Are Pilbara Minerals shares in the buy zone or overvalued?

Here's what Bell Potter is saying about the lithium giant.

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Over the last 12 months, Pilbara Minerals Ltd (ASX: PLS) shares have been a rare shining light in a very bleak lithium industry.

During this time, the lithium miner's shares have defied the odds to deliver a 13% gain for shareholders.

As a comparison, over the same period, Core Lithium Ltd (ASX: CXO) and Sayona Mining Ltd (ASX: SYA) shares are both down approximately 80%.

To put that into context, $10,000 invested in Pilbara Minerals shares would now be worth $11,300, whereas $10,000 invested in its two rivals would be worth just $2,000 now.

Can this outperformance continue? Let's see what analysts at Bell Potter are saying following yesterday's downstream announcement out of the miner.

What was the announcement?

As a reminder, Pilbara Minerals announced that it has executed a binding term sheet with Ganfeng Lithium to complete a joint feasibility study for a potential 32,000 tonnes per annum (tpa) downstream conversion facility to produce lithium chemicals.

The study is expected to be completed in the March quarter of 2025 with an option to progress to a final investment decision.

If it goes ahead, Pilbara Minerals will supply offtake of 300,000 tpa of spodumene concentrate to the joint venture to be converted into lithium chemicals.

Analysts at Bell Potter see positives from the plans. They commented:

The no-obligation approach provides PLS with a low-risk play to integrate further into the global battery chemicals value chain. Ganfeng are one of the world's largest lithium companies, holding operations diversified by geography and product. The proposed JV would provide PLS leverage to Ganfeng's extensive lithium conversion experience, flowsheet, intellectual property and integrative supply chain relationships developed over the past 20+ years. Ganfeng currently has interests in seven lithium chemical plants, and has converted Pilgangoora SC for over five years.

Are Pilbara Minerals shares good value?

While the broker is positive on the plans and is a big fan of Pilbara Minerals, it doesn't see enough value in its shares to call it a buy.

It has responded by retaining its hold rating and $3.55 price target. This implies potential downside of 9% from current levels. The broker commented:

PLS is a large, liquid and clean exposure to global lithium fundamentals and sentiment. PLS is a low-cost producer, it operates in a tier one jurisdiction in Western Australia, and has a strong balance sheet ($1.7b net cash at 31 December 2023) which can withstand weaker lithium prices and support expansion programs. We are confident that EV-led demand will see strong long-term lithium market fundamentals. We see the potential for PLS to participate in industry consolidation. We retain our hold recommendation on valuation grounds.

Motley Fool contributor James Mickleboro has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool Australia's parent company Motley Fool Holdings Inc. has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool Australia has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Scott Phillips.

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