gain or loss depends on whether the derivative has been designated as an accounting hedge instrument and, if so, it depends on the type of hedging, which may be as follows:

 

a)Fair value hedge of assets and liabilities recognized (fair value hedges),
b)Hedging of a single risk associated with an asset or liability recognized or a highly probable forecast transaction (cash flow hedge).

 

 72 

 

 

At the beginning of the transaction, the Company documents the relationship that exists between hedging instruments and those items hedged, as well as their objectives for risk management purposes and the strategy to conduct different hedging operations.

 

The Company also documents its evaluation both at the beginning and at the end of each period if the derivatives used in hedging transactions are highly effective to offset changes in the fair value or in cash flows of hedged items.

 

The fair value of derivative instruments used for hedging purposes is shown in Note 13.3 (hedging assets and liabilities) to our Consolidated Financial Statements. Changes in the cash flow hedge reserve are classified as a non-current asset or liability if the remaining expiration period of the hedged item is more than 12 months, and as a current asset or liability if the remaining expiration period of the entry is less than 12 months.

 

Derivatives that are not designated or do not qualify as hedging derivatives are classified as current assets or liabilities, and changes in the fair value are directly recognized through profit or loss.

 

a.Fair value hedge

 

Changes in the fair value of derivatives that are designated and qualify as fair value hedges are recorded in profit or loss, together with any changes in the fair value of the hedged asset or liability that are attributable to the hedged risk. The gain or loss relating to the effective portion of interest rate swaps that hedge fixed rate borrowings is recognized in profit or loss within finance costs, together with changes in the fair value of the hedged fixed rate borrowings attributable to interest rate risk. The gain or loss relating to the ineffective portion is recognized in profit or loss within other income or other expenses. If the hedge no longer meets the criteria for hedge accounting, the adjustment to the carrying amount of a hedged item for which the effective interest method is used is amortized to profit or loss over the period to maturity using a recalculated effective interest rate.

 

b.Cash flow hedge

 

The portion of the derivative instruments used to mitigate cash flow fluctuations related to sales revenue or expenses is recognized in gross margin as a cost or undistributed revenue. The accrued portion of these instruments is recognized in other income or expenditure.

 

Contingencies

 

The amount recognized as a provision, including legal, contractual, constructive and other exposures or obligations, is the best estimate of the consideration required to settle the related liability, including any related interest charges, taking into account the risks and uncertainties surrounding the obligation. In addition, contingencies will only be resolved when one or more future events occur or fail to occur. Therefore, the assessment of contingencies inherently involves the exercise of significant judgment and estimates of the outcome of future events. The Company assesses its liabilities and contingencies based upon the best information available, relevant tax laws and other appropriate requirements.

 

 73 

 

 

5.A.   Operating Results

 

Introduction

 

The following discussion should be read in conjunction with the Company’s Consolidated Financial Statements. Certain calculations (including percentages) that appear herein have been rounded.

 

Our Consolidated Financial Statements are prepared in accordance with IFRS standards and prepared in U.S. dollars. The U.S. dollar is the primary currency in which we operate.

 

We operate as an independent corporation. Nonetheless we are a “controlled corporation,” as that term is defined under Chilean law. See “Item 7.A. Major Shareholders.”

 

Overview of Our Results of Operations

 

We divide our operations into the following business lines:

 

·the production and sale of specialty plant nutrients;
·the production and sale of iodine and its derivatives;
·the production and sale of lithium and its derivatives;
·the production and sale of potassium, including potassium chloride and potassium sulfate;
·the production and sale of industrial chemicals, principally industrial nitrates and solar salts; and
·the purchase and sale of other commodity fertilizers for use primarily in Chile.

 

We sell our products through three primary channels: our own sales offices, a network of distributors and, in the case of our fertilizer products, through Yara International ASA’s (“Yara”) distribution network in countries where its presence and commercial infrastructure are larger than ours. Similarly, in those markets where our presence is larger, both our specialty plant nutrients and Yara’s are marketed through our offices.

 

Factors Affecting Our Results of Operations

 

Our results of operations substantially depend on:

 

·trends in demand for and supply of our products, including global economic conditions, which impact prices and sales volumes;
·efficient operations of our facilities, particularly as some of them run at production capacity;
·our ability to accomplish our capital expenditures program in a timely manner;
·the levels of our inventories;
·trends in the exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and Chilean peso, as a significant portion of the cost of sales is in Chilean pesos, and trends in the exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and the euro, as a significant portion of our sales is denominated in euros; and
·energy, logistics, raw materials, labor and maintenance costs.

 

Impact of Foreign Exchange Rates

 

We transact a significant portion of our business in U.S. dollars, which is the currency of the primary economic environment in which we operate and is our functional and presentation currency for financial reporting purposes. A significant portion of our costs is related to the Chilean peso as most of our operations occur in Chile, and therefore an increase or decrease in the exchange rate between the Chilean peso and the U.S. dollar affects our costs of production. Additionally, as an international company operating in Chile and several other countries, we transact a portion of our business and have assets and liabilities in Chilean pesos and other non-U.S. dollar currencies, such as the euro, the South African rand and the Mexican peso. As a result, fluctuations in the exchange rate of such currencies to the U.S. dollar may affect our financial condition and results of operations. See Note 28 to our Consolidated Financial Statements.

 

 74 

 

 

We monitor and attempt to balance our non-U.S. dollar assets and liabilities position, including through foreign exchange contracts and other hedging instruments, to minimize our exposure to foreign exchange rate risk. As of December 31, 2018, for hedging purposes we had open contracts to buy U.S. dollars and sell euros for approximately US$15.32 million (EUR13.3 million) and to sell South African rand for approximately US$17.06 million (ZAR240.5 million), as well as forward exchange contracts to sell U.S. dollars and buy Chilean pesos for US$108.0 million (Ch$75,035 million). Of the UF11.5 million outstanding bonds issued in the Chilean market, UF 8.5 million were hedged with cross-currency swaps to the U.S. dollar for approximately US$348 million as of December 31, 2018.

 

In addition, we had open forward exchange contracts to buy U.S. dollars and sell Chilean pesos to hedge our time deposits in Chilean pesos for approximately US$348 million (Ch$241,944 million).

 

The following table shows our revenues (in millions of US$) and the percentage of revenues accounted for by each of our product lines for each of the periods indicated:

 

   2018   2017   2016 
   %   US$   %   US$   %   US$ 
Specialty plant nutrition   35%   781.8    32%   697.3    32%   623.9 
Iodine and derivatives   14%   325.0    12%   252.1    12%   231.1 
Lithium and derivatives   32%   734.8    30%   644.6    27%   514.6 
Potassium   12%   267.5    18%   379.3    21%   403.3 
Industrial chemicals   5%   108.3    6%   135.6    5%   104.1 
Other products and services   2%   48.5    2%   48.5    3%   62.2 
                               
Total   100    2,265.8    100    2,157.3    100    1,939.3 

 

The following table shows certain financial information of the Company (in millions of US$) for each of the periods indicated, as a percentage of revenues:

 

   Year Ended December 31, 
   2018   2017   2016 
(in millions of US$)  US$   %   US$   %   US$   % 
Revenues    2,265.8    100.0    2,157.3    100.0    1,939.3    100.0 
Cost of sales    (1,483.5)   65.5    (1,394.8)   64.7    (1,328.3)   68.5 
Gross profit    782.3    34.5    762.5    35.3    611.0    31.5 
Other income (1)    32.0    1.4    17.8    0.8    15.2    0.8 
Administrative expenses    (118.1)   5.2    (101.2)   4.7    (88.4)   4.6 
Other expenses (2)(3)(4)(5)    (36.9)   1.6    (53.6)   2.5    (82.5)   4.3 
Net impairment gains or reversal (losses) of financial assets   3    -    (8)   -    (7.2)   - 
Other gains (losses)    6.4    0.3    0.5    0.0    0.6    0.0 
Finance income    22.5    1.0    13.5    0.6    10.1    0.5 
Finance expenses    (59.9)   2.6    (50.1)   2.3    (57.5)   3.0 
Equity income of associates and joint ventures accounted for using the equity method    6.4    0.3    14.5    0.7    13.0    0.7 
Foreign currency exchange differences    (16.6)   0.7    (1.3)   0.1    0.4    0.0 
Income before income tax expense (2)(3)    621.0    27.4    594.6    27.6    414.9    21.4 
Income tax expense    (179.0)   7.9    (166.2)   7.7    (133.0)   6.9 
                               
Profit attributable to:                              
Controlling interests (2)(3)    439.8    19.4    427.7    19.8    278.3    14.3 
Non-controlling interests    2.2    0.1    0.7    0.0    3.6    0.2 
Profit for the year (2)(3)    442.1    19.5    428.4    19.9    281.9    14.5 

 

 75 

 

 

(1)Other income for 2018 includes pre-tax income of US$14.5 million related to the sale of our interest in the Minera Exar S.A. lithium project in Argentina.
(2)Other expenses for 2016 includes a charge of US$32.8 million for impairment related to the closure of our train between Coya Sur and Tocopilla. Other expenses for 2016 also includes charges of approximately US$30.5 million related to our agreement with the DOJ and the administrative cease and desist order issued by the SEC in connection the inquiries arising out of the alleged violations of the books and records and internal controls provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. For more information, see “Item 3D. Risk Factors—Risks Relating to our Business—We could be subject to numerous risks as a result of legal proceedings and deferred prosecution agreements with U.S. and Chilean governmental authorities in relation to certain payments made by SQM between the tax years 2009 and 2015.” and “Item 8.A.7 Legal Proceedings.”
(3)Other expenses for 2017 include a charge of US$20.4 million relating to payment by our subsidiary SQM Salar to Corfo after entering into the Corfo Arbitration Agreement to terminate the arbitration proceedings and amend the existing Lease Agreement and Project Agreement. For more information, see “Item 8.A.7 Legal Proceedings.”
(4)Other expenses include the rent under lease contract with Corfo, which is described in Note 18.2 of the Consolidated Financial Statements. The payment made to Corfo were US$84.8 million in 2018, US$32.3 million in 2017, US$11.5 million in 2016, US$6.3 million in 2015, and US$6.2 million in 2014.
(5)As a result of the adoption of IFRS 9, a reclassification was made to present gains on reversal (losses) separately from other expenses as function. The corresponding reclassifications for prior periods are described in Note 2.4 of the Consolidated Financial Statements.

