Leading steel firms may form JV to buy coal assets abroad

"SAIL, RINL, JSW and JSPL are discussing together to bid for good quality coking coal assets overseas... This will be a JV company," JSW Vice Chairman and Managing Director Sajjan Jindal told reporters on the sidelines of the Assocham Steel Summit here.

The announcement comes within days of Adani Enterprises entering into an agreement with Linc Energy to acquire its Australian coal assets for about Rs 12,600 crore in a cash-and-royalty deal.

Jindal said the companies would look at acquiring such assets in various mineral-rich countries such as Australia.

"We are looking at Australia as it has large reserves," he added. Coking coal is a vital steel-making raw material.

SAIL Chairman C S Verma, who was also present on the occasion, did not elaborate on the proposed JV, but said, "It would be good if 2-3 players with common interest could pursue (acquisition of) assets overseas."

State-owned SAIL had earlier floated the idea of combining the resources of all the industry players to create a "war chest" for "big ticket" buyouts of mines abroad and help in cutting the input cost of steel-making.

At present, there is a special purpose vehicle -- ICVL -- under the administrative control of the Steel Ministry, created for the purpose of acquiring coal assets abroad.

International Coal Ventures Ltd (ICVL) is a consortium of top public sector firms SAIL, NTPC, RINL, Coal India and NMDC. It has not had any success in acquiring coal assets abroad since its inception in 2008. Industry experts say the Public-Private Partnership model may help circumvent the regulatory hurdles PSUs face in acquiring such assets.

Private steel firms are scouting for such resources in countries like Australia, South Africa and Indonesia, among others, to reduce their dependence on expensive imports and cut their input costs.

High iron ore and coking coal prices, which have seen a surge of up to 90 per cent since last year, have increased the input cost pressure on steel firms, leading to higher rates of the commodity in the domestic market.

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