GM navigates offshore roads

Chevrolet pickup trucks and SUVs are seen at a dealership in Silver Spring, MarylandGM has had a rough few weeks, with its share price racing down hill and increasingly frequent questions about solvency. So we note with interest the second sign in two days that the auto giant is looking to pump up its position in higher growth markets abroad. Russian car maker GAZ said today it plans to create a $1 billion joint venture with GM. The director of GAZ’s light vehicles unit, Leonid Dolgov, said the venture will produce around 300,000 cars per year, allowing the partners to compete with French rival Renault in Russia, Europe’s largest car market. Yesterday, a source told us Chinese pickup truck maker Hebei Zhongxing Automobile was in talks with GM and major Chinese automaker FAW Group to explore opportunities for cooperation, including possible equity ties. The source gave no specifics about Zhongxing’s discussions with GM, which runs two ventures with China’s top automaker, SAIC Motor, making cars and minivans. These are hardly high-gear moves, but could amount to welcome pay-offs if things in the U.S. continue to stall.

U.S. investment bank JP Morgan has held talks with potential partners about forming a consortium to break up British mortgage lender HBOS, The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported. National Australia Bank, named by the Telegraph as a potentially interested party, played down the report, while a UK industry source said HBOS had not received an approach. “We’re not sure this is a clever time to make acquisitions,” NAB Chief Executive John Stewart told reporters on Friday, shortly after NAB announced a further A$830 million ($798 million) in losses from its exposure to U.S. mortgages. Without naming a source, the Telegraph said JP Morgan had also approached private equity firms and may talk to Spain’s Banco Santander about a deal that would resemble the break up of ABN AMRO by a group of three banks last year.

The chief of U.S. hedge fund Harbinger Capital Partners, the largest shareholder of Cleveland-Cliffs, has begun pushing the iron ore pellet maker to put itself up for sale, The Wall Street Journal said. Phil Falcone, who wants Cleveland-Cliffs to take advantage of the steel boom, reckons the company could fetch as much as $130 a share, or about $14 billion, the paper said, citing a person close to Harbinger. The move comes a week after Cleveland-Cliffs said it agreed to acquire coal miner Alpha Natural Resources for about $8.3 billion to expand its coal assets and capitalize on the boom in the global steel industry. In a regulatory filing made after the deal announcement, Harbinger Capital, which owns about 18.36 percent of Cleveland-Cliffs common stock, expressed concerns about whether the Alpha deal was in the best interests of shareholders.

Other deals of the day:

* Korea Development Bank, Hana Bank and Kookmin Bank are providing a $400 million bridging loan for LS Cable Ltd‘s acquisition of Nasdaq-listed wire and cable maker Superior Essex, banking sources said.

* Daimler, the world’s biggest maker of commercial vehicles, plans to spend billions of dollars to take a stake in Russian truckmaker Kamaz, a source familiar with the situation told Reuters.

A-courtin’ we will go

Wedding ornamentLike a bad soap opera, the Internet storyline is getting more and more convoluted. The tale so far: Microsoft Corp, spurned by Yahoo Inc, is courting Time Warner Inc to allow a union with Internet division AOL. But Yahoo, which turned its back on Microsoft’s $47.5 billion bid, also wants AOL’s hand. These talks have taken on a new urgency ahead of Yahoo’s Aug. 1 shareholders meeting, a source familiar with discussions told Reuters on Tuesday. How either marriage will work is not immediately clear, but any combination will likely redraw the landscape for advertising on the Internet. So why is AOL so attractive? Both Yahoo and Microsoft view it as beneficial to leverage their positions in the Internet marketplace, where search giant Google Inc dominates. Stay tuned.

But good soaps are not only made in America. It seems the Germans are good at them, too. Tires-to-brakes maker Continental rejected Schaeffler Group’s surprise 11.2 billion euro ($17.8 billion) bid, saying only the family owned firm stood to gain from the offer which was too low. Late on Tuesday, the ball-bearing maker announced the terms of its proposed takeover after winning control of more than a third of Continental’s shares through a web of options organized for it discretely by banks. Schaeffler’s bearings are found in London’s landmark Ferris wheel, the London Eye and it also makes high-precision bearing supports for the U.S. space shuttle and the European launch vehicle Ariane, not that that has any bearing on a deal.

Some suitors, however, do get lucky. Mining company Cleveland-Cliffs Inc said on Wednesday it would acquire Alpha Natural Resources Inc for about $10 billion in cash and stock to expand its coal assets. Stockholders of Alpha, an Appalachian coal producer, will receive 0.95 of a Cleveland-Cliffs common share and $22.23 in cash for each of their common shares when the union is completed. Based on closing stock prices on Tuesday, the deal values Alpha at $128.12 per share, a premium of 35 percent, the companies said in a statement. The combined company will be renamed Cliffs Natural Resources and will include nine iron ore facilities and more than 60 coal mines located across North America, South America and Australia.