Billiton not pursuing Alcoa, sources tell Reuters


By James Regan and Mathieu Robbins
via Yahoo News
Tuesday, February 13, 2007;_ylt=AmU_FjyO...

Mining giant BHP Billiton Ltd. is not working on a bid for U.S. aluminum producer Alcoa Inc., sources close to the matter said on Tuesday, playing down a newspaper report.

The Times of London said both BHP and Rio Tinto Ltd. have drawn up separate plans for a $40 billion takeover of Alcoa Inc., helping to boost Alcoa's share price by as much as 10 percent.

BHP and Rio, which are listed in both Australia and London, declined to comment on the report, as did Alcoa, which has a market capitalization of about $28.5 billion.

The sources said that Alcoa's downstream businesses, such as consumer products including packaging, are of no interest to BHP.

The Times report revived long simmering speculation that one or more of the world's top miners, awash with cash on the back of soaring metal prices, would swoop on Pittsburgh-based Alcoa.

A takeover would give Rio or BHP access to millions of tonnes of bauxite, alumina, and aluminum production, and could prompt a break-up of one of America's best known companies.

The Times' report comes just days after India's top aluminum producer, Hindalco Industries Ltd., agreed to acquire Novelis Inc. in an all-cash deal that values the Canadian company at $3.5 billion.

"The big negative point on Alcoa is that it's got huge downstream elements to it, and that wouldn't be attractive," said Sydney-based Standard Bank analyst Richard Rossiter, referring to Alcoa's plants that make finished products such as rolled aluminum.

"The only thing that would make it would be if you dismembered it, but to what extent would dismembering it harm the business?"

A $40 billion takeover of Alcoa would dwarf CVRD of Brazil's recent acquisition of Canadian nickel miner Inco for C$19.35 billion ($15.5 billion).

Alcoa stock rose 38 cents, or 1.17 percent to close at $32.90 on the New York Stock Exchange on Monday.

Morgan Stanley analyst Mark Liinamaa said he believed the "sum-of-the-parts" value of Alcoa was more like $43 per share, suggesting a 32 percent upside from Friday's close.

In its report, The Times said BHP and Rio Tinto were each understood to have compiled feasibility studies for a bid, but were not thought to have as yet approached Alcoa's board.

As long ago as last July there was speculation of a takeover of Alcoa by either BHP or Rio Tinto, with analysts suggesting either company could easily fund such a move.

BHP Chief Executive Chip Goodyear, announcing the company's record half-year profit of $6.17 billion last week, left open the idea of acquisitions despite plans to buy back a further $10 billion worth of its own shares in the next 18 months.

The Times also reported Alcoa was looking at its future and had drawn up a list of potential new chief executives.

BHP executives featured prominently on the list, the newspaper said. It cited unidentified sources close to those on the list as saying Goodyear, who intends to leave by the end of the year, and executive directors Marius Kloppers and Chris Lynch had been approached or were being considered.

BHP, the world's biggest miner with a broad range of commodities, was understood to have done the groundwork on a bid for Alcoa, while Rio had considered a bid, but was not thought to have progressed as far as BHP, according to the Times.

In a research note on Monday, after India's Hindalco said it would acquire Novelis, Morgan Stanley's Liinamaa said merger and acquisition activity in the aluminum industry could serve as a catalyst for Alcoa.

Other analysts played down the likelihood of a bid, but would not rule out breaking up Alcoa given widespread merger activity in the mining sector.

"It's possible they might be planning to dismember the company," analyst Charles Bradford of Bradford Research/Soleil said of Alcoa.

"Both BHP and Rio Tinto have shown no interest in downstream aluminum processing. Their interest has been primarily on the primary (metal) side and in fact both of them are significant players on the primary side," said Bradford.

Anti-competitive rules could toss up roadblocks, he added.

BHP is the fourth largest primary aluminum producer in the western world, churning out 1 million tonnes a year.

Rio, with mines, refineries and smelters in Australia, Italy, Britain, and New Zealand. produces a similar amount.

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