One of the hottest rumours doing the rounds was that the venerable Rio Tinto was ready, willing and able to offload its coal assets.
This development has been imminent for at least three years.
At one stage it was definitely those canny counter-cyclical investors at Glencore who were ready to snap up Rio’s prized assets in the Hunter Valley, such as the giant Warkworth open cut coal complex and the HV1 operation. Its 40% share of the Bengalla operation was meant to be thrown in as a sweetener.
Apparently this great story did not fly because Glencore wanted to bargain Rio Tinto down on price and then-CEO Sam Walsh was not prepared to stoop so low.
Times have changed. There is a new CEO, Frenchman Jean-Sebastien Jacques, who may entertain selling those coal assets at the right price to a different buyer.
This new buyer is apparently Yancoal, which has well established mines in New South Wales, and with the aid of its giant Yanzhou parent company is ready to expand its Australian footprint.
Nice story, but not a peep from either company.
What Hogsback has learned from this whole experience is just because a CEO of a company states that the company is making a strategic decision to exit from coal or is going to sell a coal mine, does not mean it will actually happen.
We know Anglo American CEO Mark Cutifani definitely said it was curtains for its coal division.
The flagship Moranbah North and Grosvenor mines were going to be sold in a two-for-one offer – a similar deal to happy hour at Hogsback’s local pub.
An ongoing saga of speculation and counter-speculation over who was visiting the sites, kicking tyres and poring over the books has ensued.
At one stage some brave souls came out and said it was a done deal that US private equity fund Apollo had the deal in the bag. Apparently their forecasting was off because the all-powerful BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance is the last remaining player in the tender.
However, will Anglo part with these two mega assets at a time when the price of coal has more than doubled in 12 months?
Will Cutifani recall his early days as a mining engineering student in the Illawarra and remember that coal has had some pretty bad lows but also some pretty enduring highs?
These are the question on many people’s minds in the Bowen Basin at the moment.
That, and a few other questions such as: will Wesfarmers flog its Curragh mine complex in Queensland and its 40% share of the Bengalla mine?; will Peabody Energy, which just sold its Metropolitan Colliery to South32 for $US200 million, be forced to sell more assets to prop up its parent company in the US, which is under bankruptcy protection; and will Rio give up on its over-capitalised Kestrel longwall mine in Queensland now that it has finally made it productive?
Hogsback has been scratching his head and thinking it might be best to just sit and wait. The more things change the more things stay the same.