Steeling for a fight

June 22, 2009

If the global recession wasn’t enough, with its idled auto factories and demand dwindling from the construction to the ship-building industries, the world’s steelmakers are facing the kind of consolidation that could well be a transformative event for the business.

Coal giant Xstrata aims to buy Anglo American for $68 billion in a tie-up between two of the biggest iron ore suppliers, creating the second-largest producer of steel-making coals. The move follows joint-venture plans from ore suppliers BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto and is seen as a big threat to steelmakers’ ability to exert any control over falling prices. Expect plenty of opposition from governments about too much pricing power residing in too few hands.

But the deal has other obstacles as well. Xstrata is offering effectively no premium to Anglo shareholders, which is producing loud squawks of outrage from investors. Perhaps by the time this one gets ironed out, the global recovery will be in full swing.

The Xstrata/Anglo deal is probalby going to be all the rage at the annual Steel Survival Strategies conference, which kicks off in New York on Tuesday with executives from U.S. Steel, ArcelorMittal and AK Stee expected to speak.

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China in particular will feel gutted about this, after failing to break up the BHP Rio powerhouse, this tie-up is another blow to their strategic plans. I wouldn’t be surprised though if they put in an offer for Anglo as well.


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