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IPad Boom Strains Lithium Supplies After Prices Triple

Investors from JPMorgan Chase & Co. to BlackRock Inc. are trying to make money from the exploding popularity of iPads and increasing sales of hybrid cars by investing in producers of lithium for batteries.

Prices for the conductive metal, the lightest in the periodic table, have tripled since 2000 in a market now worth $1 billion a year as uses expand in vehicles, ceramics, electronics and lubricants. Apple Inc. (AAPL) and Toyota Motor Corp. (7203), maker of the Prius electric-gasoline car, have few alternatives as they pursue higher performance and mobility, leading Dahlman Rose & Co. analysts to forecast lithium demand will double by 2020.

Talison Lithium Ltd. (TLH), whose shares have gained 26 percent in the last month, together with Soc. Quimica & Minera de Chile SA, Rockwood Holdings Inc. and FMC Corp. (FMC), produce almost 95 percent of world supply. Rio Tinto Group (RIO), the third-biggest mining company, may join the largest suppliers if it goes ahead with a mine in Serbia it says is capable of producing 20 percent of global output of the metal.
“There are some companies now that we think are attractive to get a hold of lithium exposure,” Evy Hambro, who manages about $13 billion in mining stocks for BlackRock in London, said in an interview. “We’ve got a small exposure today and we’re looking for some more,” he said without naming any companies.
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