 

Results of Operations – 2018 compared to 2017

 

Revenues

 

Revenues increased by 5.0% to US$2,265.8 million in 2018 from US$2,157.3 million in 2017. The main factors that caused the increase in revenues and variations in different product lines are described below.

 

Lithium and Derivatives

 

Lithium and derivatives revenues increased 14.0% to US$734.8 million in 2018 from US$644.6 million in 2017. Set forth below are sales volume data for the specified years:

 

(in Th. MT)  2018   2017   % Change 
Lithium and derivatives   45.1    49.7    -9%

 

The lithium market continued its strong growth in 2018, with total lithium demand increasing by over 27% according to our estimates. Supply did not keep the same pace, and therefore market conditions remained tight. Our sales volumes decreased in 2018 when compared to 2017 as a result of the delayed completion and ramp-up of our plant expansion to 70,000 metric tons, which took approximately five weeks more than anticipated mainly due to the calibration and fine tuning of some of the new components. During this period, the plant produced approximately 4,000 MT less battery grade product than originally anticipated.

 

Average prices in this business line increased 25.6% in 2018 compared to average prices during 2017, reaching almost US$16,300/MT compared to average prices of approximately US$13,000/MT in 2017.

 

 76 

 

 

Specialty Plant Nutrition

 

Specialty plant nutrition revenues increased 12.1% to US$781.8 million in 2018 from US$697.3 million in 2017. Set forth below are sales volume data for the specified years by product category in this product line:

 

(in Th. MT)  2018   2017   % Change 
Potassium nitrate and sodium potassium nitrate   673.4    601.4    12%
Specialty blends   242.5    209.0    16%
Other specialty plant nutrients (*)   141.6    129.1    10%
Sodium nitrate   25.0    26.7    -6%

* Includes trading of other specialty fertilizers.

 

We sell various products within the specialty plant nutrition business line, and most of our specialty fertilizers are sold as either field fertilizers or water soluble fertilizers. Our sales volumes in this business line increased 12.0% in 2018 compared to 2017 primarily due to demand growth and limited supply from our competitors.

 

Average prices in the specialty plant nutrition business line were US$722/MT in 2018, the same as prices reported in 2017.

 

Iodine and Derivatives

 

Iodine and derivatives revenues increased 28.9% to US$325.0 million in 2018 from US$252.1 million in 2017. Set forth below are sales volume data for the specified years:

 

(in Th. MT)  2018   2017   % Change 
Iodine and derivatives   13.3    12.7    5%

 

Our sales volumes in this business line increased by approximately 5.1% in 2018 when compared to 2017, primarily as a result of higher demand and increased average prices.

 

Average prices during 2018 increased over 22.6% compared to 2017, reaching US$24/kilogram.

 

Potassium

 

Potassium revenues decreased 29.5% to US$267.5 million in 2018 from US$379.3 million in 2017. Set forth below are sales volume data for the specified years:

 

(in Th. MT)  2018   2017   % Change 
Potassium chloride and potassium sulfate   831.8    1,344.3    -38%

 

Our revenues in the potassium chloride and potassium sulfate business line were impacted by reduced sales volumes in 2018. As anticipated, sales volumes decreased over 38% during 2018 as a result of our production limitations as we focused our production efforts in the Salar de Atacama on increasing lithium yields. Furthermore, as a result of environmental compliance plan that was approved by the Chilean Environmental Authority (SMA) at the end of the year, we are temporarily extracting less brine than we had in the past. as we focused our production efforts in the Salar de Atacama on increasing lithium yields. The potassium chloride demand increased an additional 2 million metric tons in 2018, reaching almost 66 million metric tons. As result, potash prices increased slightly during the year. Average prices in the potassium chloride and potassium sulfate business line increased approximately 14% during 2018 when compared to 2017, reaching US$322/MT.

 

 77 

 

 

Industrial Chemicals

 

Industrial chemicals revenues decreased 20.1% to US$108.3 million in 2018 from US$135.6 million in 2017. Set forth below are sales volume data for the specified years by product category:

 

(in Th. MT)  2018   2017   % Change 
Industrial chemicals   135.9    167.6    -19%

 

Revenues in the industrial chemicals business line decreased as a result of lower sales volumes. These lower sales volumes were primarily related to decreased sales volumes of solar salts, which totaled 47,000 metric tons this year, in line with our estimated volumes for the year, but lower than the 88,000 metric tons sold in 2017.

 

Other Products and Services

 

Revenues from sales of other commodity fertilizers and other income was the same in 2018 and 2017, reaching US$48.5 million.

 

Cost of Sales

 

Our overall cost of sales increased 6.3% to US$1,483.5 million in 2018, which represented 65.5% of revenues, from US$1,394.3 million in 2017, which represented 64.7% of revenues. The main factors that caused the increase in cost of sales and variations in different product lines are described below.

 

Lithium and Derivatives

 

Lithium and derivatives cost of sales increased 67.5% to US$316.9 million in 2018 from US$189.2 million in 2017, primarily as result of higher lease payments to Corfo, and operating our production plant at full capacity for the majority of the year. The average cost of sales in the lithium and derivatives business line was US$6,100.4/MT in 2018, an increase of almost 60.2% from US$3,807.8/MT in 2017.

 

The agreement signed in January 2018, includes important amendments to the lease agreement and project agreement signed between CORFO and SQM in 1993. The main modifications became effective on April 10, 2018 and requires an increase in the lease payments by increasing the lease rates associated with the sale of the different products produced in the Salar de Atacama, including lithium carbonate, lithium hydroxide and potassium chloride. In regard to lithium carbonate, the former rate of 6.8% on FOB sales was changed to the following structure of progressive rates based on the final sale price (See Note 25.2 for the disclosure of lease payments made to CORFO for all periods presented.):

 

Price US$/MT Li2CO3  Lease payment rate 
$0 - $4,000   6.8%
$4,000 - $5,000   8.0%
$5,000 - $6,000   10.0%
$6,000 - $7,000   17.0%
$7,000 - $10,000   25.0%

 

Specialty Plant Nutrition

 

Specialty plant nutrition cost of sales increased 10.4% to US$613.3 million in 2018 from US$555.4 million in 2017, as a result of increased sales volumes in 2018. The average cost of sales in the specialty plant nutrition business line was US$546/MT in 2018, lower than US$575/MT in 2017.

 

Iodine and Derivatives

 

Iodine and derivatives cost of sales increased 8.9% to US$217.5 million in 2018 from US$199.8 million in 2017, as a result of increased sales volumes in 2018. The average cost of sales in the iodine and derivatives business line was US$15.4/kilogram in 2018, a decrease of 2.6% from US$15.8/kilogram in 2017.

 

 78 

 

 

Potassium

 

Potassium cost of sales decreased 30.7% to US$217.4 million in 2018 from US$313.7 million in 2017, as a result of decreased sales volumes. The average cost of sales in the potassium business line was US$236.4/MT in 2018, a slight decrease from US$233.3/MT in 2017.

 

Industrial Chemicals

 

Industrial chemicals cost of sales decreased 20.5% to US$73.0 million in 2018 from US$91.8 million in 2017, as a result of decreased sales of solar salts. The average cost of sales in the industrial chemicals business line was US$518.1/MT in 2018, a decrease of 5.4% from US$547/MT in 2017. This decrease in cost was a result of a change in product mix.

 

Gross Profit

 

Gross profit increased 2.6% to US$782.3 million in 2018, which represented 34.5% of revenues, from US$762.5 million in 2017, which represented 35.3% of revenues. As discussed above, this increase is attributable to the increase in revenues as a result of significantly higher lithium prices and higher sales volumes of specialty plant nutrients and iodine and derivatives.

 

Other Income

 

Other income increased 79.8% to US$32.0 million in 2018, which represented 1.4% of revenues, from US$17.8 million in 2017, which represented 0.8% of revenues. Other income for 2018 included pre-tax income of US$14.5 million related to the sale of our interest in the Minera Exar S.A. lithium project in Argentina. As a percentage of revenues, other income remained very similar between 2018 and 2017.

 

Administrative Expenses

 

Administrative expenses increased 16.7% to US$118.1 million in 2018, which represented 5.2% of revenues, from US$101.2 million in 2017, which represented 4.7% of revenues, due to increased revenues.

 

Other Expenses

 

Other expenses decreased 44.9% to US$33.9 million in 2018, which represented 1.5% of revenues, from US$61.6 million in 2017, which represented 2.9% of revenues. This decrease was primarily attributable to a charge of approximately US$20.4 million related to payment made by our subsidiary SQM Salar S.A. to Corfo after entering into the Corfo Arbitration Agreement and accounted for in our 2017 consolidated financial statements.

 

Other Gains (Losses)

 

Other gains increased to US$6.4 million in 2018, which represented 0.28% of revenues, from US$0.5 million in 2017, which represented 0.03% of revenues.

 

Finance Income

 

Finance income increased 66.9% to US$22.5 million in 2018, which represented 1.0% of revenues, from US$13.5 million in 2017, which represented 0.6% of revenues, due to higher interest rates earned on our investments and higher investments volumes during 2018.

 

 79 

 

 

Finance Expenses

 

Finance expenses increased 19.5% to US$59.9 million in 2018, which represented 2.6% of revenues, from US$50.1 million in 2017, which represented 2.3% of revenues, due to increased levels of debt that we had outstanding during 2018.

