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The Cobre Panama mine site in Panama.

Inmet Mining Corp. made a final attempt to persuade shareholders to turn down a $5.1-billion hostile takeover bid from First Quantum Minerals Ltd. after failing to secure a better offer from its suitor.

Inmet, which has been fighting the hostile bid for months, opened the doors to First Quantum executives last week to examine its prize asset, the Cobre Panama copper mine that is the largest mining project ever in Central America.

"Despite its communication to Inmet shareholders stressing the link between due diligence and its ability to increase the offer, First Quantum has not increased its offer to date," Inmet said, as the deadline loomed for a shareholder vote Wednesday on the hostile bid.

The high-stakes battle for Inmet comes amid a wave of embarrassing writedowns taken over the past few months on acquisitions made by some of the world's biggest miners in recent years.

Many large companies have lost their appetite for deal-making, cowed by industry-wide cost overruns and multibillion-dollar writedowns on assets bought in headier times. Several analysts speculated last week that First Quantum might be hard-pressed to justify a higher bid to its shareholders.

With a price tag of some $6.2-billion to develop, Cobre Panama will also be one of the biggest capital investments in Panama since the building of the famous canal joining the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

First Quantum declined immediate comment on Tuesday, although company president Clive Newall told a mining conference in Florida earlier in the day that management teams from the two companies have been in contact.

He also said his company might extend the bid for Inmet beyond the current deadline of Wednesday at 5 p.m., owing to regulatory concerns.

Mr. Newall and chief executive officer Philip Pascall said in an interview in January they expected to be able to build Cobre Panama more cheaply than Inmet, but could not say by how much until seeing full and confidential data on the project.

First Quantum may have failed to find the kind of cost savings potential it expected at Cobre Panama after it began due diligence on site on Feb. 17.

In the three months since First Quantum approached Inmet, copper prices have fluctuated, going sideways as the outlook for demand became more murky and hit shares of both companies.

Inmet says the value of First Quantum's $72-a-share cash-and-stock bid has fallen to $66.35 a share since it was made, dragged down by the share component of the offer.

First Quantum's shares have slipped 15 per cent on the year to date. Inmet stock is also down. Year-to-date losses are over 11 per cent and on Tuesday it was trading at close to $66 a share, or right around where the First Quantum bid is valued.

Cobre Panama is within driving distance of the capital Panama City and 20 kilometres from the Caribbean Sea coast, and is expected to produce nearly 300,000 tonnes of copper a year for 40 years.

That would put it on a scale with world-class mines in Chile and Peru, making it a rare new project at a time when large-scale deposits are difficult to find in safe jurisdictions.

"First Quantum should have one of the most attractive copper production growth profiles in the mining industry over the next five years, assuming it completes the acquisition of Inmet," Greg Barnes, an analyst with TD Securities Inc., said in a report.

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