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Rio Tinto calls off massive Chinalco tie-up

Posted on: June 7, 2009


AFP – Friday, June 5

SYDNEY (AFP) – – Mining giant Rio Tinto on Friday cancelled its controversial tie-up with China’s Chinalco in favour of a joint venture with fierce rival BHP Billiton and a 15.2 billion US dollar rights issue.

Shares in the Anglo-Australian firm soared more than eight percent after the announcement, which spared Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd from making a politically fraught decision on whether to approve the Chinalco deal.

Rio chairman Jan du Plessis said commodities prices had recovered since state-owned Chinalco made its bid to invest 19.5 billion US dollars in Rio, making that deal less attractive.

“Since we announced the Chinalco transaction in early February, financial markets have seen a significant improvement,” he said in a statement.

“This has had two consequences — firstly, the financial terms of the Chinalco transaction become markedly less valuable, and secondly our ability to raise a level of equity appropriate for our needs on attractive terms has improved very considerably.”

Chinalco president Xiong Weiping expressed frustration over the decision and warned the company, which remains Rio’s largest shareholder, would keep a close eye on the rights issue and BHP joint venture.

“We are very disappointed at this outcome,” Xiong said in a statement. “We had maintained an extremely flexible and constructive attitude in our consultations with Rio Tinto.”

Xiong added: “As the largest single shareholder in Rio Tinto, Chinalco will monitor closely the rights issue and the plans for the joint venture with BHP Billiton.”

Rudd, who was set to meet Xiong later, denied any government interference and stressed Australia’s openness to foreign investment.

“We welcome foreign investment as it has been and always will be a part of the generation of Australian jobs in the future,” Rudd said.

“This has been a commercial decision reached by Rio in terms of its evaluation of the offer put to it by Chinalco,” he added.

Rio has been searching for extra funds after its purchase last year of Canadian aluminium group Alcan, which saddled the company with some 38 billion dollars of debt.

But Chinalco’s emergence as a suitor sparked a political firestorm here over ownership of Australian assets, leaving the government with a difficult choice — to risk angering either its electorate or China , a key market.

Rio said it would pay Chinalco a break fee of 195 million US dollars to pull out of the deal, which had been set to be a record foreign investment by a Chinese state firm.

The dual-listed Rio will now issue 21-for-40 deals in London and Sydney at 1,400 pence and 28.29 Australian dollars respectively, its statement said.

The company also unveiled an iron ore joint venture with BHP Billiton, the world’s biggest miner, under which the two companies will share equally their vast assets in the mineral rich Pilbara region of Western Australia.

BHP, which abandoned a hostile takeover bid for Rio in November, will hand over 5.8 billion US dollars to Rio as part of the deal, which is expected to yield 10 billion US dollars in savings for the firms.

“The synergies in this combination are so substantial that both companies have been investigating ways to combine these operations for more than a decade,” said BHP head Marius Kloppers.

Rio chief executive Tom Albanese said the deal, which requires shareholder and government approval, was a “natural fit.”

Rio shares surged 8.06 percent to 72.29 Australian dollars by the afternoon, while BHP Billiton was up 8.83 percent to 38.21.

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