BHP denies Woodside talks

Elizabeth Fournier
SHARES in BHP Billiton rose to match their May 2008 record price on the Australian Securities Exchange yesterday, after the mining group completed a A$6bn (£3.7bn) share buyback and denied it was in formal talks to buy liquefied natural gas specialist Woodside Petroleum.

BHP, lead by chief executive Marius Kloppers (right), jumped nearly four per cent to a closing price of A$49.55 per share yesterday, as parties affected by a potential deal weighed in with their opinions of the tie-up. The firm’s London-listed shares rose 1.8 per cent to 2,631p.

BHP issued a statement denying that it had held formal talks with Woodside management, but speculation stayed high in the market due to the wording of the statement, which said that shareholders were “currently fully informed of all material information” and it was “not aware of any basis for the market speculation”.

Western Australia’s premier Colin Barnett added to rumours by saying he knew “directly” that the two companies were in discussions, and warned BHP away from the deal, saying: “Develop a new field, find gas, find oil, find new customers, but I urge you -- hands off Woodside.”

Shares in the potential target also jumped to a 15-month high, closing almost two per cent up at A$48.16.

Woodside chief executive Don Voelte said he had “no knowledge of anything that is out there”.

Rumours that BHP was working on a bid began in November last year, when Shell sold a third of its stake in Woodside and said that it would be willing to sell its remaining shareholding.

Shell still owns 24.27 per cent of the petroleum exploration and production company.