 

Equity Income of Associates and Joint Ventures Accounted for Using the Equity Method

 

Equity income of associates and joint ventures accounted for using the equity method decreased 56.1% to US$6.4 million in 2018, which represented 0.3% of revenues, from US$14.5 million in 2017, which represented 0.7% of revenues.

 

Foreign Currency Exchange Differences

 

Losses from foreign currency exchange differences amounted to US$16.6 million in 2018, which represented 0.7% of revenues, compared with a loss of US$1.3 million in 2017, which represented 0.1% of revenues. A significant portion of our costs is related to the Chilean peso as most of our operations occur in Chile. Because the U.S. dollar is our functional currency, we are subject to currency fluctuations. We seek to mitigate this impact through an active hedging program. During 2018, the Chilean peso depreciated 13.2% against the U.S. dollar.

 

Profit Before Taxes

 

Profit before taxes increased by US$26.4 million, or 4.4%, to US$621.0 million in 2018 from US$594.6 million in 2017. This increase was primarily attributable to increase in revenues by US$108.5 million, a decrease in other expenses by US$27.7 million and an increase in other income by US$14.2 million, partially offset by an increase in cost of sales by US$88.7 million and an increase in administrative expenses by US$17.0 million, as described above.

 

Income Tax Expense

 

Income tax expenses increased 7.7% to US$179.0 million in 2018, representing an effective tax rate of 28.8%, compared to US$166.2 million in 2017, representing an effective tax rate of 27.9%. The effective Chilean corporate tax rate was 25.5% during 2017 and increased to 27% during 2018. The difference between the statutory and effective tax rates was primarily due to a decrease related to tax effect of tax rates outside Chile and non-deductible expenses as detailed in the Note 30.3 to our Consolidated Financial Statements.

 

Profit for the Year

 

Profit for the year increased 3.2% to US$442.1 million in 2018 from US$428.4 million in 2017, primarily due to higher average prices in the lithium business line, higher specialty plant nutrient sales volumes, and higher average prices and sales volumes in the iodine business line. These factors offset the impact of the lower sales volumes of potassium chloride.

 

Results of Operations – 2017 compared to 2016

 

Revenues

 

Revenues increased by 11.2% to US$2,157.3 million in 2017 from US$1,939.3 million in 2016. The main factors that caused the increase in revenues and variations in different product lines are described below.

 

 80 

 

 

Specialty Plant Nutrition

 

Specialty plant nutrition revenues increased 11.8% to US$697.3 million in 2017 from US$623.9 million in 2016. Set forth below are sales volume data for the specified years by product category in this product line:

 

(in Th. MT)  2017   2016   % Change 
Potassium nitrate and sodium potassium nitrate   601.4    475.8    26%
Specialty blends   209.0    213.5    -2%
Other specialty plant nutrients (*)   129.1    127.2    2%
Sodium nitrate   26.7    24.4    10%

* Includes trading of other specialty fertilizers.

 

We sell various products within the specialty plant nutrition business line, and most of our specialty fertilizers are sold as either field fertilizers or water soluble fertilizers. Our sales volumes in this business line increased 14.9% in 2017 compared to 2016 primarily due to demand growth and limited supply from our competitors.

 

Average prices in the specialty plant nutrition business line were US$722/MT in 2017, slightly lower than US$742/MT in 2016.

 

Iodine and Derivatives

 

Iodine and derivatives revenues increased 9.1% to US$252.1 million in 2017 from US$231.1 million in 2016. Set forth below are sales volume data for the specified years:

 

(in Th. MT)  2017   2016   % Change 
Iodine and derivatives   12.7    10.2    24%

 

Our sales volumes in this business line increased by approximately 24% compared to 2016, primarily as

a result of higher demand due to new applications of iodine in the specialty plastics and carbon energy plants emission control industries.

 

However, average prices during 2017 continued to face downward pressure. Our average price for the year was US$20/kilogram, a decrease of over 12% compared to 2016.

 

Lithium and Derivatives

 

Lithium and derivatives revenues increased 25.3% to US$644.6 million in 2017 from US$514.6 million in 2016. Set forth below are sales volume data for the specified years:

 

(in Th. MT)  2017   2016   % Change 
Lithium and derivatives   49.7    49.7    0%

 

The lithium market continued its strong growth in 2017, with total lithium demand increasing by nearly 17% according to our estimates. Supply did not keep the same pace, and therefore market conditions remained tight.

 

Average prices in this business line increased 25% compared to average prices during 2016, reaching almost US$13,000/MT compared to average prices of approximately US$10,400/MT in 2016.

 

 81 

 

 

Potassium

 

Potassium revenues decreased 5.9% to US$379.3 million in 2017 from US$403.3 million in 2016. Set forth below are sales volume data for the specified years:

 

(in Th. MT)  2017   2016   % Change 
Potassium chloride and potassium sulfate   1,344.3    1,534.7    -12%

 

Our revenues in the potassium chloride and potassium sulfate business line were impacted by reduced sales volumes in 2017. As anticipated, sales volumes decreased over 12% during 2017 as we focused our production efforts in the Salar de Atacama on increasing lithium yields. The potassium chloride demand increased an additional 4 million metric tons in 2017, reaching almost 63 million metric tons. As result, potash prices increased slightly during the year. Average prices in the potassium chloride and potassium sulfate business line increased approximately 7.4% during 2017 when compared to 2016, reaching US$282/MT.

 

Industrial Chemicals

 

Industrial chemicals revenues increased 30.2% to US$135.6 million in 2017 from US$104.1 million in 2016. Set forth below are sales volume data for the specified years by product category:

 

(in Th. MT)  2017   2016   % Change 
Industrial chemicals   167.6    128.9    30%

 

Revenues in the industrial chemicals business line increased as a result of higher sales volumes. These higher sales volumes were primarily related to increased sales volumes of solar salts, which totaled almost 88,000 metric tons this year, in line with our estimated volumes for the year.

 

Other Products and Services

 

Revenues from sales of other commodity fertilizers and other income decreased 22% to US$48.5 million in 2017 from US$62.2 million in 2016, primarily due to reduced sales volumes.

 

Cost of Sales

 

Our overall cost of sales increased 5.0% to US$1,394.8 million in 2017, which represented 64.7% of revenues, from US$1,328.3 million in 2016, which represented 68.5% of revenues. The main factors that caused the increase in cost of sales and variations in different product lines are described below.

 

Specialty Plant Nutrition

 

Specialty plant nutrition cost of sales increased 16.2% to US$555.4 million in 2017 from US$478.1 million in 2016, as a result of increased sales volumes in 2017. The average cost of sales in the specialty plant nutrition business line was US$575/MT in 2017, slightly higher than US$569/MT in 2016.

 

Iodine and Derivatives

 

Iodine and derivatives cost of sales increased 4.4% to US$199.8 million in 2017 from US$191.3 million in 2016, as a result of increased sales volumes in 2017. The average cost of sales in the iodine and derivatives business line was US$16/kilogram in 2017, a decrease of almost 16% from US$19/kilogram in 2016. We believe that we are the lowest cost producer of iodine and the cost reduction achieved in 2017 is a result of concentrating all of our production in the modern and efficient production facilities at Nueva Victoria after the closure of Pedro de Valdivia plant.

 

 82 

 

 

Lithium and Derivatives

 

Lithium and derivatives cost of sales increased 7.8% to US$189.2 million in 2017 from US$175.6 million in 2016, primarily as result of higher lease payments to Corfo, and operating our production plant at full capacity. The average cost of sales in the lithium and derivatives business line was US$3,808/MT in 2017, an increase of almost 7.7% from US$3,536/MT in 2016.

 

Potassium

 

Potassium cost of sales decreased 12.7% to US$313.7 million in 2017 from US$359.5 million in 2016, as a result of decreased sales volumes. The average cost of sales in the potassium business line was US$233/MT in 2017, a slight decrease from US$234/MT in 2016.

 

Industrial Chemicals

 

Industrial chemicals cost of sales increased 36.2% to US$91.8 million in 2017 from US$67.4 million in 2015, as a result of increased sales of solar salts. The average cost of sales in the industrial chemicals business line was US$547/MT in 2017, an increase of 4.7% from US$523/MT in 2016. This increase in cost was a result of a change in product mix.

 

Gross Profit

 

Gross profit increased 24.8% to US$762.5 million in 2017, which represented 35.3% of revenues, from US$611.0 million in 2016, which represented 31.5% of revenues. As discussed above, this increase is attributable to the increase in revenues as a result of significantly higher lithium prices, higher sales volumes in specialty plant nutrition, iodine and derivatives, and solar salts. A reduction in cost of sales from 68.5% of 2016 revenues to 64.7% of 2017 revenues also contributed to an increase in gross profit.

 

Other Income

 

Other income increased 17.3% to US$17.8 million in 2017, which represented 0.8% of revenues, from US$15.2 million in 2016, which represented 0.8% of revenues. As a percentage of revenues, other income remained very similar between 2017 and 2016.

 

Administrative Expenses

 

Administrative expenses increased 14.4% to US$101.2 million in 2017, which represented 4.7% of revenues, from US$88.4 million in 2016, which represented 4.6% of revenues, due to increased revenues.

 

Other Expenses

 

Other expenses decreased 31.3% to US$61.6 million in 2017, which represented 2.9% of revenues, from US$89.7 million in 2016, which represented 4.6% of revenues. This decrease was primarily attributable to a one-time charge for impairment related to the closing of the train between Coya Sur and Tocopilla of approximately US$32.8 million and a charge of approximately US$30.5 million related to the Company's agreement with the DOJ and the administrative cease and desist order issued by the SEC, both in 2016. The decrease in other expenses seen in 2017 was partially offset by a charge of approximately US$20.4 million relating to payment made by our subsidiary SQM Salar S.A. to Corfo after entering into the Corfo Arbitration Agreement.

