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Workers shovel potash fertilizer into bags at a potash fertilizer plant in Golmud, in northwest China's Qinghai Province
Workers shovel potash fertilizer into bags at a potash fertilizer plant in Golmud, in northwest China's Qinghai Province

Sinochem courts backers for move on Potash Add to ...

Senior officials with chemical conglomerate Sinochem Group are pushing to drum up financial support for a Chinese-led bid for Potash Corp. that would trump a hostile offer from Australia's BHP Billiton Ltd.

Sinochem officials were in London this week testing British and international interest in financing or joining a consortium to compete with BHP's $38.6-billion (U.S.) bid, according to people familiar with the matter.

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One possible Sinochem partner would be the $300-billion Chinese sovereign wealth fund China Investment Corp., according to sources, who added that Sinochem officials met with some of the biggest names in the financial services and investing industry.

Sinochem's London tour suggests momentum continues to build for a takeover war for Saskatoon-based Potash Corp., the world's largest potash company. China is considered a potential key player in any rival offer for Potash Corp. given its need for the fertilizer ingredient to help feed a growing population, as well as its worry about BHP controlling a big share of the potash market.

China's Commerce Ministry said this week it's "paying close attention to this deal."

Sinochem, whose Sinofert division makes its China's largest fertilizer company, has reported to the country's State Council, hoping to receive government support to put forward a bid for Potash Corp., according to sources, as well as Chinese media reports. It's unclear, however, if Sinochem would be China's preferred vehicle to lead a rival bid for Potash Corp.

On Wednesday, The Globe and Mail reported that Potash Corp. has been working to assemble a Chinese-led consortium of investors to back a competing bid with support from the company's senior management that would challenge BHP's $130 per share offer. That offer has been rejected by Potash as too low.

A management-supported bid would include significant capital from a Chinese resource company or investment fund, which would then be combined with smaller contributions from international sovereign wealth funds and possibly Canadian financial players such as pension funds.

Together, these investors could provide enough capital to top the BHP bid, including some debt financing and potential asset sales. In this scenario, key management from Potash Corp. would remain in place to run the company.

Earlier this week a Chinese magazine reported that Sincochem vice-president Han Gensheng said a $10-billion investment in Potash Corp. was too large and "not a good deal." Shortly after the story appeared his comments were eradicated from Chinese websites and the magazine retracted the story, which may indicate high-level political disagreement with remarks.

Potash Corp. chief executive officer Bill Doyle repeated this week that "BHP will not be the only bidder." The company's current price, $148.38 a share on the New York Stock Exchange, also suggests investors are expecting a rival bid or an improved offer from BHP, the world's largest mining company.

BHP believes a competing offer from a Chinese-led consortium with international and Canadian partners is "possible," if not certain, according to people close to the company.

With files from reporters Brenda Bouw in Vancouver and Andy Hoffman in Toronto

Follow on Twitter: @ereguly

 
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