Record Coal Deals Whittle Targets as Prices Climb
By Elisabeth Behrmann
Record coal deals this year have slashed the number of potential targets in Australia, the world’s largest exporter. The combination of Whitehaven Coal Ltd. (WHC) and Aston Resources Ltd. (AZT) looms as the last prize standing.
Rising demand in China and India has pushed mergers and acquisitions globally to a record $34.5 billion this year, with 192 companies acquired, compared with $30.3 billion last year. Australian deals reached an all-time high this month when Whitehaven agreed to buy billionaire Nathan Tinkler’s Aston, to create a company valued at A$5.1 billion ($5.1 billion).
“There’s not much left really,” Peter Chilton, who helps manage about $790 million at Constellation Capital Management LLC in Sydney, said by phone. “The big one could be, assuming Whitehaven and Aston do get together, somebody bids for the whole lot.”
Yanzhou Coal Mining Co. (1171), China’s fourth-biggest producer, plans to buy Gloucester Coal Ltd. (GCL) for at least $2 billion, a person with knowledge of the matter said this week, bringing the number of deals in Australia to a record $13.5 billion, headed by Peabody Energy Corp. (BTU)’s $4 billion takeover of Macarthur Coal Ltd. (MCC) in July. Producers are seeking to expand as demand from power utilities and steelmakers rises, while asset prices drop.
New Hope Corp., with a market value of A$4.7 billion, said last month it was in talks with several bidders. Tata, India’s largest business group, may bid for the miner to secure thermal- coal mines, three people familiar with the plan said Nov. 5. JSW Steel Ltd., India’s third-largest producer, may also make an offer, two people with knowledge of the plan said Oct. 24.
Prices for coking coal, used to make steel, may rise 50 percent next year to $291 a metric ton, JPMorgan Chase & Co. said in a Nov. 23 report. World imports may gain 8.5 percent in 2012 to 295 million tons, Australia’s Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics said Dec. 13.
“The outlook for coking coal prices during the first half of 2012 has improved,” Barclays Capital said in a Dec. 20 report, citing a rebound in steel prices.
International thermal coal prices may average $125 a ton next year, up 3 percent from this year, Helen Lau, a Hong Kong- based analyst with UOB Kay Hian, said by phone yesterday. Global imports of thermal coal may increase 5.2 percent next year to 581 million tons led by gains in India, Australia’s bureau said.
The value of mining companies (BWMING) has fallen to the lowest since July 2010, dropping 35 percent from a high this year, according to the Bloomberg World Mining Index. The collapse in equity markets has created a gap between value and stock prices, Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc said last month.
The 36-year-old Tinkler, Australia’s youngest billionaire, will become Whitehaven’s biggest shareholder after also selling his closely held exploration unit Boardwalk Resources Pty for at least A$500 million in shares. Tinkler is looking overseas for his next coal deal, he said in an interview on Dec. 13.
Buying Aston gives Whitehaven control of the Maules Creek steelmaking coal project, which will more than double the company’s output by 2016. The combined producer may be an attractive target for Chinese or Indian companies seeking supply, Armytage Private Ltd., a Melbourne-based fund manager, said this month.
International Coal Ventures Ltd., a group of Indian state- backed companies formed to buy overseas coal assets, is one of two remaining bidders for Aquila Resources Ltd. (AQA)’s Washpool coal mine in Australia, two people with knowledge of the matter said yesterday. The mine is valued at an average of A$269 million, based on assessments by eight resource analysts, Aquila said earlier this month.
Last month, Tinkler’s Hunter Ports proposed building a A$2.5 billion coal export terminal in Newcastle, the world’s biggest port for thermal coal, to ship the fuel from Aston and other companies to global markets.
“There is still potential for the merged Aston-Whitehaven entity to be taken in the future if it proves successful,” Glyn Lawcock, head of resources research at UBS AG in Sydney, said by phone. Otherwise, “the only thing left to go for now is resources in the ground, undeveloped coal resources,” he said, citing two project developers Carabella Resources Ltd. (CLR) and Bandanna Energy Ltd. (BND)
Carabella, which has a market value of A$155 million, said in October that it had received “several unsolicited expressions of interest” in its Grosvenor West project in Queensland state and had set up a data room for some interested groups. The project may cost as much as A$1 billion to develop, according to Helmsec Global Securities Pty. Its shares have plunged 64 percent in Sydney from a March high to its lowest yesterday.
In the same month, Bandanna said it remains in talks with potential parties for a possible sale of the company or its assets and has recently received approaches from new groups. The company has a market value of A$288 million.
Cockatoo Coal Ltd. (COK), with a market value of A$376 million, is another possible target, Constellation’s Chilton said. SK Networks Co. (001740) was considering an investment in Cockatoo Coal and was in talks with the Australian company over terms, the South Korean company said Sept. 23.
Kate McLaughlin, of Fowlstone Communications in Sydney, an outside spokeswoman for Carabella, said the company doesn’t comment on market speculation. A spokesman for Cockatoo Coal wasn’t immediately able to comment when contacted by phone. An e-mail to Bandanna wasn’t answered.
Bandanna has fallen 75 percent from its high this year on the Australian stock exchange while Cockatoo Coal shares declined 33 percent.
While targets may be getting scarcer, global coal consumption is projected to climb by an annual 2.8 percent in the six years to 2016, driven by China’s economic growth, the International Energy Agency said last week. Coal prices have surged on rising demand to feed power stations and steel mills in China, the world’s largest user of coal, and amid worldwide production disruptions.
Buying Gloucester would give Yanzhou, which approved its first debt sale this month, mines and access to ports in Australia. That would follow its A$3.1 billion acquisition of Felix Resources Ltd. in 2009, in what was China’s biggest takeover of an Australian company at the time.
Other smaller coal companies traded in Australia include Coalspur Mines Ltd., which has a market value of A$923 million and is developing projects in Canada, Guildford Coal Ltd. (GUF), with early stage assets in Queensland, as well as Stanmore Coal Ltd.
There’s little likelihood of another record coal deal year in Australia in 2012, according to Andrew Harrington, resources analyst at Patersons Securities Ltd. in Sydney.
“You can’t even get there if you bought the whole sector listed on the Australian Stock Exchange,” he said.