 

 83 

 

 

Other Gains (Losses)

 

Other gains (losses) decreased to a gain of US$0.5 million in 2017, which represented 0.03% of revenues, from a gain of US$0.7 million in 2016, which represented 0.04% of revenues.

 

Finance Income

 

Finance income increased 33.3% to US$13.5 million in 2017, which represented 0.6% of revenues, from US$10.1 million in 2016, which represented 0.5% of revenues, due to higher interest rates earned on our investments and higher investments volumes during the year.

 

Finance Expenses

 

Finance expenses decreased 12.8% to US$50.1 million in 2017, which represented 2.3% of revenues, from US$57.5 million in 2016, which represented 3.0% of revenues, due to decreased levels of debt that we had during 2017.

 

Equity Income of Associates and Joint Ventures Accounted for Using the Equity Method

 

Equity income of associates and joint ventures accounted for using the equity method increased 10.8% to US$14.5 million in 2017, which represented 0.7% of revenues, from US$13.0 million in 2016, which represented 0.7% of revenues.

 

Foreign Currency Exchange Differences

 

Losses from foreign currency exchange differences amounted to US$1.3 million in 2017, which represented 0.06% of revenues, compared with a profit of US$0.5 million in 2016, which represented 0.2% of revenues. A significant portion of our costs is related to the Chilean peso as most of our operations occur in Chile. Because the U.S. dollar is our functional currency, we are subject to currency fluctuations. We seek to mitigate this impact through an active hedging program. During 2017, the Chilean peso appreciated 8.0% against the U.S. dollar.

 

Profit Before Taxes

 

Profit before taxes increased by US$179.7 million, or 43.3%, to US$594.6 million in 2017 from US$414.9 million in 2016. This increase was primarily attributable to increase in revenues by US$218.0 million, a decrease in financial expenses by US$7.4 million and a decrease in other expenses by US$28.1 million, partially offset by an increase in cost of sales by US$66.5 million, each of the reasons described above.

 

Income Tax Expense

 

Income tax expenses increased 25.0% to US$166.2 million in 2017, representing an effective tax rate of 27.9%, compared to US$133.0 million in 2016, representing an effective tax rate of 32.0%. The effective Chilean corporate tax rate was 24.0% during 2016 and increased to 25.5% during 2017. The difference between the statutory and effective tax rates was primarily due to a decrease related to tax effect of tax rates outside Chile and non-deductible expenses as detailed in the Note 30.3 to our Consolidated Financial Statements.

 

 84 

 

 

Profit for the Year

 

Profit for the year increased 52.0% to US$428.4 million in 2017 from US$281.9 million in 2016, primarily as a result of significantly higher lithium prices and increased sales volumes in specialty plant nutrients, iodine and derivatives and industrial chemicals business lines.

 

5.B.   Liquidity and Capital Resources

 

As of December 31, 2018, we had US$868.8 million of cash and cash equivalents and time deposits. In addition, as of December 31, 2018, we had US$481 million of unused uncommitted working capital credit lines.

 

Shareholders’ equity decreased to US$2,137.8 million as of December 31, 2018 from US$2,247.5 million as of December 31, 2017. Our ratio of total liabilities to total equity (including non-controlling interest) on a consolidated basis increased to 1.00 as of December 31, 2018 from 0.91 as of December 31, 2017.

 

We evaluate from time to time our cash requirements to fund capital expenditures, dividend payouts and increases in working capital, but we believe our working capital is sufficient for our present requirements. As debt requirements also depend on the level of accounts receivable and inventories, we cannot accurately determine the amount of debt we will require nor are our requirements typically seasonal.

 

The table below shows our cash flows for 2018, 2017 and 2016:

 

(in millions of US$)  2018   2017   2016 
Net cash from operating activities   524.8    758.3    633.7 
Net cash used in financing activities   (387.3)   (411.9)   (816.4)
Net cash from (used in) investing activities   (187.0)   (248.1)   162.4 
Effects of exchange rate fluctuations on cash and cash equivalents   (24.9)   17.5    7.8 
Net increase (decrease) in cash and cash equivalents   (74.4)   115.8    (12.6)

 

We operate a capital-intensive business that requires significant investments in revenue-generating assets. Our past growth strategies have included purchasing production facilities and equipment and the improvement and expansion of existing facilities. Funds for capital expenditures and working capital requirements have been obtained from net cash from operating activities, borrowing under credit facilities and issuing debt securities.

 

The Board of Directors approved a capital expenditures plan for 2019 of approximately US$360 million in connection with investments to be made in Chile and abroad. The 2019 capital investment program is primarily focused on the maintenance and expansion of our production facilities as well as investment in new projects. Our 2019 capital investment program does not require external financing but we evaluate from time to time whether to access capital markets in order to optimize our financial position. See “Item 4.A. History and Development of the Company—Capital Expenditure Program.”

 

Our other major use of funds is for dividend distributions. The Board of Directors approved payment of dividends of US$542 million and US$370 million during 2018 and 2017, respectively. In the consolidated statement of cash flows, we reported dividends paid of US$550 and US$374 during 2018 and 2017, respectively. The difference in the amounts of dividends paid set forth in the consolidated statement of cash flows, and the amount approved by the Board, is due to the differences in the exchange rate. For a disclosure of our 2018 dividend policy and payments, see “Item 8.A.8. Dividend Policy”.

 

The Dividend Policy proposal for 2019 is expected to be announced at the Annual Shareholders’ Meeting to be held on April 25, 2019.

 

 85 

 

 

Financing Activities

 

Our current ratio, defined as current assets divided by current liabilities, increased to 4.32 as of December 31, 2018 from 3.29 as of December 31, 2017. The following table shows key information about our outstanding long- and short-term debt as of December 31, 2018.

 

Debt Instrument (1)  Current Amount (ThUS$)   Non-Current Amount (ThUS$)   Interest Rate   Issue Date  Maturity Date  Amortization
Bilateral loan — US$70 million              3.98%  May 29, 2019  May 29, 2023  Bullet
5.50% Notes due 2020 — US$250 million    2,288    249,869    5.50%  Apr. 21, 2010  Apr. 21, 2020  Bullet
3.625% Notes due 2023 — US$300 million    2,044    247,798    3.63%  Apr. 03, 2013  Apr. 03, 2023  Bullet
4.375% Notes due 2025 — US$250 million    4,215    297,994    4.38%  Oct. 28, 2014  Jan. 28, 2025  Bullet
Series H Bond — UF 4 million.    3,617    157,312    4.90%  Jan. 05, 2009  Jan. 05, 2030  Semiannual, beginning in 2019
Series O Bond — UF 1.5 million    867    58,636    3.80%  Feb. 01, 2012  Feb. 01, 2033  Bullet
Series P Bond — UF 3 million    1,772    118,927    3.25%  April 6, 2018  Jan. 15, 2028  Bullet
Series Q Bond — UF 3 million    342    118,943    3.45%  Nov. 8, 2018  Jun. 15, 2038  Bullet

 

(1) With the exception of the Series Q bond, UF denominated bonds are fully hedged to U.S. dollars with cross-currency swaps.

 

As of December 31, 2018, we had total financial debt of US$1,330 million compared to US$1,031 million as of December 31, 2017. Of the total short-term debt as of December 31, 2018 was US$23.6 million, and as of December 31, 2017 was US$220.3 million.

 

As of December 31, 2018, all of our long-term debt, including the current portion, was denominated in U.S. dollars, and with the exception of our Series Q Bonds, all our UF-denominated bonds were hedged with cross-currency swaps to the U.S. dollar.

 

The financial covenants related to our debt instruments include: (i) limitations on the ratio of total liabilities to equity (including non-controlling interest) on a consolidated basis, and (ii) minimum production assets. We believe that the terms and conditions of our debt agreements are standard and customary.

 

The following table shows the maturities of our nominal long-term debt by year as of December 31, 2018 (in millions of US dollars):

 

Maturity (1)  Amount 
2019   7.2 
2020   264.4 
2021   14.4 
2022   14.4 
2023 and thereafter   1,025.8 
Total   1,326.3 

 

(1) Only the principal amount has been included. For the UF-denominated local bonds, the amounts presented reflect the real U.S. dollar obligation as of December 31, 2018 not including the effects of the cross-currency swaps that hedge these bonds to the U.S. dollar and which had, as of December 31, 2018, a market value of US$3.8 million against SQM.

 

On April 5, 2018, we placed and sold on the Chilean stock market an issue of Series P bonds for a total amount of UF 3,000,000 (approximately US$135 million). The Series P bonds (i) have a maturity date of January 15, 2028, (ii) will accrue interest at the rate of 3.25% per annum on the unpaid capital, expressed in UF, from January 15, 2018 and (iii) have an early redemption option from April 5, 2018.

 

 86 

 

 

On November 8, 2018, we placed and sold on the Chilean stock market an issue of Series Q bonds for a total amount of UF 3,000,000 (approximately US$123.6 million). The Series Q bonds have a: (i) maturity date of June 1, 2038, (ii) will accrue interest at a rate of 3.45% per annum on the unpaid capital, expressed in UF, from June 1, 2018 and (iii) have an early redemption option from November 8, 2018.

 

Environmental and Occupational Safety and Health Projects

 

We spent US$26.2 million on environmental, safety and health projects in 2018. We have budgeted approximately US$23.0 million in 2019 for environmental, safety and health projects. This amount forms part of the capital expenditure program discussed above.

 

Non-IFRS Financial Measures

 

This annual report makes reference to certain non-IFRS financial measures, namely EBITDA and adjusted EBITDA. These non-IFRS financial measures are not recognized measures under IFRS, do not have a standardized meaning prescribed by IFRS and are therefore unlikely to be comparable to similar measures presented by other companies. Rather, these measures are provided as additional information to complement IFRS measures by providing further understanding of the Company’s results of operations from management’s perspective. Accordingly, they should not be considered in isolation nor as a substitute for analysis of our financial information reported under IFRS.

