Australia's Whitehaven Coal Ltd. on Monday said it had been the victim of a hoax after its share price plunged on a fake press release claiming funding for a major project had been withdrawn.
Whitehaven, whose major shareholder is Singapore-based Australian millionaire Nathan Tinkler, requested a trading halt after its shares tanked 8.8 per cent, wiping more than Aus$314-million ($329-million U.S.) off its value.
The dive followed a media alert around midday Monday purporting to be from major lender ANZ bank claiming it had withdrawn Aus$1.2 billion in funding for Whitehaven's flagship Maules Creek mine.
Once trading in the firm was resumed it clawed back most of the losses to end just 0.57 per cent lower. The S&P/ASX 200 index was off 0.14 per cent.
The press release, which was actually from anti-coal activists, blamed "reputational risks and analysis of the returns on this mine in the current climate of high volatility in the coal export market."
Whitehaven issued a statement to the Australian stock exchange explaining that it was fake.
"Whitehaven Coal Limited has been made aware of a hoax media release suggesting ANZ has withdrawn its recently announced $1.2-billion banking facility to Whitehaven," the miner said. "There is no substance to the hoax media release."
ANZ issued a statement confirming it had not issued the release, which was reported by a number of news outlets.
"This media release is a hoax and was not issued by ANZ," the bank said. "There have been no announcements from ANZ regarding Whitehaven Coal. ANZ remains fully supportive of Whitehaven Coal."
Whitehaven has several operating coal mines in New South Wales state and exploration assets there and in Queensland.
Its Maules Creek project, which is yet to receive approval from the Australian government, is expected to commence production this year. It is set to be one of the world's largest open-cut coal mines.
The activist claiming responsibility for the hoax, Jonathon Moylan, told Fairfax newspapers he believed the action was warranted.
"We considered the decision to run a spoof very carefully before we did it, but we believe it is justified," said Mr. Moylan from the Frontline Action on Coal protest group, which is opposed to coal development in the Maules Creek area.
"Our primary concern is the impact of this mine on the environment at the end of the day."