BHP backs down

November 25, 2008

BHP announced an all-share offer valuing Rio at about $193 billion last November, as mining boomed worldwide. BHP said the risk of taking on Rio’s much heavier debts, and the low prices it could expect from asset sales forced on it by regulators, were among the factors behind the decision to abandon the bid.

The decision could have far-reaching consequences for consolidation in the industry, writes Reuters’ John Kemp.

“For more than two decades, merger policy in the EU and around the world has become progressively more permissive, as regulators cited new theories of market “contestability” to permit accumulation of market shares that would have been blocked had they been proposed in the 1960s and 1970s.

But the BHP-Rio deal proved a step too far. The EU’s decision to insist on significant asset disposals is consistent with other signs that competition policy is toughening in the EU and around the globe,” Kemp says.

BHP’s backtracking also clearly illustrates how times have changed in a very short span as the credit crisis took hold and crippled global financial markets.

“The market has changed dramatically in the last six months. What made sense six months ago doesn’t make sense now. People talked about synergies in iron ore. Those synergies are still there, but nobody is prepared to pay for them,” said Michael Komesaroff, manageing director at Urandaline Investments.

But one company’s pain is another’s gain, as the old saying kinda goes. And the winner here may be the world’s steelmakers, said Kim Gyun-Jung, analyst at Samsung Securities in Seoul.

“This means the end of a long rally in iron ore prices and steelmakers will now have more bargaining power in annual term negotiations, because they are reducing iron ore purchases as well as steel production in the face of sharply falling demand,” Kim said.

Other Deals of the Day:

** Malaysia’s MISC Bhd, the world’s largest carrier of liquefied natural gas, scrapped a $882 million takeover bid for oil services firm Ramunia Holdings Bhd, saying its due diligence findings were unsatisfactory.

** Chinese state-owned Citic Group and its subsidiary paid 3.26 billion yuan ($477.3 million) to buy a 49 percent stake in metals smelter Baiyin Nonferrous Metals from the provincial government of Gansu, a senior executive at Baiyin said.

** Spain’s state credit institute gave 350 million euros ($440.8 million) to builder Sacyr in 2006 to help fund its purchase of a stake in Repsol, El Mundo reported, without citing its sources.

** Roche Holding AG has agreed to buy biotech company Memory Pharmaceuticals Corp for about $50 million in cash, the Swiss drugmaker said.

** Munich Re, the world’s biggest reinsurer, said its direct insurance arm is looking to enter new markets in Asia and that it is interested in parts of American International Group’s Asian life insurance business.

** Chinese heavy machinery maker Changsha Zoomlion Industry Science and Technology Development had talks on possible asset purchases in the United States, Jianguo Zhang, senior president, told Reuters on the sidelines of an industry event.

** Randstad, the world’s second-largest employment agency, is paying 12.3 million euros ($15.8 million) for a 10 percent stake in FujiStaff Holdings Inc to give it a foothold in Japan.

** Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska is in talks to sell control of Bank Soyuz to a lender founded by gas giant Gazprom, Russian newspapers reported, citing unnamed sources.

** A joint venture of five Indian state-run firms is looking to take stakes in coal mines in Australia, the chief of one of the firms said.

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