 

EBITDA represents Profit for the Year + Depreciation and Amortization Expenses + Finance Costs + Income Tax and Adjusted EBITDA is defined as EBITDA – Other income – Other gains (losses) - Share of Profit of associates and joint ventures accounted for using the equity method + Other expenses by function + Net impairment gains on reversal (losses) of financial assets – Finance income – Currency differences. We have included EBITDA and adjusted EBITDA to provide investors with a supplemental measure of our operating performance.

 

We believe EBITDA and adjusted EBITDA are important supplemental measures of operating performance because it eliminates items that have less bearing on our operating performance and thus highlights trends in our core business that may not otherwise be apparent when relying solely on IFRS financial measures.

 

EBITDA and adjusted EBITDA have important limitations as analytical tools. For example, EBITDA and adjusted EBITDA do not reflect (a) our cash expenditures, or future requirements for capital expenditures or contractual commitments; (b) changes in, or cash requirements for, our working capital needs; (c) the significant interest expense, or the cash requirements necessary to service interest or principal payments, on our debt; and (d) tax payments or distributions to our parent to make payments with respect to taxes attributable to us that represent a reduction in cash available to us. Although we consider the items excluded in the calculation of non-IFRS measures to be less relevant to evaluate our performance, some of these items may continue to take place and accordingly may reduce the cash available to us. See also note 19.1 of the Consolidated Financial Statements.

 

 87 

 

 

We believe that the presentation of the non-IFRS financial measures described above is appropriate. However, these non-IFRS measures have important limitations as analytical tools, and you should not consider them in isolation, or as substitutes for analysis of our results as reported under IFRS. Because of these limitations, we primarily rely on our results as reported in accordance with IFRS and use EBITDA and adjusted EBITDA only supplementally.

 

   For the year ended December 31, 2018, 2017, 2016 
   2018   2017   2016 
   (ThUS$)   (ThUS$)   (ThUS$) 
Profit for the Year   442,063    428,417    281,924 
(+) Depreciation and amortization expenses   221,499    240,526    249,792 
(+) Finance costs   59,914    50,124    57,498 
(+) Income tax   178,975    166,173    132,965 
EBITDA   902,451    885.240    722,179 
(-) Other income   32,048    17,827    15,202 
(-) Other gains (losses)   6,404    543    679 
(-) Share of Profit of associates and joint ventures accounted for using the equity method   6,351    14,452    13,047 
(+) Other Expenses by Function   36,907    53,600    82,533 
(+) Net impairment gains on reversal (losses) of financial assets   (2,967)   8,038    7,198 
(-) Finance income   22,533    13,499    10,129 
(-) Currency differences   (16,597)   (1,299)   460 
Adjusted EBITDA   885,652    901,856    772,393 

 

5.C.   Research and Development, Patents and Licenses, etc.

 

One of the main objectives of our research and development team is to develop new processes and products in order to maximize the returns obtained from the resources that we exploit. Our research is performed by three different units, whose research topics cover all of the processes involved in the production of our products, including chemical process design, phase chemistry, chemical analysis methodologies and physical properties of finished products.

 

Our research and development policy emphasizes the following: (i) optimizing current processes in order to decrease costs and improve product quality through the implementation of new technology, (ii) developing higher-margin products from current products through vertical integration or different product specifications, (iii) adding value to inventories and (iv) using renewable energy in our processes.

 

Our research and development activities have been instrumental in improving our production processes and developing new value-added products. As a result, new methods of extraction, crystallization and finishing products have been developed. Technological advances in recent years have enabled us to improve process efficiency for the nitrate, potassium and lithium operations, improve the physical quality of our prilled products and reduce dust emissions and caking by applying specially designed additives to our products handled in bulk. Our research and development efforts have also resulted in new, value-added markets for our products. One example is the use of sodium nitrate and potassium nitrate as thermal storage in solar power plants.

 

We have patented several production processes for nitrate, iodine and lithium products. These patents have been filed mainly in the United States, Chile and in other countries when necessary. The patents used in our production processes include Chilean patent No. 47,080 for iodine (production of spherical granules of chemicals that sublime), Japanese patent No. 4,889,848 for nitrates (granular fertilizers) and patent Nos. 41,838 from Chile, 5393-B and 5391-B from Bolivia, AR001918B1 and AR001916B1 from Argentina and 5,676,916 and 5,939,038 from the U.S. for lithium (removal of boron from brines).

 

5.D.   Trend Information

 

Our revenues increased 5.0% to US$2,265.8 million in 2018 from US$2,157.3 million in 2017. Gross profit increased 2.6% to US$782.3 million in 2018, which represented 34.5% of revenues, from US$762.5 million in 2017, which represented 35.3% of revenues. Profit attributable to controlling interests increased 2.8% to US$439.8 million in 2018 from US$427.7 million in 2017.

 

 88 

 

 

We saw lower sales volumes in the lithium business line in 2018 compared to 2017 as a result of delayed completion of ramp-up of our lithium carbonate plant expansion to 70,000 metric tons. The lithium market continued its strong growth in 2018, with total demand growth surpassing 27% according to our estimates. Average prices in this business line were 25.6% higher in 2018 when compared to average prices seen during 2017. New supply is entering the market, which could impact our ability to maintain this price premium in 2019. However, there are several lithium grades of different qualities available in the lithium market, and not all products are sold at the same price. We do not believe that all lithium supply entering the market is suitable for all customers. We will focus on providing a high-quality grade lithium to our customers in 2019. We will also rebuild some inventories this year, and as a result of this, we believe our sales volumes in 2019 could be slightly higher than sales volumes seen in 2018. Demand growth in 2018 and continuing into 2019 was led by demand related to batteries for electric vehicles. We believe that full electric vehicle penetration rates reached 2% in 2018, and this number is expected to over double in the next five years. Demand in 2019 is expected to be at least 20% greater than total demand in 2018.

 

Our sales volumes in the specialty plant nutrition business line increased 12.0% in 2018 compared to 2017, while average prices were flat, increasing by a mere 0.07%. As a result of the higher sales volumes, our revenues in this business line increased by 12.1%. Higher sales volumes seen during 2018 were due to demand growth and limited supply from our competitors. We sell various products within this business line, and most of our specialty fertilizers are sold as either field fertilizers or water soluble fertilizers. Our strategy in this business line has been to focus primarily on the water-soluble fertilizer market, which in general yields higher margins and has more growth potential.

 

Our sales volumes in the iodine business line increased 5.1% in 2018. We also saw prices increase during 2018; we closed the fourth quarter with average prices of almost US$26/kg, exceeding our original expectations. Average prices in 2018 were 22.6% higher than the average prices seen in 2017. Increased sales volumes and higher prices resulted in an increase of 28.9% in our revenues for this business line. According to our estimates, the global iodine demand grew slightly in 2018 reaching almost 36,300 MT and we increased our market share to over 36%.

 

Our sales volumes in the potassium business line decreased by 38.1% in 2018 compared to 2017. These lower sales volumes were a result of our production limitations as we focused our production efforts in the Salar de Atacama on increasing lithium yields. Furthermore, as a result of environmental compliance plan that was approved by the Chilean Environmental Authority (SMA) in January 2019, at the end of the year, we are temporarily extracting less brine than we had in the past. We had previously announced that potassium chloride and potassium sulfate sales volumes could decrease significantly in 2019 when compared to 2018, we now believe that sales volumes for 2019 will be below 500,000 metric tons. Average prices in the potassium chloride and potassium sulfate business line increased approximately 14.0% during 2018 when compared to 2017, reaching US$322/MT. The higher prices reflected the stronger global demand for potassium chloride in 2018, reaching almost 66 million metric tons.

 

Our sales volumes in the industrial chemicals product line decreased 18.9% in 2018 compared to 2017, as a result of lower sales volumes of solar salts. Solar salts sales depend on the ramp up of the concentrated solar power plants (CSP) projects and we expect our sales volumes in 2019 to be approximately 50,000 metric tons, very similar to the 47,000 metric tons sold in 2018.

 

5.E.   Off-Balance Sheet Arrangements

 

We have not entered into any transactions with unconsolidated entities whereby we have financial guarantees, retained or contingent interests in transferred assets, derivative instruments or other contingent arrangements that would expose us to material continuing risks, contingent liabilities, or any other obligations arising out of a variable interest in an unconsolidated entity that provides financing, liquidity, market risk or credit risk support to us or that engages in leasing, hedging or research and development services with us.

 

 89 

 

 

5.F.   Tabular Disclosure of Contractual Obligations

 

The following tables show our material expected obligations and commitments as of December 31, 2018 (in millions of US dollars):

 

       Less Than   1 - 3   3 - 5   More Than 
   Total   1 year   years   years   5 years 
   ThUS$   ThUS$   ThUS$   ThUS$   ThUS$ 
Financial liabilities (1)    1,682.5    65.5    360.1    543.3    713.6 
Operating leases   2,051    188.6    338.5    338.5    1,185 
Purchase commitments (2)   59.9    59.9    -    -    - 
Staff severance indemnities   28.2    -    -    -    28.2 
Total contractual obligations and commitments   3,821.2    314    698.6    881.8    1,926.8 

 

(1) Include short-term and long-term financial liabilities with interest calculated based on the contractual agreements and considering the effect of hedging financial instruments.

 

(2) The purchase commitments held by the Company are recognized as a liability when the services and goods are received by the Company.

 

5.G.   Safe Harbor

 

The information contained in Items 5.E and 5.F contains statements that may constitute forward-looking statements. See “Cautionary Statement Regarding Forward-Looking Statements” in this Annual Report, for safe harbor provisions.

