PotashCorp hunts for a white knight

THIS is shaping up to be a classic takeover wrangle. First came the unsolicited bid – at $39.6bn (£25.5bn), BHP Billiton’s offer is a 20 per cent premium to PotashCorp’s undisturbed share price – which was immediately knocked back. Then came the anguished rhetoric from PotashCorp about the “grossly inadequate” level of BHP’s approach. The fertiliser company’s chief executive, Bill Doyle, points out his group’s market value was nearly 60 per cent higher at $240 per share during the agricultural boom of 2008.

Now comes the hunt for a “white knight” to counterbid against BHP. Although there are several names in the frame, the London-listed mining group will not be feeling nervous yet.

Brazil’s Vale, the world’s largest producer of iron ore, last night appeared to rule itself out of the running. Vale is under political pressure to invest on its home turf and has ploughed $10bn into a series of fertiliser assets in recent months.

Sinochem, the?Chinese state-owned chemicals conglomerate, remains PotashCorp’s brightest hope of a gatecrasher. The group has serious financial firepower and services a country that uses a lot of potash. But the need to get Canadian regulatory approval, coupled with the complexity of putting together a bid of this size, could be deterrents.

Hopu Investment Management, a Chinese private equity fund, is also said to be interested. But as a buyout player it will be very price-sensitive.

One thing is for certain. With $45bn financing already lined up, BHP is prepared to dig in and fight.


ROGER AGNELLI
CHIEF EXECUTIVE, VALE

HAVING led South America’s premier iron ore miner for nine years, Roger Agnelli is used to wielding power. But even he has become accustomed to appeasing Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Brazil’s feisty President, who is intent on squeezing more domestic investment from Vale.
Two months ago, Vale unveiled an $8.2bn (£5.3bn) joint venture with Germany’s ThyssenKrupp outside Rio de Janeiro. Agnelli openly admitted the steel mill was built as a result of pressure from Lula da Silva. Vale plans to spend $90bn by 2014, 70 per cent of which will be within Brazil.
The commitment makes a bid for PotashCorp unlikely.

LIU DESHU
PRESIDENT, SINOCHEM

SINOCHEM’S president, Liu Deshu, has the right credentials to spearhead an ambitious programme of expansion.

Deshu holds an EMBA from China Europe International Business School and boasts 20 years’ experience working for the Chinese government in the spheres of foreign trade, machinery and petrochemicals. He has been at the top of the Sinochem tree for 12 years.

The government-owned company turned over a record RMB300 (£28.4bn) in 2008. On its website, Deshu says Sinochem “has entered a crucial stage which presents us with great opportunities as well as challenges”.