Whitehaven and Aston in $5bn merger discussions

WHITEHAVEN Coal and Aston Resources are discussing what could be a $5bn (£3.1bn) merger to create Australia’s biggest independent coal company, the two confirmed yesterday, sending Aston’s shares up as much as seven per cent.

The coal industry has been Australia’s hottest sector for deals in the past three years, topped by US miner Peabody Energy’s takeover of Macarthur Coal for $5bn last month, tapping into booming Chinese and Indian demand for coal.

A deal would put together Aston’s 75 per cent stake in the Maules Creek coal project with Whitehaven’s mines in the same basin in New South Wales state, to overtake rival independent New Hope Corp, which itself is on the block. Maules Creek is expected to produce mainly coking coal for steel mills and high quality thermal coal for export. Both companies said no agreement had been reached.