 

ITEM 6.DIRECTORS, SENIOR MANAGEMENT AND EMPLOYEES

 

6.A.   Directors and Senior Management

 

We are managed by our executive officers under the direction of our Board of Directors, which, in accordance with our By-laws, consists of eight directors, seven of whom are elected by holders of Series A common shares and one of whom is elected by holders of Series B common shares. The entire Board of Directors is regularly elected every three years at our Ordinary Shareholders’ Meeting. Cumulative voting is allowed for the election of directors. The Board of Directors may appoint replacements to fill any vacancies that occur during periods between elections. If a vacancy occurs, the entire Board must be elected or re-elected at the next regularly scheduled Ordinary Shareholders’ Meeting. Our Chief Executive Officer is appointed by the Board of Directors and holds office at the discretion of the Board. The Chief Executive Officer appoints our executive officers. There are regularly scheduled meetings of the Board of Directors once a month. Extraordinary meetings may be called by the Chairman when requested by (i) the director elected by holders of the Series B common shares, (ii) any other director with the assent of the Chairman or (iii) an absolute majority of all directors. The Board of Directors has a Directors’ Committee and its regulations are discussed below.

 

Each of the six members of the current Board of Directors was elected for a three-year term at the Annual Ordinary Shareholders’ Meeting that took place on April 27, 2018. Between January 1, 2018 and April 27, 2018, Messrs. Eugenio Ponce L., Gerardo Jofré M. and Fernando Massu T. served as Board members. Between January 1, 2018 and January 24, 2018, Robert Kirkpatrick and Joanne Boyes served as Board members. On January 24, 2018, Mr. Darryl Stann was appointed as a director replacing Ms. Joanne Boyes. On February 19, 2018, Mr. Mark F. Fracchia was appointed as a director replacing Mr. Kirkpatrick. On December 5, 2018, Messrs. Stann and Fracchia presented to the Board of Directors their resignations from the positions as directors of SQM. As a result of the resignations of Mr. Stann and Mr. Fracchia, there are currently two vacancies on the Board, and pursuant to the Company’s By-laws, the entire Board of Directors will be elected at the next Annual General Shareholders’ Meeting on April 25, 2019 for new three-year terms.

 

 90 

 

 

Our current directors are as follows:

 

Name   Position and relevant experience   Current position
held since
Alberto Salas M.   Chairman of the Board and Director. Mr. Salas earned a degree in Mining Civil Engineering from the Universidad de Chile and holds a post-graduate degree in Corporate Finance from Adolfo Ibáñez University, Chile. He is a Board member of Cia. Minera Valle Central, CAP Minería, ENAEX S. A. and Amerigo Resources Ltd. He is also president of the Mining Engineers-Foundation University of Chile, the Chilean Pacific Foundation, the Inter-American Mining Society and the Latin American Mining Organization. He is currently chairman of the National Institute of Professional Training (INACAP).   April 2018
         
Patricio Contesse F.   Vice Chairman of the Board and Director. Mr. Contesse is a lawyer with a degree from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. Previously, he served as a Board member of SQM during 2013 until 2015. Since 2011, he has been Board member and held senior executive positions in Pampa Group, where he is currently Vice Chairman of Pampa Calichera, Oro Blanco, Potasios de Chile and Norte Grande, as well as a Board member of Nitratos de Chile.   April 2018
         
Hernán Büchi B.   Director. Mr. Büchi earned a degree in Civil Engineering from the Universidad de Chile. He served on the SQM Board of Directors for several years until April 2016, before rejoining in 2017. He is currently a Board member of Quiñenco S.A. and S.A.C.I. Falabella, among others. He is also Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Universidad del Desarrollo.   April 2017
         
Laurence Golborne R.   Director. Mr. Golborne earned a degree in Industrial Civil Engineering from the Universidad Católica de Chile. He is a member of the Board of Ripley Corp. S.A., Construmart S.A., and Aventura S.A. (Perú), a Board Adviser of Sociedad Inversiones Arrigoni S.A. and Metalúrgica Arrigoni S.A., and President of Tavamay S.A. (Paraguay). Previously, Mr. Golborne was Chilean Minister of the State during 2010-2012, CEO of Cencosud S.A., and Corporate Director of Finance at Gener S.A., among other roles in various companies.   April 2018

 

 91 

 

 

Name   Position and relevant experience   Current position
held since
Gonzalo Guerrero Y (1).   Director. Mr. Guerrero Yamamoto earned a law degree from the Universidad de Chile and a Masters of Business Law from the Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez. He was General Counsel and substitute Board member of Integramédica S.A. for more than seven years and was a Director of Inversiones Oro Blanco S.A., Asfaltos Chilenos S.A. and VNT S.A. (Vantrust Capital Asset Management), among others, until April 2016. Currently, he is an Executive Board member of Guerrero and Associates, and a Board member of Sanasalud S.A., Club Deportivo Palestino SADP and SMA Clínica Internacional S.A. (Peru).   April 2017
         
Arnfinn F. Prugger   Director. Dr. Prugger is former Vice President, Technical Services of Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan, now Nutrien, retiring from this position on January 30, 2018. He has worked in the potash industry for over 40 years and has a wide range of senior-level experience in mining, mine operations and potash exploration.  Dr. Prugger is currently a Canadian Institute of Mining (CIM) Distinguished Lecturer.   April 2015

 

Our current executive officers are as follows:

 

Name   Position and relevant experience   Current position
held since
Ricardo Ramos R.   Chief Executive Officer. Mr. Ramos earned an industrial engineering degree from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. In 1989, he joined SQM as Finance Advisor and served as Chief Financial Officer and Vice President of Corporate Services from 1994 until 2018, before assuming his current role in January 2019.   January 2019
         
Gerardo Illanes G. (2)   Chief Financial Officer. Mr. Illanes earned an engineering degree from the Universidad Católica de Chile and a Master of Business Administration from Emory University's Goizueta Business School. In 2006, he joined SQM and has served in several positions within the finance area at our headquarters in Santiago, Chile and in subsidiaries around the world. Mr. Illanes is also a member of the Board of Soquimich Comercial. In May 2016, he became Vice President of Finance, and assumed his current role in October 2018.   October 2018

 

 92 

 

 

Name   Position and relevant experience   Current position
held since
Gonzalo Aguirre T.   General Counsel. Mr. Aguirre earned a degree in law from the Universidad Católica de Chile and a Master of Laws (LL.M) degree from Georgetown University Law Center. He joined SQM in April 2016 and has served as Legal Vice President since September 2016. Prior to joining SQM, he worked at SunEdison as Head of Legal for Latin America and at AES Gener, where he served as a counsel on corporate and project matters. Prior to his in-house experience, he worked for Carey, Paul Hastings LLP (as an international legal consultant) and Vial and Palma, where his practice focused on corporate and financial matters. He is admitted to practice in Chile and in Washington, D.C., as a special legal consultant.   September 2016
         
Pablo Altimiras C.   Vice President of Lithium and Iodine Business. Mr. Altimiras earned an engineering degree and a Master of Business Administration from the Universidad Católica de Chile. In 2007, he joined SQM as Chief of Logistics Projects. In 2009, he was promoted to Regulatory Affairs Director. He was Business Development Vice Manager from 2010 to 2011 and Development and Planning Manager in 2012. In 2016, he became Vice President of Development and Planning.   October 2018
         
José Miguel Berguño C. (3)   Vice President of Operations, Nitrates and Iodine. Mr. Berguño earned an engineering degree and Master of Business Administration from the Universidad Católica de Chile. In 1998, he joined SQM as Planning Engineer. In 2001, he served as Supply Chain Manager, and in 2006 he was Human Resources Manager. From 2010 to 2011, he was the National Director of Science under the Minister of Labor. In 2012, he was Human Resources Manager for Vitamina Work Life. In 2013, he resumed his role as Supply Chain Manager at SQM, and in 2016 took on the position of Vice President of Human Resources and Performance. In 2019, he became Vice President of Operarions of Nitrates and Iodine.   March 2019
         
Frank Biot   Vice President of Nitrates and Potassium Business Mr. Biot earned a Master in Applied Economics from the University of Antwerp in Belgium and a Master of Business Administration from the Catholic University of Leuven. In 1984, he joined Nitrate Corporation of Chile Ltd. in London. In 1991, he was promoted to President of SQM Europe at SQM’s regional headquarters for Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania. In 2000, he assumed the position of Commercial Vice President Specialty Plant Nutrition.   October 2018

 

 93 

 

 

Name   Position and relevant experience   Current position
held since
Carlos Díaz O.   Vice President of Operations, Potassium and Lithium. Mr. Díaz earned an engineering degree and a Master of Business Administration from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. In 1996, he joined SQM as Planning Engineer in the Sales Division. He was promoted to Planning Manager in 1998. In 2002, he assumed the position of Deputy Financial Manager of the Commercial Offices. In 2006, he became our Logistics Manager, and in 2019 he became Vice President of Operations, Potassium and Lithium.   March 2019
         
Raul Puerto M.  

Internal Audit Manager. He earned a Master of Business Administration from the University of Chile and Tulane University and an industrial engineering degree from the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana de Colombia. Mr. Puerto has 20 years of experience in audit, risk management, internal control, and compliance, having worked in AngloAmerican, BHP, and Deloitte, leading Internal Audit, Risk Management and other Administrative areas in Chile and Latin America.

 

  January 2016
         
Francisco Sanchez V.   Risk Management and Compliance Officer. Mr Sanchez earned and engineering degree and is candidate for a Master of Business Administration, both from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. He joined SQM in 2008 as a Management Control Engineer, then he worked in Finance in Soquimich Comercial S.A., and in 2012 he was promoted to Finance Director, first for SQM Mexico, and then for the Latin America region. In 2017, he assumed the position of Compliance Project Director.   April 2019

 

(1)As of December 31, 2018, Mr. Guerrero beneficially owned 1,353 of SQM´s shares.
(2)As of December 31, 2018, Mr. Illanes beneficially owned 800 of SQM’s shares.
(3)As of December 31, 2018, Mr. Berguño beneficially owned 380 of SQM’s shares.

