Aditya Birla group likely to bid for Aussie company New Hope

Talks between Aditya Birla group, which owns Hindalco Industries and UltraTech Cement, and New Hope have moved beyond "initial stages", industry sources said, adding that the USD 35 billion conglomerate is likely to appoint advisors in the next few days for the deal.

Besides this, the Birla group is also mulling the options of raising funds on its own or form a joint venture for the acquisition, the sources further said.

"We do not comment on market speculations," Aditya Birla Natural Resources' Managing Director Tuhin Mukherjee said, when asked about it.

There could be some other Indian bidders for acquisition of New Hope, which had put itself up for bidding last month.

Speculations were rife that Tata Power, together with another group firm Tata Steel, may also bid for the Australian miner, which operates the New Acland mine in Queensland and a port handling facility, with total coal production of about 6 million tonnes per annum (MTPA) of thermal coal.

This, however, could not be verified independently.
Tata Power said in a statement that "no specific comment can be offered with regards to the opportunity referred in your communication as the company doesn't comment on speculation".

It also stated that the company keeps on evaluating various opportunities to acquire resources including coal mines globally.

Officials of the Tata Steel, who did not want to be identified, said that at this point the company is not interested in acquiring New Hope independently as it is a thermal coal producer.

However, the Tata Steel officials kept mum on putting up a joint bid with Tata Power for the Australian miner.

When asked, a Tata Steel spokesperson refused to comment on the matter by saying that it is against company's policy to comment on market speculations.

JSW Steel, another talked about interested company in acquiring New Hope, has opted out of the race by saying that it was never interested in acquiring the Australian miner.
"We were never interested and we are not submitting any bid at all. That (New Hope) is a thermal coal company," JSW Steel's Joint Managing Director Seshagiri Rao said.

A spokesperson for New Hope said in an e-mailed response that "we have no further comment to make on the process outside of the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) announcement of October 5 that you will have seen."

Last month, while announcing that it is up for sale, New Hope had said, "Under the formal process, selected parties will be invited to submit proposals to the Board for its consideration.

"The process is expected to take several months and may or may not result in a proposal being made or recommended by the Board," New Hope said.

The Australian miner is also in the process of seeking regulatory permission to increase its production up to 10 MTPA and extend the mine life by about 30 years, the company website said.

New Hope is estimated to hold a total coal resources of 1,529 million tonnes (MT), with a proven reserve of 324 MT as on March 31, 2011.

The Australian coal miner has appointed Pitt Capital Partners as financial advisers and Baker and Mckenzie as legal advisers for the proposed takeover bidding process.
According to the industry sources, New Hope is more attractive bid than the recent acquisitions done by Indian companies in Australia as it also owns a port handling facility, besides operating New Acland mines.

The proposed deal, if successful, would provide the Aditya Birla group a fillip to its efforts of securing raw materials sources for Hindalco Industries and Ultratech Cement, the two flagship companies of the group, as cost of power generation to run the units accounts for about 40 per cent of total costs.

While Hindalco, together with its US-based subsidiary Novelis, is among the top five aluminium producers in the world, Ultratech is the largest domestic cement maker.

Hindalco has already announced its plans to invest Rs 40,000 crore between 2012 and 2014 on company's new projects for aluminium and alumina capacity expansion. This includes increasing its alumina production capacity to 6 million tonnes.

Similarly, Ultratech Cements is also in the process of expanding its capacity by 20 per cent to 62 MTPA by June,2014.

Of late, Aditya Birla group has been scouting for acquiring coal and mining assets in Australia and its name has also figured as potential buyer of Queensland based Bandanna Energy, which is estimated to hold more than 1,500 million tonnes of coal.

Besides this, it is also said to be talking to buy Flinders Mines of Australia, which is estimated to hold iron ore reserves of 750 million.

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