OCEANIA: BHP Billiton's about-face leaves Rio Tinto in a hole

There are good reasons for BHP pulling the deal. The commodity markets have soured dramatically, hitting both groups’ cash flow prospects and removing the deal’s main, if unspoken, attraction – driving up prices in a bull market. Moreover, the divestments the EU hinted at would have been difficult to implement at a reasonable price when buyers are like gold dust.

But the crux is financing. Rio is saddled with $38bn (£25bn) of debt from last year’s top-of-the-market acquisition of Alcan, a Canadian aluminium producer. BHP has $6bn of net debt. So an identical fall in the enterprise value of both companies would hit Rio’s equity disproportionately hard. After Rio’s shares fell 35pc and BHP’s rose 13pc, both companies’ enterprise values were 3.6 times next year’s forecast ebitda. That makes one Rio share worth 1.4 BHP shares – far below the 3.4 BHP was offering.

BHP may have decided it would rather not be heavily geared as the world pitches into recession. Rio, though, is in a jam. It faces refinancing obligations of $9bn next year, which it should be able to meet through cash flows and existing short-term facilities. But if commodity prices keep falling – aluminium has plunged a third in three months – it will look increasingly uncomfortable.

With the deal scrapped, both sides have questions to answer. But those fired at Rio chief executive Tom Albanese may be the tougher. Albanese was spared a drubbing for his $38bn splurge on Alcan by a subsequent spike in the aluminium price, and the distraction of a bid from BHP. He has now lost both shields. By leaving its biggest rival in such a tight spot, BHP may have pulled off a sort of victory after all.

Source: Telegraph|By John Foley
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