Wyloo Metals Pty Ltd. has yet again increased its takeover offer for Noront Resources Ltd. , topping a bid from BHP Group Ltd., as the two Australian mining titans fight for control of the Ring of Fire developer.
Wyloo is proposing to acquire Noront at $1.10 a share, a 47-per-cent improvement over BHP’s latest tender, and more than three times higher than its original offer in the spring. Wyloo’s latest approach values Toronto-based Noront at $617-million.
Perth-based Wyloo is backed by Andrew Forrest, one of the richest individuals in Australia. Melbourne-based BHP, meantime, is the world’s biggest mining company, with a stock market valuation of US$146-billion.
Wyloo, which is Noront’s biggest shareholder, first proposed buying the company for 31.5 cents a share in May. BHP quickly countered with a 55-cent tender, only to see Wyloo increase its offer to 70 cents. BHP then bumped up its bid to 75 cents, and appeared to be on the brink of victory, after Wyloo considered backing BHP’s bid. But over the weekend, talks between the two abruptly broke down with no agreement in place.
Despite the materially higher proposal from Wyloo, BHP on Monday urged Noront shareholders to tender to its existing offer. Even though BHP still has the support of Noront’s board, the odds of success appear slim. To get over the top, BHP needs to obtain at least 50 per cent of the shares it doesn’t already own, or 48.15 per cent. Wyloo, which owns a 37.2-per-cent stake in Noront, reiterated on Monday that it has no intention of tendering to BHP.
“Wyloo Metals does not intend to support any alternate offers for Noront,” the company said in a release.
Shares in Noront shot up by 48 per cent to close at $1.08 a share on the TSX Venture Exchange on Monday, a few pennies below Wyloo’s offer, indicating that investors believe BHP will not come back to the table.
Situated in the remote James Bay lowlands in Ontario’s Far North, the Ring of Fire contains economically unproven deposits of minerals such as chromite and nickel. Noront controls the majority of mining concessions in the region. Both BHP and Wyloo have raised the possibility that Noront’s Eagle’s Nest project could one day produce battery-grade nickel for the North American electric-vehicle market. Noront’s projects still need years of study, the investment of billions of dollars for infrastructure such as an access road, and likely will require significant financial aid from both the federal and provincial governments.
Hai Van Le, managing director with Sattva Global Advisors in Vancouver, isn’t ruling out that BHP could come back to the table, even if the numbers aren’t adding up any more. He wrote on Twitter that in the heat of a bidding war, it can be difficult to retreat. “There’s a term for this in negotiation: non-rational escalation of commitment,” he said. “Participants have a strong incentive to justify their prior decisions, and hence find it difficult to back out without losing face.”
The tussle for Noront underlines how scarce major mineral discoveries are becoming in Canada. Last week, Kinross Gold Corp. bid $1.8-billion for Great Bear Resources Ltd., which is at an even earlier stage of development than Noront. However, unlike Noront, Great Bear’s gold project is located close to existing road and hydro infrastructure in Red Lake, Ont., a well-established mining district, meaning the development costs are likely significantly lower.
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