Regulators may block Rio venture

RIO TINTO and BHP Billiton shares gained more than three per cent each yesterday after Rio insisted that its $116bn (£73bn) joint venture plans are not close to collapse.

The FTSE 100 firm warned however that competition watchdogs may scupper more than a years’ worth of efforts for a joint iron ore production plant in Western Australia.

The company said competition bodies had recently “indicate[d] potential obstacles to achieving clearance for the joint venture”. The watchdog in Australia has delayed its final ruling.

A spokesperson for the European Commission, which must also approve the deal, said yesterday it expects to conclude its preliminary investigation soon. If the Commission finds that the venture poses a threat to competition, it can begin a lengthy full investigation and ultimately block the deal.

Rio also mentioned the Japanese and Korean regulators in its statement late on Monday, but neither was available for comment yesterday.

BHP Billiton’s spokesperson said the firm was not likely to follow suit with a statement to the stock market, but said: “The joint venture continues to be assessed by the regulators.”

Numis Securities said in a note: “[T]he ongoing delays probably mean that if the regulators don’t kill the deal then Rio’s shareholders might.”