 

 94 

 

 

 

6.B. Compensation

 

At the Ordinary Shareholders’ Meeting held on April 27, 2018, shareholders approved the compensation for the Audit and Financial Risk Committee, Corporate Governance Committee and the Safety, Health and Environmental Committee.

 

During 2018, directors were paid a monthly retainer fee, which was independent of attendance and the number of Board sessions. For the Chairman, the fee amounted to UF 400 per month. For the remaining seven directors, the fee amounted to UF 350 per month. In addition, the directors received variable compensation (in Chilean pesos) based on a profit-sharing program approved by the shareholders. Both the Chairman and the Vice Chairman received the equivalent of 0.12% of the total net profit that the Company obtained during the 2018 fiscal year and each of the remaining six directors received the equivalent of 0.06% of the 2018 total net profit of the Company.

 

In addition, during 2018, members of the Directors’ Committee were paid UF 113 per month, regardless of the number of sessions held by the Directors’ Committee. The members of the Directors’ Committee also received variable compensation (in Chilean pesos) based on a profit-sharing program approved by the shareholders. Each member of the Directors’ Committee received an amount equal to 0.02% of the total net profit that the Company obtained in 2018 fiscal year.

 

During 2018, the members of the Safety, Health and Environmental and the Corporate Governance Committees received UF 50 per month, regardless of the number of sessions held.

 

During 2018, the compensation paid to each of our directors who served on the Board of Directors during the year was as follows (amounts in Chilean pesos):

 

   SQM Board
Meeting (CH$)
   SQM
Directors'
Committee
(CH$)
   SQM Health,
Safety and
Environment
Committee
(CH$)
   Corporate
Governance
Committee
(CH$)
  

SQMC
Board

Meeting
(CH$)

   Total (CH$) 
Alberto Salas Muñoz   76,419,796    21,588,591    0    0    0    98,008,387 
Patricio Contesse Fica   66,867,323    0    9,552,476    0    0    76,419,799 
Joanne L. Boyes   126,839,873    42,726,820    0    0    0    169,566,693 
Hernán Büchi Buc   248,591,324    21,588,590    6,725,916    16,278,392    0    293,184,222 
Mark Fracchia   121,751,455    0    0    9,552,476    0    131,303,931 
Laurence Golborne Riveros   66,867,323    21,588,591    0    0    0    88,455,914 
Gonzalo Guerrero Yamamoto   243,231,561    0    14,938,485    0    0    258,170,046 
Gerardo Jofré Miranda   181,723,866    61,695,408    0    6,725,916    0    250,145,190 
Robert A. Kirkpatrick   126,839,873    0    0    2,681,154    0    129,521,027 
Fernando Massu Taré   176,339,126    59,676,130    0    0    0    236,015,256 
Luis Eugenio Ponce Lerou   430,139,181    0    0    0    9,790,063    439,929,244 
Arnfinn F. Prugger   248,591,321    0    16,278,392    0    0    264,869,713 
Darryl Stann   121,751,455    18,968,836    0    13,597,238    0    154,317,529 
Total   2,235,953,477    247,832,966    47,495,269    48,835,176    9,790,063    2,589,906,951 

 

 95 

 

 

For the year ended December 31, 2018, the aggregate compensation paid to our 123 principal executives based in Chile was US$27.9 million. We do not disclose to our shareholders or otherwise make available to the public information as to the compensation of our individual executive officers.

 

We maintain incentive programs for our employees based on individual performance, company performance and short-term indicators. We provide executives with an annual and a long-term bonus plan. Their incentives are based on target achievement, individual contribution to the Company’s operating results, and the Company’s performance. SQM also operates a compensation plan designed to retain its executives by providing bonuses linked to the Company’s share price.

 

As of December 31, 2018, we had a provision related to all of the incentive programs in the aggregate of US$28.9 million.

 

We do not maintain any pension or retirement programs for the members of the Board of Directors or our executive officers in Chile.

 

6.C. Board Practices

 

Information regarding the period of time each of SQM’s current Directors has served in his office is provided in the discussion of each member of the Board of Directors above in Item 6.A. Directors and Senior Managers.

 

The date of expiration of the term of the current Board of Directors is April 2021. The contracts of our executive officers are indefinite. The current Board of Directors was elected at the previous Annual Ordinary Shareholders’ Meeting held on April 27, 2018 for three year terms expiring in April 2021. However, due to the resignations of two directors in December 2018, the entire Board of Directors will be elected at the next Annual General Shareholders’ Meeting on April 25, 2019 for three year terms expiring in April 2022.

 

The members of the Board of Directors are remunerated in accordance with the information provided above in Item 6.B. Compensation. There are no contracts between SQM, or any of its subsidiaries, and the members of the Board of Directors providing for benefits upon termination of their term.

 

Directors’ Committee – Audit Committee

 

As required by Chilean Law, during 2018, we had a Directors’ Committee (Comité de Directores) composed of three Directors, which performs many of the functions of an audit committee. Under the NYSE corporate governance rules, the audit committee of a U.S. company must perform the functions detailed in the NYSE Listed Company Manual Rules 303A.06 and 303A.07. Non-U.S. companies are required to comply with Rule 303A.06 but are not required to comply with Rule 303A.07.

 

Between January 1, 2018 and January 24, 2018, our Directors’ Committee was comprised of three Directors: Mr. Gerardo Jofré M., Mr. Fernando Massu T. and Ms. Joanne L. Boyes. Messrs. Messrs. Jofré and Massu met the NYSE independence and Chilean independence requirements for audit committee members. Ms. Boyes, who was an executive officer of Nutrien (formerly PCS prior to the merger with Agrium Inc. on January 1, 2018) met the Chilean independence requirements for Directors Committee members, but not the NYSE independence standards for audit committee members and during her service on our Directors’ Committee, served as an observer on audit committee matters. On January 24, 2018, Ms. Boyes resigned from her position as director of SQM. On the same day, Mr. Darryl Stann was appointed as a director, replacing Ms. Boyes.

 

Since April 27, 2018, our Directors’ Committee was comprised of three Directors Mr. Hernán Büchi B., Laurence Golborne R. and Alberto Salas M. Each of the three members met the NYSE and Chilean independence requirements for audit committee members.

 

 96 

 

 

During 2018, the Directors’ Committee of SQM (the “Committee”) analyzed (i) the Company’s Unaudited Financial Statements and Reports; (ii) the Company’s Audited Financial Statements and Reports; (iii) the Reports and proposals of external auditors, accounts inspectors and independent risk rating agencies for the Company; (iv) the proposal to SQM’s Board of Directors about the external auditors and independent rating agencies that the Board could recommend to the respective shareholders’ meeting for their subsequent appointment; (v) the tax and other services, other than audit services, provided by the Company’s external auditors and its subsidiaries in Chile and abroad; (vi) the remuneration and compensation plans for the Company’s main executives; (vii) the information related to the Company’s operations as referred to in Title XVI of the Corporations Act; (viii) the report on internal control of the Company and (ix) the various matters referred to in the Chapter titled “Directors’ Committee” included in SQM’s Financial Statements at December 31, 2018.

 

Regarding the above, the Committee:

 

(a)Examined the information regarding the financial statements of SQM for the 2018 business year and the Report issued thereon by the External Auditors of SQM. Similarly, it also examined the Company’s Interim Consolidated Financial Statements for the 2018 business year.

 

(b)Examined the information regarding the transactions with related parties.

 

(c)Proposed to the Company’s Board of Directors the names of the External Auditors and the Independent Credit Rating Agencies for SQM and the Company’s Board of Directors, in turn, suggested their appointment to the respective Annual Ordinary Shareholders Meeting of SQM. The Company’s Board of Directors approved said suggestions and the Shareholders’ Meeting also ratified them.

 

(d)Examined and approved the remuneration system and the compensation plans for the Company’s employees and senior executives.

 

The Committee also (i) authorized the contracting by the Company of various consulting services with PwC, (ii) reviewed the expenses of the Company's CEO, and (iii) reviewed the reports from the Company’s internal audit and risk and compliance areas.

 

Finally, the Committee issued the Annual Management Report referred to in Law No. 18,046.

 

On April 27, 2018, the Annual General Shareholders’ Meeting of SQM approved an operational budget for the Committee; the operational budget is equivalent to the annual remuneration of the members of the Committee. The activities carried out by the Committee, as well as the expenses incurred by it, are disclosed at the General Shareholders Meeting. During 2018, the Committee incurred expenses of approximately US$680,400 related to the advisory services of Internal Audit and SOX Audit.

 

Article 50 bis of the Chilean Corporations Act states that the Committee should consist of three Directors, of which at least one member should preferably be independent from the controller (i.e., any person or entity who “controls” the company for Chilean law purposes), if any, and that their functions be remunerated.

 

Comparative Summary of Differences in Corporate Governance Standards

 

The following table provides a comparative summary of differences in corporate governance practices followed by us under our home-country rules and those applicable to U.S. domestic issuers pursuant to Section 303A of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) Listed Company Manual.

 

 97 

 

 

Listed Companies that are foreign private issuers, such as SQM, are permitted to follow home country practices in lieu of the provisions of Section 303A, except such companies are required to comply with the requirements of Section 303A.06, 303A.11 and 303A.12(b) and (c).

 

Section NYSE Standards SQM practices pursuant to Chilean Stock Exchange regulations
303A.01 Listed companies must have a majority of independent directors. There is no legal obligation to have a majority of independent directors on the Board but, according to Chilean law, the Company’s directors cannot serve as executive officers.
303A.02

No director qualifies as “independent” unless the Board of Directors affirmatively determines that the director has no material relationship with the listed company (either directly or as a partner, shareholder or officer of an organization that has a relationship with the company).

In addition, a director is not independent if:

(i) The director is, or has been within the last three years, an employee of the listed company, or an immediate family member is, or has been within the last three years, an executive officer, of the listed company.

