Marius Kloppers, the new head of BHP seems to be infected with the same “gig-corp” disease that infected one of his predecessors, Brian Gilberton.
Gilbertson wanted to take over rival Rio Tinto and made approaches without board knowledge; Kloppers, in the job a month, has made the same move, but with the board behind him.
If it fails, someone will have to go, if it succeeds, what else will there be to do as CEO of the world’s biggest mining company?
A bigger plane, bigger salary and bigger everything can’t disguise the fact that down the track, when the slowdown eventually comes, a combined BHP-Riot, all $400 billion of it or more (by market value) will be a break up proposition waiting to happen. It’s a vote that the China and India booms will go on for years and enable the deal to work.
And if the merger happens, a flood of assets will have to be sold either for competition reasons or to rationalise the production and exploration portfolio of the new company. Other mining companies such as Xstrata, CVRD, Anglo and others might pick up some bargains, or they might be forced to merge. Xstrata and its major shareholder, Glencore, are talking merger.
BHP Billiton is already the biggest mining company in the world, is there any value in it getting bigger?
Everyone should keep in mind the results of surveys from the likes of PricewaterhouseCoopers, which have found that the majority of takeovers destroy value, not build it. BHP-Rio would be so big that it could only do mega-deals: smaller deals wouldn’t be worth its time. It would have to turn to an oil major if it is to grow after settling down this deal.
A merged BHP-Rio would be worth at least $US400 billion and would include significant holdings in copper (Escondida in Chile would be a real prize, buying Rio would give BHP almost total control), coal of all types, lead, zinc, industrial minerals, aluminium, bauxite and alumina, iron ore, diamonds, and smaller holdings in oil and gas (BHP should never have sold down its Woodside holding).
But the deal has to run through significant hurdles: firstly the Rio board will have to be convinced, secondly its shareholders will have to be convinced and thirdly all regulatory approvals will be needed.
Competition regulators in Australia, the US and Europe will be pivotal in any approval. BHP and Rio control 80% of the world’s seaborne iron ore trade, which is the fastest growing part of the industry. It would dominate the Australian iron ore export trade. Not even the emergence of a flurry of smaller rivals in Australia led by Fortescue Metals would be enough to get the deal approved.
And the Chinese steel industry (and Japan’s for that matter) would have to be won over as they would not be happy to see an aggressive BHP linking with the more conservative and buyer friendly Rio.
BHP has been trying to change the price negotiating system with China (and other buyers as a follow on) away from the yearly ritual of negotiations towards a price system based on an index and open market. Rio has said it is happy to stay with the present system.