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Whitehaven kicks off mini-BHP coal auction

Missed out on BHP’s $6.4 billion Queensland coal sale last year? Here comes your chance to shine. Street Talk understands Whitehaven Coal is telling suitors keen on a slice of the Blackwater metallurgical coal mine to prepare for first-round bids by mid-March. It comes after CEO Paul Flynn last week told shareholders he would sell 20 per cent of the mine.

A 20 per cent stake in Blackwater is expected to be worth north of $US500 million ($764 million). The mine is Bowen Basin’s No.2 open-cut met coal producer, with plans to spew out an average of 14.8 million tonnes of saleable met coal annually for the next five years. And it’s already summoning the original auction’s underbidders to the scene.

Key among them is Perth-based Indian outfit AvidSys Group, which is understood to be preparing to submit a bid. It would face stiff competition from Whitehaven’s original bid partner Itotchu, as well as other Japanese trading houses including Marubeni and Sojitz, which spent time in the MacCap-run data room. Other names being thrown around include India’s JSW Group and Japan’s Mitsui.

Sources said steelmakers like JSE and Nippon Steel are expected to leave the asset to the trading houses which have quietly softened their stance on coal in recent months amid a price slump in nickel and lithium. Miners like New Hope, Yancoal and Coronado may be deterred, given it’s only a minority stake on offer. Lastly, the two Indians suitors – AvidSys and JWS – will be closely watched given their peers have eyed Australian coal assets for decades but often baulked at paying top-dollar. Whithaven was approached for comment.

$US2.5 billion price tag

By now, the suitors know the Blackwater mine’s revenue potential and rehabilitation liability. The big question is what price tag it should fetch.

Whitehaven has not publicly disclosed Blackwater’s valuation, but sources suggests the mine is worth more than $US2.5 billion. Bidders will be pushing for a discount to the valuation, given they are only being offered a minority stake.

UBS, whose bankers helped Whitehaven win the auction, is assisting with the selldown. Whitehaven officially takes the keys to the two mines on April 2.