YEAR IN REVIEW: Takeover talk and Pike inquiry dominate headlines

THE third quarter of 2011 proved to be a busy time, with industry events such as AIMEX being held. Meanwhile, the New Zealand Royal Commission Inquiry into the Piker River mine disaster kicked off and the Peabody takeover of Macarthur Coal continued.
YEAR IN REVIEW: Takeover talk and Pike inquiry dominate headlines YEAR IN REVIEW: Takeover talk and Pike inquiry dominate headlines YEAR IN REVIEW: Takeover talk and Pike inquiry dominate headlines YEAR IN REVIEW: Takeover talk and Pike inquiry dominate headlines YEAR IN REVIEW: Takeover talk and Pike inquiry dominate headlines

Peter Whittall.

Lauren Barrett

The Peabody-Macarthur saga began in June when Peabody Energy said it had teamed up with ArcelorMittal to make a new $A4.7 billion indicative takeover bid for Macarthur Coal, after failing in its bid a year earlier.

However, when August rolled around, Macarthur Coal’s directors rejected the two companies’ takeover offer.

The bid for Macarthur then turned hostile, with Peabody and ArcelorMittal forming a new company known as PEAMCoal to continue the bidding.

But hope for Peabody Energy and ArcelorMittal was not lost when Macarthur Coal chief executive officer Nicole Hollows told a conference call the company would remain in discussion with Peabody and ArcelorMittal, as well as any other potential acquirers of the company.

On August 30, Macarthur directors recommended shareholders accept a takeover offer from PEAMCoal, after the joint bidding vehicle agreed to up the offer by 50c to $16 per share in the Queensland pulverised coal injection coal producer.

“The directors of Macarthur recommend that shareholders accept the revised PEAMCoal offer, in the absence of a superior proposal,” Macarthur said.

In its target statement, Macarthur outlined the reasons the directors recommended shareholders accept the offer backed by Peabody-ArcelorMittal.

“By accepting the PEAMCoal offer, Macarthur shareholders are able to crystallise cash value for their shares and remove any ongoing exposure to market, regulatory and other risks that Macarthur may face in the future, assuming the PEAMCoal offer becomes unconditional,” it said.

While a takeover deal for Macarthur was not settled in the third quarter, a temporary agreement was reached to settle the ongoing dispute between Isaac Plains joint venture partners Aquila Resources and Vale.

In July, the JV companies reached a short-term agreement to restore coal shipments from the Queensland mine.

The agreement allowed normal shipments from Isaac Plains to resume, after a dispute involving the arrangement to move coal from the mine to the port caused shipments to be cancelled and stockpiles at the mine to reach capacity.

The new agreement between the partners would end on March 31, 2012.

A month later, after it was announced Vale global coal director Decio Amaral would resign, Aquila Resources chairman Tony Poli said it could move forward with its JV partner in the Isaac Plains, Eagle Downs and Belvedere coal projects.

The companies had been on rocky terms following a dispute over coal marketing arrangements from Isaac Plains mine and valuations of the Belvedere project.

“It’s a turning point for the relationship between Vale and Aquila and I like to think with Decio leaving – I wish him the best – but it will also provide a platform for discussions between Vale and Aquila and how they can cooperate and move forward,” Poli told ILN.

Meanwhile, August 16 marked a dark day for the Queensland mine industry, when in an unprecedented move premier Anna Bligh said she would ban new mining exploration leases in urbanised areas.

The legislation was expected to put an end to exploration permits within a 2km radius of towns of more than 1000 people.

At the time of the announcement, Bligh said the changes would provide upfront certainty for residents in areas desired for mining exploration.

“These restrictions are complimentary to the existing strategic cropping legislation and will provide another layer of assurance for communities,” she added.

But the decision received heavy resistance from the resource industry, with the Queensland Resources Council admitting it was another setback to the state's reputation as an exploration hub.

In other news, union negotiation between BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance and the Single Bargaining Unit over enterprise agreements seemed to reach boiling point in the third quarter.

ILN reported strike action at BMA’s central Queensland coal mines had the potential to cost BMA 130,000 tonnes of production a day.

About 3500 coal miners across seven mines joined in rolling work stoppages that began in June after they rejected BMA’s initial offer for a new contract.

Outstanding issues for the workers included preference for current employees over external applicants for jobs; special payments for some employees only; loss of Christmas Day and Boxing Day as non-working days across the sites; and no reinstatement of union representation rights removed by Work Choices.

On September 21, negotiations between the parties reached an impasse as BMA allowed its workers to vote on the latest version of the enterprise agreement in a ballot at the end of September.

However, the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union blasted BMA’s decision to hold the employee ballots during school holidays.

“The company bosses are preying on our hardworking members who will be taking time out to spend with their families with the timing of this vote,” CFMEU district president Stephen Smyth said.

“This is a deliberate attempt to take advantage of mining families looking after their kids.”

Heading overseas, the announcement of Peabody Energy being awarded the rights to develop Mongolia’s Tavan Tolgoi deposit was an unexpected one.

Peabody seemed a dark horse in the contest, with earlier reports stating it would be Vale in the running to co-develop the 15 million tonnes per annum coal mine.

Along with Peabody, Chinese coal giant Shenhua and a Russian-Mongolian consortium were rewarded the developing rights.

Industry events including AIMEX and Bluefield were covered by ILN editor Lou Caruana and journalist Donna Caudill during the third quarter.

Perhaps the biggest news during the period was the Royal Commission Inquiry into the Pike River mine disaster, which kicked off in August.

During the inquiry, which rolled into September, damaging new evidence into the search and rescue mission at the mine emerged, while criticisms against former Pike River Coal CEO Peter Whittall’s handling of the recovery effort gained our readers’ attention.

The inquiry was told Whittall misled the public into believing survivors could have been found.

He later defended his hope, saying the Mines Rescue Service never told him it believed all the men had likely been killed an instant after the blast.

“No one even intimated those words to me,” Whittall said.

“I still to this day don't know what happened in the mine but I had no reason to believe, categorically, that all the men were dead.

“If anyone had their tragic suffering made worse by thinking that I was giving false hope or the fact that I could've given a different story to what I genuinely believed myself, then I'm absolutely sorry that anyone else ever felt that.”