BHP Billiton denies Potash break-up talk

Marion Dakers
MINER BHP Billiton insisted yesterday it has no plans to sell off parts of Canadian fertiliser firm Potash, after an errant analyst note sparked a scramble for Potash’s smaller divisions.

The mining giant was forced to restate its ambitions after Canadian agriculture firm Agrium told the press it was keen to buy Potash’s phosphate and nitrogen operations.

The mining group said last night of its $40bn (£26bn) hostile bid: “At this stage BHP Billiton has no plans to sell any Potash Corp assets. Our offer is for the whole company, including the phosphate and nitrogen businesses.”

Mark Gulley, an analyst at Soleil Securities in New York, released a note following conference call with BHP chief commercial officer Alberto Calderon on Thursday, claiming the company said it is considering offloading Potash’s nitrogen and phosphates arms.

Potential buyers were quick to voice their enthusiasm. Agrium’s chief executive Mike Wilson said yesterday: “We are a global company that produce 8m metric tonnes of nitrogen, phosphate and potash and markets 16m so any assets that came on the market that fits with us we would certainly look at.”

A source close to the company said the analyst had misquoted Calderon. Other notes after the conference call did not mention the remarks. Gulley was unavailable for comment.

BHP added last night that its financing is strong enough to withstand the cost of the entire company, after some analysts said the firm will need to raise cash if it increases its bid.
“Our financing is not dependent on asset sales and we do not require divestments to maintain balance sheet strength,” a spokesman said.