The Great Debate UK
Blocking BHP's move on Potash Corp could be damaging for Canada. The government will decide by Wednesday whether to allow the $39 billion deal to proceed. A BHP takeover might squeeze the tax the fertilizer giant pays its home province. But those costs are outweighed by the discount that the country's companies would suffer if Canada was deemed to have turned protectionist.
Under the Investment Canada Act's broad remit, foreign investments must be a net benefit to the country. The government must weigh factors like the impact on jobs, competition, productivity, the ongoing participation of Canadians in the business, and the country's ability to compete in world markets.
In BHP's case, there is no impact on competition. While the Anglo-Australian miner plans to run the business differently if it takes control, its proposals are not that radical. Even if Potash Corp remained independent, a different management team could follow a similar path to BHP.
The bid does throw up some genuine concerns about the impact on Saskatchewan, where Potash Corp is based. The province estimates the takeover could reduce tax revenues by C$3 billion over a decade. Two-thirds of the hit would arise if BHP used tax credits from developing its own potash assets to shelter Potash Corp's income. The rest would be the result of piling acquisition debt onto its target. BHP is willing to ensure there is no tax impact, though foreign acquirers in Canada have a poor track record of keeping their promises.
BHP Billiton is playing a waiting game. The longer regulators take to approve the miner's $38.6 billion offer for Canada's Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan, the more time there is for a rival bid to emerge. Yet any white knight is bound to face similar scrutiny. BHP's one-month head start in the lengthy process could prove to be a tactical advantage.
To be successful, the Anglo-Australian miner's bid must get past competition authorities in Canada and the United States. It also needs to win approval from foreign investment bodies including Investment Canada and the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.
Potash prices are crucial to how far BHP Billiton can stretch its $39 billion hostile bid for Canada's Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan. The miner's offer is essentially a bet on demand for the commodity, which accounts for the bulk of the fertiliser giant's value.
According to calculations by Reuters Breakingviews, every $50 increase in the long-term price of a tonne of potash adds about $20 to Potash Corp's value. BHP's offer reflects the current market. But if prices rocket, so too will the value of its target.