The Fourth Biggest Iron Player in Australia

Riding a bicycle in Melbourne’s autumn is like playing with fire, reader. The weather changes a lot quicker than we can ride.

So, this morning, we write to you in a puddle of our own regret. We lacked foresight, and water-proof pants. We’ll try to exhibit a bit more of it as we map out where the money is today (foresight, not water-proof pants).

Foresight, of course, is a quality everybody wants and nobody has. Who couldn’t do with a little more of it? It’s one of those constants that you always need to constantly invest well…foresight, hard work, patience, a bit of luck here, some good timing there.

Meanwhile, the only news that matters in Australia today seems to be takeover-related…

Western Juniors Could Create 4th Biggest Iron Player in Australia

Here’s some foresight. Investors who jumped on the iron ore train are getting their dividends. Yesterday Murchison Metals (ASX:MMX) gave iron cousin Midwest (ASX:MIS) an all-share merger offer worth . The market loved it. Midwest leapt 12.3%. Murchison flew 8.3%.

Everybody won, except Sinosteel. The Chinese giant was closing the net around its prey, Midwest. The nerve of another prey to go and outdo it.

Together, the two iron diggers would have a market cap of AU$3.2 billion. That’s bigger than Portman (ASX:PMM), Mount Gibson (ASX:MGX) or the other second-tier contenders. It’d leapfrog the companies up to fourth place in the industry, behind Fortescue (ASX:FMG).

The structure of the deal, though, tells you a little more about the whole matter.

Sinosteel already has 19.9% of Midwest. That’s the maximum you can own without bidding.

In a direct response to the stake, Murchison has proposed a reverse-takeover. It has offered itself up as a sacrifice to the deity of iron ore. Under Australian corporations law, a reverse-takeover means the deal only needs 50% acceptance from Midwest shareholders to go through. Otherwise, a standard takeover would’ve meant a minimum of 75%.

Ergo…the two do not want to be bought. Not by China. Not at any price near what Sinosteel is offering. The Australian iron sector is combatting external consolidation with internal consolidation. Both mean share prices are going up. Here the five top juniors’ performance this year. They’ve made gains of between 21% and 65%.

Midwest’s management has recommended that shareholders accept the deal. You’ll find out in the next three months what they think of it.

You’ll also find out exactly how desperate China is to get its paws on our iron. The ball’s in your court, Sinosteel. The company will most likely withdraw, and reassess. Perhaps it’s content to pay huge spot and contract prices for iron in Asia. Or perhaps it’d like to own the next best producer after Fortescue.

St George Accepts Westpac Bid…Almost

A much bigger takeover is slowly plodding towards the finishing line. St George (ASX:SGB) signed a scheme of agreement with Westpac yesterday. It had prudence enough, though, to add some fine print to the contract. We’ll do a deal you, Westpac. As long as your shares stop dropping

So far, Westpac’s bid is 10% smaller than when it came into the world. The stock is at a year-low. If the fall that began last week in the All Ordinaries accelerates, Westpac’s shares may continue to erode. Maybe the finishing line is a little further away than we thought.

Two takeovers are evolving parallel to each other. There’s the iron story in the hard-asset market, and the banking story in the financial sector. Both are mergers, involving shares only. No cash. Analysts tell us that the prices are good. Yet the parties involved have reacted entirely differently.

Midwest said “Yes” and left it that. St George said “Maybe. Just don’t let your share price fall.”

Sadly, Westpac doesn’t have a lot of control over that. And those two reactions might reflect the underlying businesses, we reckon. Iron ore miners are willing to jump on the front foot. They’re merging to create more scale in a growing industry. Banks are on the back foot. They’re merging as a defense against falling earnings margins.

Westpac’s interest margin has fallen from 2.6% in 2003 to 2.25% last year. It won’t have improved since the last report, filed in November. Bankers aren’t making as much as they used to. That’s the bottom line. There are better companies to invest in.

Al Robinson
Markets and Money

Dan Denning
Dan Denning examines the geopolitical and economic events that can affect your investments domestically. He raises the questions you need to answer, in order to survive financially in these turbulent times.

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