Fight over nickel assets heats up with BHP’s $258m Noront bid

The Eagle’s Nest nickel-copper-PGM project in northern Ontario’s Ring of Fire region. (Image courtesy of Noront Resources.)

BHP (ASX, LON, NYSE: BHP) has offered C$325 million ($258.45 million) for Canadian nickel miner Noront Resources (TSX-V: NOT), trumping a bid by Australian mining billionaire Andrew Forrest’s Wyloo Metals, as top miners race to secure supplies of battery metals.

The world’s largest miner is offering C$0.55 per share of Noront, representing a premium of 129% to the firm’s closing price on May 21, a day before Wyloo’s proposal.

Noront is recommending that shareholders accept the bid, which comes through BHP Lonsdale, a subsidiary that already owns 3.7% of the Canadian nickel producer.

“BHP has the financial strength, world-class mining expertise, and commitment to work in partnership with stakeholders to advance Eagle’s Nest and the Ring of Fire, which has the potential to deliver benefits to local communities, First Nations and, and Ontario for years to come,” Noront’s chief executive Alan Coutts said.

BHP is speeding up its push into future-facing commodities, including nickel, lithium and copper, which are poised to benefit from the green-energy transition.

BHP is speeding up its push into future-facing commodities, including nickel, lithium and copper, which are poised to benefit from the green-energy transition

Last week BHP sealed a nickel supply deal with Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA) and is expected to decide on the giant Jansen potash project in Canada next month.

“Noront represents a growth opportunity in a prospective nickel basin capable of delivering a scalable, new nickel-sulphide district,” the Melbourne, Australia-based mining giant said in the statement.

The company is also in the process of exiting thermal coal and is considering exiting the oil and gas sector as part of its commitment to reduce emissions.

Wyloo Metals, which is Noront’s top shareholder with a 23% stake as of December, had in May offered C$0.315 per share for the stock it did not already hold in the company. Noront had adopted a poison pill strategy to stop the takeover.

BHP’s offer comes on the heels of its decision to move the exploration team headquarters to Toronto, Canada’s most populous city.

The company plans to almost double exploration spending for base metals within five years.

Clean metals hub

Noront owns the early-stage Eagle’s Nest nickel and copper deposit in the Ring of Fire of northern Ontario. It has been billed by Wyloo as the largest high-grade nickel discovery in Canada since the Voisey’s Bay nickel find in the eastern province of Newfoundland and Labrador.  

Eagle’s Nest is expected to begin commercial production in 2026 with the mine running initially for 11 years.

The mine’s start date has repeatedly been pushed back by Noront due to successive federal and provincial governments’ inability to consult and reach unanimous agreement with First Nations in the area.

Nickel production would need to increase nearly fourfold to meet expected demand for electric and hybrid vehicles, the company estimates. Likewise, copper output would also need to grow exponentially to meet demand from renewable power generation, battery storage, electric vehicles, charging stations and related grid infrastructure.

Tesla’s boss Elon Musk has expressed worries about a looming nickel shortage. He pleaded with miners last year to produce more nickel, promising a “giant contract” for supply produced efficiently and in an “environmentally sensitive way.”

The EV maker became involved in March in the development of the conflict-ridden New Caledonia nickel mine, as part of the company’s attempt to secure enough supply.

BHP’s offers coincides with Canada’s push to position the country as a hub for clean-tech metals.

The bid is conditional on the acceptance of shareholders that own more than 50% of Noront’s common shares, excluding the small stake that BHP already owns.

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