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BHP swoops on Canadian nickel miner Noront, trumping Forrest

As the world’s biggest miner accelerates its push into metals poised to benefit from the green-energy transition.
Image: Bloomberg

BHP Group agreed to buy Noront Resources to add a nickel project in Canada, trumping a bid by Australian mining magnate Andrew Forrest, as the world’s biggest miner accelerates its push into metals poised to benefit from the green-energy transition.

BHP is increasingly gearing its portfolio toward so-called commodities of the future, as investors put greater weight on resource companies’ environmental credentials. The company is in the process of exiting thermal coal and is considering getting out of oil and gas.

At the same time, it’s putting greater emphasis on metals like copper and nickel, needed to support the green revolution. Last week it sealed a nickel supply agreement with Tesla Inc. and is expected to sanction a giant potash project later this year.

BHP’s cash offer values the company at C$325 million ($259 million), or C$0.55 cents a share, and would trump a planned rival offer from Forrest’s Wyloo Metals Pty Ltd. Noront’s board agreed to support the BHP bid, which is a 69% premium to Noront’s closing price on Monday and 129% higher than where the shares traded before Wyloo announced plans for its unsolicited bid.

Noront’s main asset is the Eagle’s Nest nickel and copper deposit in Canada’s Ring of Fire region. Nickel is a key component in lithium-ion batteries, used in electric vehicles — packing more into batteries and allowing producers to reduce use of cobalt, which is more expensive and has a less transparent supply chain.

“For BHP, the acquisition of Noront presents a world-class growth option, in a key future-facing commodity,” BHP Chief Development Officer Johan van Jaarsveld said. “The highly prospective Eagle’s Nest nickel project provides an excellent platform from which to develop further opportunities in Ontario’s Ring of Fire.”

The world’s biggest miners, from BHP to rival Rio Tinto Group, are making record amounts of cash as they benefit from surging commodity prices from copper to iron ore. Yet so far, the companies have refrained from the huge deals that dominated the last super cycle and instead focused on returning record amounts to shareholders.

Still, there is increasing signs that the sector is willing to make small bets on early stage projects, especially in copper. In May, Rio acquired a stake in a Canadian copper project, while BHP has been building its stake in a company planning to develop a giant copper mine in Ecuador.

The offer is conditional on acceptance by more than 50% of the Noront common shares, excluding a small stake that BHP already owns.

Wyloo Metals, which owns about 25% of Noront, in May said it intended to make an offer to buy the company.

© 2021 Bloomberg

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