Skip to main content

Australian mining archrivals BHP Group Ltd. and Wyloo Metals Pty Ltd. may be on the verge of patching up their differences over the takeover tussle for Ring of Fire operator Noront Resources Ltd.

Melbourne-based BHP said in a news release it has entered into discussions with Wyloo about the private-equity company potentially supporting BHP’s tender offer for Noront.

“BHP and Wyloo Metals have engaged in initial conversations and are considering a mutually beneficial arrangement regarding the acquisition of Noront by BHP,” the statement said.

BHP did not specify the exact nature of the discussions, and when asked if Wyloo could end up retaining an interest in Noront, spokesperson Meagan Murdoch declined to comment.

Since the spring, Wyloo and BHP have been engaged in a battle for control of Toronto-based Noront. Last month, BHP launched a $419-million tender offer at 75 cents a share, outgunning Wyloo, which previously offered 70 cents. For BHP to succeed, it needs to obtain half the shares it doesn’t already own in Noront, or 48.15 per cent. The deadline for shareholders to tender to BHP’s offer was Nov. 9, but that has been extended by a week.

Getting over the top was always going to be a big ask for BHP. Wyloo holds 37.2 per cent of Noront’s shares and said it had no intention of tendering. Perth-based Wyloo is controlled by billionaire mining investor Andrew Forrest. He is the founder of iron ore behemoth Fortescue Metals Group Ltd., and according to Forbes, a former amateur boxer.

If the current talks culminate with Wyloo supporting BHP, Mr. Forrest may not get the asset he prized, but he will have made a lot of money over a short period of time. Wyloo first invested in Noront last year at 16 cents a share. Thanks in large part to the bidding war, which Wyloo initiated in May, Noront shares have since gone up threefold.

On Wednesday, Noront shares closed at 79 cents apiece on the TSX Venture Exchange, 4 cents above BHP’s takeover offer, indicating that some investors still believe BHP will end up raising its bid one more time.

Before Noront became a prized asset for two of the biggest names in mining, it was in serious trouble. The junior development company has long struggled to make headway on its chromite and nickel discoveries, in large part because of the massive costs associated with developing mines in the region. Located 550 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, in the remote James Bay Lowlands of Ontario, the Ring of Fire is located in a swamp about 300 kilometres north of the provincial highway network, cut off from the electricity grid and internet access. The cost to build basic infrastructure has been pegged at $1.6-billion, and would likely require substantial government support, which so far has not been forthcoming.

BHP views an investment in the Ring of Fire as an ultralong-term bet on commodities such as nickel, which is increasingly being used in lower carbon-energy generation. Like many large international mining companies, BHP is diversifying away from fossil fuels. While much more engineering and study is needed, Noront’s Eagle’s Nest project has the potential to produce high-grade nickel that could be fed into a North American electric-vehicle supply chain.

Your time is valuable. Have the Top Business Headlines newsletter conveniently delivered to your inbox in the morning or evening. Sign up today.