Hogsback on what Nathan Tinkler's return might mean

DESPITE his recent problems, Nathan Tinkler is best remembered by Hogsback as a one-time pin-up boy for the Australian coal industry thanks to an ability to spot bargains which others ignored, and while it’s a long shot there’s a chance that he might be doing it again.

Staff Reporter

The key to Nathan’s original success was a willingness to take risks and apply the advice of the world’s most successful investor, Warren Buffett: “buy when others are fearful”

With coal seemingly stuck in a deep hole of low prices, over-production and a growing regulatory burden there’s no doubt that most people with an interest in coal qualify for the description of fearful.

So, what’s Nathan doing? He’s buying and he dealing. Nothing too big, just a foothold in an industry he knows a lot about, and one which he obviously reckons is overdue for a recovery, if only because conditions can’t get any worse – hopefully.

His move back into coal via the acquisition of a 7% stake in the tiny Australian Pacific Coal followed by a push to stitch together a complex project development deal seems well-timed and will certainly be interesting to watch because there is a possibility that the investment will either be a flop or an outrageous success.

If the APC punt is a waste of time and effort Nathan will not have put a lot of money at risk, perhaps $70,000 given that the stock was trading at around 0.2c in the days before his stake was revealed.

What’s even more interesting is that the last time The Hog looked APC’s share price was up to 0.5c, having briefly hit the magic 1c mark in the days immediately after Nathan’s position was revealed.

Events at APC fall into that category called “quite interesting”. On the one hand a man with a track record for mercurial and sometimes ill-conceived asset acquisitions has made a teensy-weensy investment in a teensy-weensy coal stock which qualifies comfortably for the title of penny dreadful.

On the other hand, Nathan’s punt has already yielded a handsome return with his $70,000 now worth around $150,000, and while he is the only man who knows the precise entry price and the exact number of shares acquired it’s easy to see that it’s been a double-your-money exercise, so far.

But wait, as the man selling steak knives used to say in those horrible television advertisements, there’s more, because Nathan’s handsome profit is not the real story here.

What really matters is that a man with a reputation for being an early-bird investor is finally back playing the coal game, after a number of false starts, at what is an interesting time because other coal deals seem to be cooking somewhere in the backrooms of investment banks.

Rio Tinto, which appears to have decided that coal is no longer a part of its core interests, is reportedly analysing offers for its Australian coal mines though whether a deal eventuates is uncertain given the habit of big miners demanding high prices for assets being offloaded.

The failed sale process by BHP Billiton of its Nickel West business is a guide to how assets can be offered and then withdrawn when bids fall short of what the vendor expects, as was the 2013 withdrawal from sale of the Argyle diamond mine by Rio Tinto.

Finding a buyer for its coal mines has been a long process for Rio Tinto with initial interest expressed by Glencore because of the synergies and cost-cutting potential from integrating its nearby mines with those of Rio Tinto.

With Glencore in the hunt it wasn’t long before X2, the private equity fund run by Mick Davis, was kicking the wheels of Rio Tinto’s assets in NSW, though whether that was simply to annoy the chief executive of Glencore, and former friend, Ivan Glasenberg, is anybody’s guess.

Early this week a third potentially serious bidder entered the frame with New Hope Corporation said to be examining the Rio Tinto coal assets as part of an exercise in finding a home for its $1 billion in spare cash.

Whether Rio Tinto is serious about selling, and whether Glencore, X2, of New Hope are serious about buying is not the point.

What really matters is that deals are starting to happen as believers in coal, such as Nathan Tinkler, make a return to the sector and bigger players in the game circle the assets of companies that are losing interest.

Who’s got their timing right, and who’s wrong, is a fascinating question on which the jury is divided.

There is, however, one certainty in what’s happening, and that’s how revived interest in coal will be generated by an overdue burst of dealing in assets, and that’s got to be a good thing.