(ii) The director has received, or has an immediate family member who has received, during any twelve-month period within the last three years, more than $120,000 in direct compensation from the listed company, other than director and committee fees and pension or other forms of deferred compensation for prior service (provided such compensation is not contingent in any way on continued service).

(iii) (A) The director is a current partner or employee of a firm that is the listed company’s internal or external auditor; (B) the director has an immediate family member who is a current partner of such a firm; (C) the director has an immediate family member who is a current employee of such a firm and personally works on the listed company’s audit; or (D) the director or an immediate family member was within the last three years a partner or employee of such a firm and personally worked on the listed company’s audit within that time.

(iv) The director or an immediate family member is, or has been with the last three years, employed as an executive officer of another company where any of the listed company’s present executive officers at the same time serves or served on that company’s compensation committee.

(v) The director is a current employee, or an immediate family member is a current executive officer, of a company that has made payments to, or received payments from, the listed company for property or services in an amount which, in any of the last three fiscal years, exceeds the greater of $1 million, or 2% of such other company’s consolidated gross revenues. 

 

A director would not be considered independent if, at any time, within the last 18 months he or she:

(i)       Maintained any relationship of a relevant nature and amount with the company, with other companies of the same group, with its controlling shareholder or with the principal officers of any of them or has been a director, manager, administrator or officer of any of them;

(ii)        Maintained a family relationship with any of the members described in (i) above;

(iii) Has been a director, manager, administrator or principal officer of non-profit organizations that have received contributions from (i) above;

 

(iv) Has been a partner or a shareholder that has had or controlled, directly or indirectly, 10% or more of the capital stock or has been a director, manager, administrator or principal officer of an entity that has provided consulting or legal services for a relevant consideration or external audit services to the persons listed in (i) above;

 

(v) Has been a partner or a shareholder that has had or controlled, directly or indirectly, 10% or more of the capital stock or has been a director, manager, administrator or principal officer of the principal competitor, supplier or clients.

 

303A.03

The non-management directors must meet at regularly scheduled executive sessions without management.

 

These meetings are not needed given that directors cannot serve as executive officers.

 

303A.04

(a) Listed companies must have a nominating/corporate governance committee composed entirely of independent directors. 

This committee is not required as such in the Chilean regulations.  However, pursuant to Chilean regulations SQM has a Directors’ Committee (see Board practices above).

 

 98 

 

 

Section NYSE Standards SQM practices pursuant to Chilean Stock Exchange regulations
 

(b) The nominating/corporate governance committee must have a written charter that addresses:

(i) the committee’s purpose and responsibilities – which, at minimum, must be to: identify individuals qualified to become board members, consistent with criteria approved by the board, and to select, or to recommend that the board select, the director nominees for the next annual meeting of shareholders; develop and recommend to the board a set of corporate governance guidelines applicable to the corporation; and oversee the evaluation of the board and management; and

(ii) an annual performance evaluation of the committee.

 
303A.05

Listed companies must have a compensation committee composed entirely of independent directors, and must have a written charter

 

This committee is not required as such in the Chilean regulations. Pursuant to Chilean regulations, SQM has a Directors’ Committee (see Board practices above) that is responsible for reviewing management’s compensation.

 

303A.06

 

Listed companies must have an audit committee that satisfies the requirements of Rule 10A-3 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended.

 

 

This committee is not required as such in the Chilean regulations. Pursuant to Chilean regulations, SQM has a Directors’ Committee that performs the functions of an audit committee and that complies with the requirements of the NYSE corporate governance rules.

 

303A.07

The audit committee is subject to requirements that are

in addition to Section 303A.06. This includes, among others, the following requirements: the audit committee must have a minimum of three members; all audit committee members must satisfy requirements of independence; the audit committee must have a written charter; each listed company must have an internal audit function to provide management with ongoing assistance of the company’s risk management process and the system of internal controls.

 

Pursuant to Section 303A.00, SQM is not required to comply with requirements in 303A.07. Pursuant to Chilean Regulations SQM has a Director’s Committee (see Board practices above) that also performs the functions of an audit committee with certain requirements of independence.

 

303A.08 Shareholders must have the opportunity to vote on all equity-compensation plans and material revisions thereto.

SQM does not have equity compensation plans. However, as mentioned in Item 6.B. Compensation, SQM does have a long-term cash bonus compensation plan. Directors and executives may only acquire SQM shares by individual purchases. The purchaser must give notice of such purchases to the Company and the Financial Market Commission.

 

303A.09

Listed companies must adopt and disclose corporate governance guidelines.

 

Chilean law does not require that corporate governance guidelines be adopted. Directors’ responsibilities and access to management and independent advisors are directly provided for by applicable law. Directors’ compensation is approved at the annual meeting of shareholders, pursuant to applicable law.

 

303A.10

Listed companies must adopt and disclose a code of business conduct and ethics for directors, officers and employees and promptly disclose any waivers of the code for directors or executive officers.

 

Not required in the Chilean regulations. SQM has adopted and disclosed a Code of Business Conduct and Ethics, available at the Company’s website, www.sqm.com.

 

303A.11

Listed foreign private issuers must disclose any significant ways in which their corporate governance practices differ from those followed by domestic companies under NYSE listed standards.

 

Pursuant to 303A.11, this table shows a comparative summary of differences in corporate governance practices followed by SQM under Chilean regulations and those applicable to U.S. domestic issuers pursuant to Section 303A.

 

 

 99 

 

 

Section NYSE Standards SQM practices pursuant to Chilean Stock Exchange regulations
303A.12

Each listed company CEO must (a) certify to the NYSE each year that he or she is not aware of any violation by the listed company of NYSE corporate governance listing standards; (b) promptly notify the NYSE in writing after any executive officer becomes aware of any non-compliance with any applicable provisions of Section 303A; and (c) submit an executed Written Affirmation annually to the NYSE.   In addition, each listed company must submit an interim Written Affirmation as and when required by the interim Written Affirmation form specified by the NYSE. The annual and interim Written Affirmations must be in the form specified by the NYSE.

 

Not required in the Chilean regulations.  The CEO must only comply with Section 303A.12 (b) and (c).
303A.13 The NYSE may issue a public reprimand letter to any listed company that violates a NYSE listing standard. Not specified in the Chilean regulations.

 

6.D. Employees

 

As of December 31, 2018, we had 5,290 permanent employees, 353 of whom were employed outside of Chile. The average tenure of our permanent employees is approximately 6.4 years.

 

       As of December 31, 
   2018   2017   2016 
Employees in Chile    4,937    4,630    4,535 
Employees outside of Chile    353    291    216 
Total employees    5,290    4,921    4,751 

 

As of December 31, 2018, 65% of our permanent employees in Chile were represented by 22 labor unions, which represent their members in collective negotiations with us. Compensation for unionized personnel is established in accordance with the relevant collective bargaining agreements. The terms of such agreements currently in effect are three years, and expiration dates of such agreements vary from agreement to agreement. Under these agreements, employees receive a salary according to a scale that depends upon job function. Unionized employees also receive certain benefits provided by law and certain benefits provided under the applicable collective bargaining agreement, which vary depending upon the terms of the collective agreement, such as scholarships, holiday bonuses and additional health death and disability benefits, among others.

 

In addition, we own all of the equity of Institución de Salud Previsional Norte Grande Limitada (“Isapre Norte Grande”), which is a health care organization that provides medical services primarily to our employees, and of Sociedad Prestadora de Servicios de Salud Cruz de Norte S.A. (“Prestadora”), which is a hospital in María Elena. We make contributions to Isapre Norte Grande and to Prestadora in accordance with Chilean laws and the provisions of our various collective bargaining agreements, but we are not otherwise responsible for their liabilities.

 

 100 

 

 

Non-unionized employees receive individually negotiated salaries, benefits provided for by law and certain additional benefits which we provide.

 

We provide housing and other facilities and services for employees and their families at the María Elena site.

 

We do not maintain any pension or retirement programs for our Chilean employees. Most workers in Chile are subject to a national pension law, adopted in 1980, which establishes a system of independent pension plans that are administered by the corresponding Pension Fund Administrator (“Sociedad Administradora de Fondos de Pensiones”). We have no liability for the performance of any of these pension plans or any pension payments to be made to our employees. We do, however, sponsor staff severance indemnities plans for our employees and employees of our Chilean subsidiaries whereby we commit to provide a lump sum payment to each employee at the end of his/her employment, whether due to death, termination, or resignation.

 

Over 93% of our employees are employed in Chile, of which approximately 65% were represented by 22 labor unions as of December 31, 2018. As of December 31, 2018, we concluded renegotiations of 17 collective bargaining agreements with 14 unions. As a result, these collective bargaining agreements were renegotiated for the duration of three years. We are exposed to labor strikes and illegal work stoppages that could impact our production levels. If a strike or illegal work stoppage occurs and continues for a sustained period of time, we could be faced with increased costs and even disruption in our product flow that could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

 

6.E. Share Ownership

 

We do not grant stock options or other arrangements involving the capital of SQM to directors, managers or employees. For more information on the shareholdings of current directors and executive officers, see “Item 6. Directors, Senior Management and Employees—Directors and Senior Management.”

 

 101 

 

 

ITEM 7.MAJOR SHAREHOLDERS AND RELATED PARTY TRANSACTIONS

 

7.A. Major Shareholders

 

The following table shows certain information concerning beneficial ownership of the Series A and Series B common shares of SQM as of April 1, 2019 with respect to each shareholder known by us to beneficially own more than 5% of the outstanding Series A or Series B common shares. The following information is derived from our records and reports filed by certain of the persons named below with the CMF and the Santiago Stock Exchange.

 

Shareholder  Number of
Series A shares
beneficially
owned
   % Series
A shares
   Number of
Series B
shares
beneficially
owned
   % Series
B shares
   % total
shares
 
Inversiones TLC Spa(1)   62,556,568