May 8, 2019 / 8:54 PM / a year ago

UPDATE 1-Albemarle's lithium sales drop after Chilean rains

(Adds earnings comparison, more details on lithium unit, Livent background)

By Ernest Scheyder

May 8 (Reuters) - Albemarle Corp, the world's largest producer of lithium used to make electric vehicle batteries, posted a better-than-expected quarterly profit on Wednesday as surging sales of flame retardant chemicals offset a dip in lithium sales.

The weakness in its lithium unit, which executives have repeatedly labeled as the company's future, was largely due to torrential January rains at the company's mines in Chile, which rely on evaporation ponds to produce the white metal.

The effects from the rain - lithium sales fell 2 percent during the quarter - had been expected, but still comes as anxiety grows about short-term demand for the metal.

Albemarle posted first-quarter net income of $133.6 million, or $1.26 per share, compared with $131.8 million, or $1.18, in the year-ago period.

Excluding one-time items, Albemarle earned $1.23 per share. By that measure, analysts expected earnings of $1.22 per share, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Sales of bromine, a chemical used to make fire extinguishers, jumped 10 percent during the quarter. Sales of catalysts, which are primarily used in oil refining, dropped 4 percent.

Albemarle confirmed its companywide 2019 sales forecast of $3.65 billion to $3.85 billion, in what would be an 8 percent to 14 percent increase from 2018 levels.

"We remain confident in our expectations for the full year," Chief Executive Luke Kissam said in a statement.

Albemarle rival Livent Corp, which produces in Argentina, cut its full-year profit forecast on Tuesday, citing lower lithium demand and weaker prices. Livent's shares tumbled more than 15 percent on Wednesday after those results.

Shares of Charlotte, North Carolina-based Albemarle fell 0.8 percent to $72 in after-hours trading on Wednesday. The company's executives plan to hold a conference call on Thursday morning to discuss the quarterly results.

Albemarle operates the only functioning lithium mine in the United States. (Reporting by Ernest Scheyder Editing by Susan Thomas)

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